homeward bound

In about three hours I’ll be heading down to the hotel lobby to check out, and then I’m off to the airport to begin my trek home:
– 2 hour wait in the airport (international flight + strange airport + busy airport = Sue needs lots of time)
– 6 hour flight to Frankfurt
– 6 hour layover in Frankfurt
– 10 hour flight to Vancouver
– 2 hour layover in Vancouver
– 22 minute flight to Victoria

I just had an hour long nap and now I feel all groggy, plus I’ve been fighting some sort of stomach issue for the last week, so not really feeling up to the voyage ahead of me, but it’ll be well worth it just to get home. The kids and Greg will meet me at the airport, and I’m very excited to see them.

I’m off to pack and to eat.

i’ll remain a sloth

As I was checking in to my current hotel on Friday morning (that’s hotel #3 for anyone who’s counting), I was told there was a ladies gym in the hotel. This is unusual for the Saudi hotels that we’ve been staying in for this project (there is always a men’s gym), and I was briefly excited, until I realized I had brought no workout gear with me, specifically no shoes suitable for going to a gym. Upon further thought I decided that I do have one pair that might work, so I took the keycard for the gym so I could check it out. That was Friday evening. It is now Monday evening here, and I finally checked out the ladies gym. It’s actually not bad — it has a couple of elliptical trainers, a stair climber and a few free weights.

I stood in the room for a few minutes, looking around, and then left, knowing full well that I wasn’t going to go back. I mean who am I kidding? I’ve come this far without exercising one iota, why break the trend now when I’m three days away from leaving? I’ve got all sorts of things working against me, too: no workout clothes or shoes, I hate working out in a gym, um…I guess that’s it.

So…if I come home and complain to you that I wasn’t able to exercise for 16 days, you can gently correct me and remind me that if I’d come prepared and if I’d had just a little motivation, I could have exercised the last five days I was here.

fins and flying

Haven’t posted for a few days, that’s usually a good sign.

I switched hotels on Wednesday night. (Just as an aside, it is incredibly confusing to have a different work week here…we obviously get used to the placement of our weekdays. I am constantly confused about what day it is and what day I did what.) Anyway, Wednesday night I moved into the Sheraton in Jeddah so I could get a day pass to the Sheraton Villa Resort. Marty and I went snorkelling on Thursday. It was HOT, but if you were by the sea there was a great breeze that made it the perfect temperature in the shade. I snorkelled twice, for a total of about an hour. It was a bit choppy and the visibility wasn’t as good as last time, but it was still pretty phenomenal. And you know the water’s warm when I, the biggest wimp when it comes to cold water, don’t hesitate getting in.

The rest of the time I sat on a lawn chair and read, sitting about four feet away from the Red Sea. Did I mention I was by the Red Sea? Did I mention that I’ve been in the Red Sea?

So that was Thursday. Friday I spent in my hotel room, mostly working myself into a frenzy about having to fly from Jeddah to Riyadh on my own that night, and once again having to make my way to a hotel in a strange city. Two Saudi airports in one day? Yikes. As you probably guessed, I managed. I was totally confused in the Jeddah airport about where I was supposed to go and I was thinking what a stupid system it was until I realized (many hours later) it was the exact same system as any Canadian airport. You do a self check-in, drop off your bag, and then head to the gate. I think I was so worked up that I failed to see the similarities. Plus I was scared of doing something “wrong” and getting yelled at. Not that I’ve ever been yelled at here.

As we were sitting on the plane taxiing to the runway, I looked up from my book and realized that the nose of the plane had a camera in front of it, and they were projecting the image onto a big screen in the middle of the airplane. Pretty cool in a totally freaky sort of way. I am not the most relaxed flyer, and I contemplated trying to ignore the camera (did I really want to see the nose of the plane lift off the ground?), but my curiosity got the better of me, and I watched the take off. It was pretty cool. Then right after take off, when all you could see out of the nose camera was sky, they switched to a camera that must have been right under the nose. I had to turn away from that one. The ground was moving too quickly and moving a long way away too quickly. I generally get through take off by repeating to myself that statistically the plane I’m on is not going to crash. I don’t need to be reminded of how fast we were going and how quickly the ground is dropping away below us.

I’m now in Riyadh, and I’ve just completed my first day training a new group. It went remarkably well, and although I’m very tired, I can almost say it was enjoyable. The group here is a bit more jovial, plus there were only seven people, as opposed to 15 in Jeddah.

