To Turkey

One of the nice things about being in Saudi Arabia is that you are close to so many other countries. And I won’t lie to you, traveling from KSA is a lot cheaper than traveling from the states. I say that but in all the years I’ve been in KSA, I didn’t really try going anywhere. Well, this time I decided to go to Turkey. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to see so I figured, why not? I bought my tickets and arranged for a tour in less than two weeks.

On October 19, I was off to Istanbul. It was great because Turkish Airlines has a direct flight from Yanbu. There was no need to stop in Jeddah first. Turkish Airlines, what can I say? I didn’t love the tight fit on the plane. And we didn’t leave on time. But no problem, I’m used to that. I’ve been in KSA seven years where on time is a strange concept. The flight attendants were a wee bit dry for my taste, but then again, who cares? It’s not like we’re supposed to be friends.

Before we landed, the view was amazing. And we have to remember I’ve been in the desert for a while. These are a couple of the shots I took before we landed.




And about the landing. Yeah, it was a good thing we were close enough to the ground that we might survive had we crashed. It felt like we were on a terrible roller coaster ride.

And that my friends is Turkish Airlines.

A Suburbanite in Jeddah II

It was Thursday and I knew that I would have no choice but to venture out into the city, the jungle known to others as Jeddah. I woke up early as is customary for me. I showered and had something that was supposed to be breakfast. I then spoke to the concierge in the hotel to make arrangements for a car. This time I decided to go with a regular taxi because it would cost me half of what the hotel charged.

I got in the taxi and the concierge told him to take me to the Mall of Arabia. I had seen it but had never been inside. Being a typical foreign tourist, I was carrying a super sized bag and my ginormous camera. It was so bad that I laughed at myself. I walked around looking and feeling lost. I marveled at all the stores I knew from home. I also marveled at their prices which were worse than home. Still, I walked around venturing into those that somehow caught my eye. Of course the assumption was that I spoke Arabic so I did what I usually do, sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. I stopped in a department store looking buy some mascara. I had very specific colors in mind but being the “wonderful” salespeople they were they tried to convince me to choose different colors along with some other crap I don’t use and don’t ever want to use. But my personal favorite was a woman who I told I wanted a color. Her reply, “مو حلو” or it’s not nice. I thought to myself, “Did I ask for your opinion, lady?” Instead I told her that I wanted it anyway. And I recorded a mental note to not shop at that store again. It should be pretty easy since the chances of me going to that mall again are zero to none.

I continued exploring the mall until I realized that I had walked in a complete circle. I was tired but I kept walking. The fact that there’s no place to sit helped. You would think a mall this size would have a few benches here and there. You would think. It was getting close to prayer time so I kept walking until I came to the food court. I looked around at all the restaurants I couldn’t eat at. After all, it was prayer time. I had seen Friday’s on the other side and had decided to eat there once prayer was over. When it was time, I started on my trek across town, I mean the mall. As I got close enough I noticed that the food court was actually pretty close but to my dismay I had take the scenic route.

I ate at Friday’s and was disappointed that it wasn’t as good as I had hoped. Another note to self to skip that joint if I ever see one again. I had finally had enough and decided to go back to the hotel. I went out a little later to get those darn passport photos. It was “warm” of course and I worried about having the same wonderful look for this new set. I fanned myself and prayed the driver would get to a place soon before my entire face melted off. As luck would have it I looked slightly less sweaty than the previous disaster. So I took them and said, “Oh well.” I was not going to spend the evening trying new photos with each one worse than the previous one. I made one more trip that day and decided to go back to the hotel.

Friday morning it was time for me to head back. Having no shame and being desperate, I asked the taxi driver to deliver my photo to the US Consulate. Of course I paid him extra and prayed he was trustworthy.

In the end I had one thought in mind…..

I am not a city girl.

A Suburbanite in Jeddah

They say it’s good to be an adventurer from time to time but when you’re a chicken it’s best to stick to what you know and ease yourself into adventure.

I went to Jeddah to take my application to renew my passport. In an attempt to be adventurous, I decided to spend the entire weekend in Jeddah. Problem is, I was raised in suburbia and was perfectly happy to remain in my quiet life of snobbery. I’m not really a snob but some people think that people from the suburbs are.

So, I set out on my journey which began with my driver barely getting me to the airport on time. Fortunately for me the boarding times on your boarding pass mean nothing. You will board at best, 15 minutes before takeoff. I said at best. It isn’t common for it to be less, especially at the airport here in Yanbu. In any case, I still made it on time. I got to the airport in Jeddah, got my bag and went to look for the driver from the hotel. I saw the man with his sign which read, “Mr Amal Ibrahim.” Come on! I’m in an Arab country where Amal is a pretty common name so they should have known better. Yada yada yada, I reached the hotel safely and the first thing I noticed as the car was pulling into the lot was this sign.

I laughed so hard inside. I had to try to control it since I didn’t want the driver to think I was nuts. And I knew that he might not appreciate the humor in it. All I could think about was getting a picture of it which I would tweet, email and spread in as many ways as possible to people I knew would appreciate it. Every time I thought about it I laughed. But then it was time to get serious. I had an appointment at the consulate at 2pm the next day and I needed to prepare myself mentally, reminding myself that I cannot slap anyone, no matter how tempting.

Wednesday morning I was up bright and early still trying to relax. After all, my last experience at the consulate wasn’t a pleasant one. I headed to the concierge desk around 1pm to arrange for transportation. I got in the car, prepared. I had left my phones and anything I had of value in the safe. All I had was my teeny, tiny, wallet-sized purse which had my money, passport, iqama and about a million passport photos.

When you arrive to the US Consulate you feel like you are in a war zone. It’s the only one that looks that way. I walked. in, jumping through the hoops they have ready for you. When I got closer I was asked why I was there and then it was time to go through security. I was asked to lift my abaya, show my face and put all the contents of my gigantic purse into a brown envelope. “You can’t take this. Big bags are not allowed.” I thought she was joking so I asked, “Is it big?” I kept saying to myself, “Patience, Amal, patience.” I had to remember that I was there on a mission, to get my passport renewed. I followed the yellow and white striped road to get to the actual office. It felt like I was on the yellow brick road. What is this, the Wizard of Oz? I wondered. There’s no rhyme or reason for this silly trail we have to follow to get inside. But, what to do? I got inside, took a number and sat down. When I was called, I went to the counter and told the lady I was there to renew my passport. I gave her my application and a photo. “Oh no, this is too small,” she said. So being the prepared person I am, I pulled out my backup photo and then she said, “Oh no, it has to be closer to the hairline.” Oh my God! I was told I could go across the street and get photos taken. I left and crossed the street with a fair amount of ease. Of course it was closed. Great! I found the driver and told him I needed a photo studio. Never mind the fact that I had been sweating like a pig. We got to the studio and I did my best to wipe the sweat off of my face with tissues. I looked in the mirror and I thought it was okay. Not wonderful, just okay. And let’s face it I didn’t really have time to worry about it. But when I saw the pictures, I was frightened. “Good God! Is that me?” I thought. Then I remembered that this horrible picture would be with me for ten years so I opted to try again. It was too late. I only had till 5pm to get them another picture and giving them the other one quite simply wasn’t an option. So that meant I’d have to go out on Thursday to get more pictures.

To be continued….

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