The following was written on Day 4 of my trip, describing Day 3.
The Saudi work week is Saturday to Wednesday, so yesterday was my first work day. I was a bit nervous, but I knew I’d just be following my Canadian co-workers around, so it wasn’t concerning me too much. We went to the Ministry of Health building, which is a brand new building with lots of marble and white. The room we were in was the brightest room I’ve ever been in (bright with fluorescent lighting), and I felt like I was going to be interrogated at any moment. I have no pictures of the building because it’s illegal to take pictures of government buildings.
I got my first taste of the Saudi work culture as people came and went as they pleased, didn’t show up for meetings, answered cell phones, etc. It’s par for the course. Internet connectivity was an issue (has been ever since this project started) and so I didn’t get much work done while at the office. Tracy and I eventually bailed and went back to the hotel to work, as we knew we’d be able to access the internet from there.
I’ve got so much to say and I don’t know how to organize it…so I think I’ll just spew out things…
I can’t say I’m feeling culture shock as I just get little snippets here and there, but some of the actual snippets are shocking. Such as the HIV posters at the Ministry. A picture of a beautiful Arab boy, with the quote “I got my brown eyes from my father, my curly hair from my aunt, and HIV from my mother”. And the fact that I’m writing this from the Saudi IBM office in the “women’s only” section, where men are not allowed. There are about 40 men working here and I’ve seen only three women.
I’ve noticed a vast difference in the way men interact with women, and I’m not sure if it’s class related or not. Some men are openly friendly and joking, others won’t even look you in the eye. I don’t actually think it’s class related because I’ve seen the range even amongst the cab drivers.
I’m sleeping horribly and having terrible nightmares. Last night was the worst sleep-wise — I was up at 2:00 wide, wide awake. I eventually got up to work but after an IM conversation with Greg he convinced me to go back to bed. So I was up from about 2:00 to 4:30. No wonder I feel like shit right now.
I’ll end this here and get back to work — I’m writing this from the Saudi IBM office, which is on the 23rd flour of the Kingdom Centre. In general I find Riyadh a bit ugly, but the view from here is pretty amazing.