I’ve got four more days of work and then I’m heading home. The countdown has started. I haven’t even unpacked my suitcases here and I’m not sure I will. Because I’m going home in four sleeps!

some thoughts while I wait for dinner

I’ve switched hotels for the weekend, I’m in the Sheraton now, which gives me a day pass to the Sheraton Resort that’s on the Red Sea. Tomorrow will hopefully be a snorkelling day.

The Sheraton isn’t as nice as the InterContinental, unfortunately, but it’s not bad. The food is more expensive and I’m about to find out if it’s any better. The InterCon food was actually quite good. I was REALLY adventurous and ordered a burger. Sometimes you just feel like familiar food.

Today was my last day of training the Jeddah people. After work I got to the hotel room and slept for two hours, and I dreamt about training next week and it was a disaster. I’m really happy that my unconscious mind is so helpful in my times of anxiety…sheesh. Theoretically it should be easier next week as I’m training on the same topics, but it’s a whole new group of people. So a whole new group of questions that I hopefully can answer. It’s difficult to train on an application when you don’t have a lot of expertise in the business. So when the trainees ask “well how would I do this ?” I don’t often understand what “this” is (especially when said with a strong Arabic accent). They are going from a paper system to a purely automated system and while it is the job of a business analyst to get to the answer, it’s difficult to do on the fly in the middle of a training session. Anyway, fingers crossed that it goes smoothly.

On another note…one of the things I’ve noticed here is it always seem to take a small army to get something done. In every hotel I’ve checked into, there are always at least three, sometimes more, men attending to the check in. When we got our wireless network set up on the first day of training, five men came in to do it. I was thinking today as I was falling asleep for my nap…I wonder what Saudis find different, odd and/or interesting about Canada when they come to visit (apart from the scantily-clad women). Do they notice how clean it is compared to their country? Are they put off by the amount of rain? Are they surprised at all the homeless people? Are they appalled at how rude we can be to one another? Are they dismayed to find out that our malls aren’t open to midnight every night, and that there are no amusement parks for their kids in every mall?

Alrighty…my burger is here, I’m going to eat.

i’d rather use an outhouse

The state of the ladies bathroom where I’m doing the training is, to put it mildly, disgusting. The floors and all the fixtures are dirty and often wet, there is no toilet paper or paper towel, there is a tiny bit of hand soap, and the temperature in the loo is hotter than hot. So it’d be bad enough wearing western clothes and attempting to pee without touching anything, but put a floor length abaya on with floppy sleeves and you’re flirting with extreme ickiness.

So what’s sadder than the state of the bathroom? The fact that it’s been like this for four days straight. I am unclear on whether the women aren’t complaining about it because they won’t be heard, or because they just don’t care. But I think it’s the former. I find it absolutely appalling that they have to put up with it. And I’m thankful every time I walk into my hotel room and know that I can use a bathroom (a) without an abaya on and (b) that’s been cleaned in the last 12 hours.

the canadian girl ventures out

I’ll take a departure from complaining about this trip and write about my outing last night…

After work one of my male IBM colleagues asked if I wanted to go out for dessert at a chocolate place in one of the malls here in Jeddah. I’m never clear on what the actual plans are, so I knew there would be other people but I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a big group or what. With all my heart I wanted to say no because I envisioned myself in a big group of Arabs who would be speaking Arabic. And rightly so, it is their mother tongue. And while I do love listening to the language (it’s very easy on the ears), it wasn’t my idea of a good time. Plus I hate being at the whimsy of other people in terms of my transportation. But I had had another crappy day work-wise and the thought of sitting in my room crying was no more appealing, so I sucked it up and said yes.

I had some disgusting pizza in my hotel room for dinner, and Jallad and I headed out at about 6:30 pm. The drive was long and for 45 minutes I sat in the car wishing I hadn’t come. Actually that’s not entirely true. Jeddah has a lot of sculptures along the “corniche” and I got a great view of them. It was also nice to just sit and look out the window and not really think.

We arrived at the mall about an hour later, and found the chocolate place. We were warmly greeting by the owner, who is the brother of one of the IBM women I’m working with (she wasn’t there). For all the isolation I feel here, on both trips I’ve come on, the people that I actually meet are very friendly, and they look at you with true warmth. I don’t get this vibe from the general public, but when you actually meet someone, it’s a different story. (As a somewhat related aside, one of the women I’m training invited me to come to her gym for a workout yesterday…I was very tempted but I think that’s just a bit too much for me, plus I didn’t bring any workout clothes.)

I quickly realized we were being met by just one other person, the other male IBM-er I’m working with, and that was it. Both men are very nice, and they (whether it was intentional or not) managed to keep the conversation mostly in English. It turned out to be a very enjoyable evening, and I came back to my hotel room feeling a bit more human and a lot less alien.

