Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Last Interview Ever - In Sha' Allah!

In what will hopefully be my final visa interview ever, I refused a tourist visa to the wife of an American citizen. The husband then proceeded to heap verbal abuse on me, calling me a bitch, an asshole, and a racist for refusing a visa to his lawful wife - how dare I presume that she would overstay her visa? How dare I make an American citizen change his vacation plans?

Ahh, consular work. Never boring.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Commence to Panicking in Five... Four... Three...

Somehow, I always manage to forget just how stressful moving is. Right now, I've gone into stressed-out overdrive: my travel order drama has been resolved, but I now have approximately twenty-eight hours to put my house in order before the movers arrive. Eeep. I never even unpacked half my stuff when I got to Riyadh, so at least that is working in my favor... I'm just using the same boxes I had before. Still, it's depressing to see my books and other possessions disappearing for another year. Everything I own in the Kingdom is piled inside masking-tape boundaries on the ground floor of my house, waiting to be sent to Istanbul or Antwerp or DC or Arkansas.

I'm shelling out a little bit of extra cash to ship some things with a private carrier to DC (above and beyond what State will ship there on its own dime), such as some well-loved decorations and certain prized bits of cookware. I wouldn't do this normally, but after this tour I am feeling the need to pamper myself with things I love, so the bizarre, storied accoutrements of my life (a ceramic banana, Oaxacan carved horses, a floor tile stolen from the Silver Spring metro station, a papier-mache demonic cow, a single pink leather-and-steel stiletto) will be taking up residence in DC when I arrive. Assuming I survive this move, you're welcome to stop by to hear the stories behind them all. I promise you'll be entertained!

Another Year, Another Move

Well, here I am, a few days away from leaving Riyadh for good. I'm preparing to face the tempestuous hell of packing out... sorting out what goes into storage for another year, what goes to Washington, and what goes into my suitcases. For someone who hates moving and instability, I really think I'm in the wrong career!

Reflections on Riyadh might come later. I think I'll probably just be happier to shut the door on this chapter of my life and not look back. I've learned a lot here, much of it in the form of negative reinforcement. Getting back to DC for a year to learn Turkish has been the light at the end of the tunnel for some time - I can remind myself of what it's like to live a normal life when I'm there, without being beholden to motor pool for transportation, or dodging the religious police, or constantly being on the lookout for potential attackers.

In the meantime, though, I have mounds of books and clothing and cookware to sort through, as well as a minor administrative challenge in actually obtaining my travel orders - my legal authorization to pack up my stuff to leave. I'm dependent on some nameless, faceless paper-pusher in DC... god help us all!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ordering Pizza in Riyadh

In a normal workplace, if you work past closing time at the company cafeteria, you call in for delivery of some food. In Riyadh, if we interview past 2 PM when the cafeteria stops serving food (this happens far more frequently than I would like... six hours of visa interviews without stopping is no fun), we will sometimes order in pizza from the shop across the street. It's actually pretty good - if I had the choice in the States, I'd order Baak Pizza over most of the delivery chains there. The best part is that the store will deliver to the embassy within half an hour, unless you call right before prayer.

However, there's one small step we have that most office buildings can skip: we have to put the pizza box through the X-ray scanner. Once it's determined to be free of all suspicious objects and potential explosives, the box is cheerily stamped X-RAY SCANNED by the guard, and we're ready to take lunch back to the office, where we can munch on our all-beef pepperoni.

Just another day in Riyadh.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

How I Spent My Fourth of July Vacation

I spent the long weekend in Antalya, on the Turkish Mediterranean coast. I met up with a friend from Riyadh there, and we proceeded indulge in the greatest form of decadence, to wit: all meals and all drinks (as long as we consumed Turkish beer/liquor... not a problem) were included in the very reasonable price of the hotel. We had two large pools at our dispense, along with three or four different restaurants and a pristine stretch of sandy beaches just beyond the swim-up bar. Oh, and there were massages, Turkish baths, kayaks free for the taking up and down the coast, and drink service at the lounge chairs. We did take one night out in the old city, and there's little I can think of that's more relaxing than sitting at a cafe on top of the Ottoman ramparts overlooking the moonrise on the Mediterranean harbor while sipping a beer and smoking shisha. I'd like to go back to Antalya and see more of the city, since so much of our time was spent at the hotel, but I recognize that I will have two years of weekend trips I can take around the country. I have plenty of time to plan those!

Now, normally this sort of stationary cruise wouldn't be my thing - I prefer more active and more solitary exploration if I'm in a new place, and the hotel's Entertainment Team (yes, it's capitalized) was quite insistent on dragging people into various hotel activities, such as pool games, dance parties on the pier after sunset, and other things that outgoing people enjoy in a large group of strangers. However, there's something pleasant in not having to worry about finding a cab to get to some restaurant from a guidebook that may or may not have been updated in the last ten years. I'm not sure I'd want to spend more than a long weekend in such a Stepford vacation - but for someone running on the fumes of her mental energy, this was a good way to recharge in preparation for my last month in Riyadh.

For that happy time has nearly come! I will arrive back in Riyadh on 4 July, and I should be leaving on 4 August to go back to the States. I start Turkish training on 8 September, and I should move back to DC around the 4th of that same month, which will give me time to spend Labor Day at my favorite East Coast haunt, Chincoteague Island. I spent a few days in DC before I came out to Turkey, and while I was there I managed to sign a lease on a great apartment in Eastern Market. Beej and I should be quite happy for our ten months there.

But before I can rhapsodize over my eighty-year-old apartment on a tree-lined street, filled with handmade Kazakh rugs and furnished with antiques and fine kitchenware.... I have to make it through another month in Riyadh, which will be filled with paperwork leading up to the move, and God only knows what other stressors may emerge. I got an extra treat on my flight back from Istanbul to Riyadh - the plane was 3 hours late, and by the time I was finally allowed on board, I realized that the 15 children who might have behaved themselves at 5 PM have no interest in doing so after being stuck in one room for 3 hours with nothing to do. Nor do their parents have any interest in keeping them corralled.

Please, a plea from a business traveller stuck in economy: If you are travelling with children, do not allow them to run wildly up and down the aisles, trying to flip up and down all of the armrests. And the lower-back massage I'm getting from the kicking toddler behind me is not appreciated. Also, if the child is of the screaming sort, I understand that it is difficult to know what to do in that instance. I suggest force-feeding Dimetap; it worked wonders on me as a child. Finally, if you're not willing or able to control your children, don't have them.

This message brought to you by the curmudgeon in 39L on Saudia Flight 213, Istanbul to Riyadh. As I write this, I only have 60 more minutes until touchdown, and my headphones are turned up as loud as they can go. It doesn't drown out the infantile madness.