Monday, February 6, 2017

Adventures with STC

Before I went on vacation in December I bought a new data sim for my home Wi-Fi router as my current data plan was due to expire while I was on vacation. The idea was that I would have Wi-Fi when I got back to Riyadh after my vacation; just slip in the new sim and I’m good for another 4 months.

Things didn’t work out quite as I had planned. The new sim didn’t work because it needed to be registered with STC under my name and under my fingerprint. So I took myself off to STC (Saudi Telecomms Company) and asked them to please register the new sim under my name. They politely declined because I could not produce the invoice for the sim. Evidently there are concerns about black-market sims. They suggested that I visit the STC counter at Jarir Bookstore where I bought the sim. Further, STC had changed their system whilst I was on vacation; henceforth no one is allowed to have more than two sims registered under their name. I had three registered under my name: my personal phone, my work phone and my Wi-Fi sim. After some discussion I told the clerk to delete all but my personal phone sim. Fine, he said, allow 2 days and it will happen.

Three days later I returned to Jarir and they also would not register the card due to the lack
of an invoice. Customer services at Jarir were pessimistic about the chances of me getting a duplicate invoice but they gave it their best shot. After about an hour they discovered an invoice that may have been the one we were looking for. The helpful clerk went off to print said invoice, only to return ten minutes later with the news that he couldn’t print the invoice due to their printer being out of ink and no ink being available. Did I mention that Jarir is the largest stationery chain in Saudi Arabia? The clerk suggested that I return the following day when we could take another shot at printing the invoice.

Next day we were back at Jarir. The clerk I had dealt with the previous day was not there (or maybe he was hiding from me) and the new clerk couldn’t figure out how to locate the elusive invoice. Eventually I gave up and decided to just buy another sim and write off the SAR300 I had spent on my December sim. I went to the counter where I had purchased my previous sim and got sent to another counter. There I was given the sealed card and sent to queue at the STC counter again. While I was waiting, another clerk came to fetch me and told me that they had located the invoice.

Actually, they hadn’t located the invoice but the clerk had a lengthy discussion with the STC employee who eventually agreed to activate my card even without an invoice. I queued up yet again and eventually I was told that I still couldn’t register the card due to still having two cards registered under my name. The clerk suggested I return to STC.

So I took myself back to STC. Did I mention that the average waiting time for service at STC is around 90 minutes? The clerk at STC was very sympathetic but told me that the unwanted sim was marked for deletion but that I would just have to wait. Rather grumpily I stalked out of the branch.

Some days later my colleague Pieter also needed to visit STC and offered to have a go at sorting out my issue while he was there. He told me that there was a huge crowd at STC and the mood was ugly. There were businessmen who had fifteen or twenty numbers registered on their names as they supplied their workers with phones. One large gent was escorted off the premises by security when he became unruly.

As luck would have it two senior STC managers were present at the branch that day and Pieter had a lengthy debate with them. They told him that under the new rules it would probably take between one and two months to delete my unwanted sims. Pieter rather inflated my status and position at the university and an urgent email was sent by the managers to their head office asking them to give my case urgent attention. That was about two weeks ago.

A couple of days later I noticed that my phone data and air-time were running rather low so I went to my banking app to top up airtime as I usually do. This time it didn’t work – the link is down, said my phone. I tried again today to convert some of my airtime to data only to be told that due to error 4996385r this was not possible. Repeated attempts also failed.

So now I sit with no WiFi at home, about 20meg of data on my phone and about SAR 35 of airtime and no way to recharge.

30 May 2017 - Update
Around the middle of April I spoke to the STC consultant at the university. Radi, my colleague and friend accompanied me as translator. This individual told us that the only way to get the surplus sim deleted from my account would be to visit STC Head Office. Accordingly, later that week, we visited the Head Office in downtown Riyadh. After the standard wait of around 90 minutes I got to speak to a consultant who was able to delete the unwanted sim in under five minutes.

Two days later, filled with optimism and joie de vivre I again visited Jarir to register my data sim. All went well until I registered my fingerprint and the computer reported that I already had too many sims on  my iqama. My protestations that I only had one number fell on deaf ears and I was once again obliged to withdraw, defeated.

I again visited STC head office and after the standard wait spoke to a consultant. When he attempted to register my data card the system informed him that my card was invalid and had expired. So we consulted his superior who told me that all the cards in the batch where my card originated had been cancelled and invalidated. He then attempted to register a new card on my account only to be told by the system that I already had too many cards under my name. He then did a nationwide search using my details and confirmed that I had only one number registered under my name. At this I was advised to consult with CITC, Communications and Information Technology Commission who would investigate my issues. This is the government department who could solve my problem.

I sent an email to CITC outlining the highlights of my five-month saga and they replied with a link that I needed to follow in order to register my complaint on their website. The first thing I was directed to do was to submit a written complaint to STC (using the CITC system) and allow fifteen working days for a response. This seemed to be a pointless exercise but as I had no choice I did so. Within a few days STC replied that I had too many cards under my name and they advised me to have the surplus cards removed!