And now I have to go to work so I’ll end this here. Stay tuned for more.

hoping a good sleep will help

Not sure I should be blogging, as I am feel like I could burst into tears very easily. I’m only on day three (or maybe four…it’s hard to keep track with the time change), and I’m feeling awfully lonely. True, I have had a tiring day and I’m feeling the effects of my short sleep last night, but even though there are reasons for my “blue-ness”, it doesn’t make it any easier.

Last trip I was travelling with several other Canadians, and almost every night we went out for dinner. I was busy and didn’t have a lot of time to think about home. Tonight the two men I’m working with went out to dinner to a very good, but men-only, restaurant, so I was on my own again for dinner. This hotel room is beginning to feel very familiar.

It also doesn’t help that my first day training was a bit of a flop. No fault of mine, but the room wasn’t set up for us, so there was no internet and no laptops for the people I was training to use. I managed to get internet for myself, and so the day basically consisted of me blabbing away about the system and providing a demo. No hands-on activities for the attendees. Talk about a crappy way to learn. It looks like things will be set up properly for tomorrow, so hopefully the day will go better.

Really feeling quite pathetic right now, so I think I’ll go read and then go to bed. Hopefully a more uplifting post will appear tomorrow.

the dreaded second night

I can do a three hour time change with no issues, whether I’m flying east or west. I may sleep in a bit the next day, but I am not fatigued and I have no trouble sleeping.

Ten hour time change…not so much. As with last time, the first night was fine. I slept so little on the trip here that I was able to sleep 11 hours that first night and hardly wake up at all. I managed to plow through yesterday without napping, and I went to bed at 10:00 pretty tired. I fell asleep easily, and then woke up just before 1 am, WIDE awake. I popped half an Ativan (I didn’t want to take a whole one because I was due to get up at 6:30) but that didn’t seem to help. I tossed and turned, and then, about an hour later (I want to say, for sympathy’s sake, that it was just as I was falling back asleep, but I doubt it), some idiot rang my doorbell. This hotel has LOUD door bells that belt out two short rings. I got up and asked who was there, and of course there was no answer. Through the peep hole I could see someone standing by another door so I suspect they had the wrong room.

I fell back asleep eventually, only to wake again at 5 am. I stopped trying at that point. So I’ve spent a leisurely morning eating breakfast, showering, checking email and drinking tea. Or as leisurely as I can be, given that I’m a bit freaked out about my upcoming day…more on that later, once I’ve survived the day. Because I WILL survive it. 🙂

this doesn’t look like portland

I’m sitting in a hotel room 11,000 km from home. I’ve been sitting here for almost 24 hours straight, as there’s not much a woman on her own can do in Saudi. And before that I was sitting in an airplane, airport or taxi for over 30 hours. It’s been a great two days!

Yes, I’m in Saudi again, in Jeddah. Today was the day I was supposed to leave for Portland for the half marathon I’ve been training for, but alas I was needed here so I agreed to come. There will be other half marathons.

The trip was long but uneventful. I had worked myself up into a panic for a few days before I left because I was paranoid I’d be stranded at the airport (actually my imagination went way further than stranded…apprehended and maimed are more accurate). By the time I landed in Jeddah I had calmed down considerably, partly because I had received email notification that someone would in fact be coming to get me, and partly because I was so bloody exhausted that actual emotion wasn’t an option. But then I was held up in customs as they fingerprinted every second or third person going through (myself included), and I once again starting panicking, thinking they would come but get tired of waiting and give up. I finally got through customs, got my bag and walked into the pick up area, scanning for someone holding my name. Never have I been so happy to see “Susan Elizabeth Fox” written down on a card! “That’s me” I called out joyfully. The driver probably thought I was nuts.

I spent the weekend in Jeddah last time I was here, and as I was driven to the hotel last night it was somewhat comforting to see some familiar sights. And the hotel I’m staying in is a heck of a lot nicer than the one I stayed in last time, so being “locked” in here isn’t so bad. I did take a quick trip to the lobby to get cash, but that was it. I just don’t want to draw any attention to myself so I didn’t go outside. Not to mention that it’s 40 degrees and I’m covered in black. That said, it is a bit disappointing to feel so trapped. I know from the bit of reading I’ve done that there are women who travel alone to Saudi and actually get out and do a few things, but they are few and far between. I am far from an adventurous traveller, so when there are web sites out there saying don’t do anything alone, I tend to listen.

I’m feeling pretty tired so I think I’ll stop here. More to come over the next few days.