I then forwarded my complaint together with STC's reply to CITC for their speedy action. That was about three weeks ago and I am still eagerly awaiting feedback from CITC. Using
their own system I have confirmed that only one card is registered under my name. I also have emails from the other service providers confirming that they have issued no cards to me. A small notation on the back of the data card I have been trying to register warns that I must use the card before the middle of July. An email I sent to CITC querying the status of my complaint remains unanswered.

So here I am, five months down the line and still trying to register and use the data card I bought last December.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


The first gentleman I want to talk about has already appeared in two of my blogs - this is his third appearance. Someone mentioned that with the amount of raw material available to me, I should have registered for my psychology honors this year. I can’t argue with that reasoning.

Whilst working at our most recent project, this gentleman became friendly with a “union worker” type teacher and the two of them started exhibiting increasingly bizarre and paranoid behavior. They became convinced that "we" were conspiring against "them" and then they started to regularly take sick days. This, of course, placed an extra load on the rest of us. The company requires a doctor’s note for sick days, but with the right contacts, getting a sick-note is not a problem, although getting the correct information on the sick note can be problematic.This worthy would sometimes call in sick with, for example,  a closed chest and then bring a sick note for gastro or earache. He once sent a photo of himself using a nebulizer to show how deathly ill he was, obviously forgetting that he had already sent that exact photo as evidence some months earlier. On one occasion I went to his class to tell the students that their teacher was off sick only for them to tell me that he had already told them the previous week that he would be sick that day. When another of my colleagues asked him to provide us with a schedule of his planned sick days for the rest of the year so that we could plan accordingly, he became huffy and left the room.

He is also particularly unwilling to help his colleagues, his stock response when asked for assistance being: but when will I eat my sandwiches? This eventually became a standing joke amongst the rest of us, and whenever someone asks for help we all chorus: but when will I eat my sandwiches. He also has the distasteful habit of over-sharing his personal life.

Things came to a head on one of his monthly sick days when one of the other teachers suffered a stroke  at work. He was taken to the hospital, accompanied by a colleague. This left two of us to teach three classes. My colleague had no option but to phone the malingerer and tell him to get his ass to his classroom pronto. He arrived an hour later, disheveled, apprehensive and coughing weakly whenever he remembered.

Realizing that we could no longer ignore the situation, my friend awaited an opportunity and called him aside one day. He attempted to have a man-to-man with him; he informed him that he was ruining his reputation, that people were speaking about him, including management and members of the other teams, who sometimes referred to us a "cowboy outfit" because of the unprofessional behavior. Even some students had made comments about him. Rather than being grateful for the heads-up, he went storming down the corridor towards the supervisor’s office, effing and blinding all the way and nearly bowling over the new CEO who was being shown around the premises by the outgoing CEO. Once in the office he continued blustering loudly and profanely while both the old and the new CEO listened interestedly from outside the office. I took the opportunity to point out to 
him that he already had a dire reputation and that he needed to start with some damage control. Again, no gratitude was in evidence - the messenger (me) was shot on the spot. His last word (to us) on the subject was that “those two old c***s must never talk to me again” (I have noted previously that he lacks conflict-resolution skills, being limited to threats or sulking).

It so happened that I had a meeting with our CEO a few weeks after these events and in our discussions I requested that, if possible, I not work with this character in the future. When asked my reasons I simply said that I found it difficult to work with him. This obviously piqued his curiosity and he instructed our supervisor to produce a full report on the man’s performance. The report ran to several pages and included items such as deserting an exam he was invigilating to go search for his relief, arriving late and leaving early, parking in prohibited parking areas, ignoring the dress code, inappropriate relationships with students, excessive use of his cell-phone during teaching time, being uncooperative, not being a team player and, of course, malingering.

This led initially to him receiving a hefty salary deduction, which probably had the effect of transmuting some of
his malingering days to unpaid leave. Following this were several meetings with the CEO, the outcome being that it was decided that, in the circumstances, a parting of the ways would be for the best. In short – he was sacked for exactly what we had tried to warn him about and for which he had cursed us. From his actions and comments since then he still can't believe that he has done anything deserving of sanction. He sees himself as a victim of malice and unfairness and feels bitter that no one else can see what is so clear to him.

Eventually he was able to convince management to give him a final chance. He was transferred out of  Riyadh and consequently he found it necessary to fly home to Riyadh every weekend to take care of personal issues. Apparently still blithely unaware of the thinness of the ice upon which he blunders and showing absolutely no gratitude that he  still has a job, he has been demanding to be transferred back to Riyadh and for the company to reimburse him his weekly air fares.  The fact that the company has been magnanimously giving him a three day weekend every week is not sufficient for him, he sees it as no more than his due and he is happy to now make financial demands on the company. He has also now added yet another staff member (in HR) to the list of people to whom he refuses to speak, bringing the total up to seven or eight. We continue to follow his antics with morbid interest…


You know the archetypal American that everyone dislikes – loud, ill-informed on anything that does not touch him personally, opinionated, know-it-all and generally annoying?  (Just to be clear, most Americans I know are not like this). Well, this archetype has  joined our happy team. In his first week here he was instructing our bus-driver how to drive, how fast to drive and which route was best – never mind that the company has been driving this route for around four years.

Probably his favorite phrase is “But it’s not in my contract!” a refrain which one can hear him plaintively repeating loudly several times every week. Rather than opting for professional dress for work like all the other teachers, he opts for safari suits and sneakers. Remember those from the seventies? When the weather turned cold we all wondered if he would be wearing two safari suits to keep warm. At home time he changes into mountaineering garb, wandering through the hallowed halls with backpack and shorts. He reminds us of Peter from the TV series “Heidi”, or a postman who has lost his bicycle. When told that professional dress would be more appropriate for teaching in an institution of higher learning, his response is “but it’s not in my contract”.

Company policy is that if you want to vacation outside the country in your first year, you need to either leave one month’s salary behind or get someone to sign surety for you. This is to cover the company in the event that you don’t return. When advised of this restriction when he wanted to arrange a trip to Egypt, one could hear him plaintively crying in the corridors “but that isn’t in my contract”. This continued for several weeks with other teachers slamming their office doors several times a day to try to deaden the irritating whining. When he wanted to open a bank account he lambasted our poor HR man, demanding to know the location of the bank, how to open an account, banking hours, how he was to get to the bank and
which branch he was supposed to go to. When told that our bank was Al-Rajhi bank he said, “What? The Russian Bank?” to the great amusement of all within earshot. Our HR stalwart, who has very little English with which to defend himself against this sort of harassment, tried to explain to him that teachers were expected to be able to find their own way around and sort out their own affairs and generally be independent adults, but he was having none of it: “it’s not in my contract” he bleated. Our HR man also had to try to explain that it is not in his contract to arrange transport for teachers to get to the bank and nor is it in his contract that he perform banking-type duties like arranging credit-cards for teachers.

He also quite obviously did no research on Saudi Arabia or its customs or religion before he arrived here. He first

tried to organize a fancy-dress party for his "kids" and then he was all gung-ho to arrange a Halloween party. Said “kids” are young adults and university students and not really into fancy-dress. Anyone who knows anything about KSA would also know that anyone promoting anything occult or resembling witchcraft is likely to suffer judicial decapitation. He has also embarrassed Muslim teachers (he’s too gauche to embarrass himself) by loudly (he does everything loudly) enquiring about their wives and daughters. He asked one teacher if he had any brothers, to which the teacher replied that he had only one who had died some years previously. “Oh! Do you have any sisters that haven’t died”, he enquired. The whole bus looked fixedly out the windows, at the ceiling, at the floor or plugged in their headphones and pretended not to hear. He is truly the most oblivious person I have ever met.

Occasionally we have presentations in the university auditorium, and on these occasions snacks are provided. Protocol dictates that one partake of only one or two pastries, but since that was not specified in his contract he feels entitled to grab a whole plate for himself and munch away during the presentation. Further, if there are left-overs at the end of the event, he converts the left-overs  into take-aways and proudly struts off with the spoils.

Perhaps his most mind-boggling faux-pas happened just a couple of days ago. He was placed on a sub-project where he travels on the same bus as some female teachers. This had a marked effect on his hormones and a day later he asked our supervisor if he could be permanently assigned to the project and would the supervisor please arrange a love-nest for him and one of the ladies! The supervisor politely declined the opportunity to branch into new and previously unconsidered fields. The teacher has also had to be requested to stop trying to sneak into the ladies section while he is supposed to be teaching his (male) classes. As I mentioned previously, he has done absolutely no research on his host country or else has zero respect for their laws. Meanwhile he unabashedly continues evangelizing to anyone who is courteous enough to listen to him.

Perhaps it is karma or poetic justice that these two gems ended up as flatmates. Since they both show narcissistic tendencies, bets were taken as to how long it would be before they had a meltdown. As it turned out, the implosion came in just over one month, about two weeks later that we had expected. Again, we all watch developments with morbid interest...

Despite having edited out numerous other mind-numbing anecdotes, this blog entry is still longer than I anticipated. I hope I have not rambled on for too long.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

New Doves and New Roomies

My flatmate moved out a few weeks ago leaving his room in a condition that was pretty well representative of how it was when he occupied it: looking like a partially rehabilitated landfill site and stinking of stale cigarette smoke. I simply locked to door of his room and placed a table in front of it and pretended it wasn't there. The utensils in the kitchen likewise all needed re-washing as most had been given only a perfunctory rinsing under the tap before being packed away.

I loved having the flat to myself – I arranged things in a way that suited me and it was wonderful not to have to consider anyone else; I could keep my toilet paper and towel in the bathroom without worry and not have to clear my dishes from the drying rack immediately for the next man to use. The place stayed clean as I clean up after myself as I go along.

The babies
Then there was the “mother dove incident” which is ongoing as I write this. She built her nest on a windowsill opposite the kitchen window and deposited two eggs in it. In due course the eggs hatched and two scruffy little chicks emerged. Then one day I noticed she hadn't been on the nest all night. The next day I didn't see her at all so late afternoon I decided I'd have to feed the chicks myself. This involved going to buy a syringe, placing a chair outside the kitchen window and one on the inside and then maneuvering myself through the window. I squirted egg-yolk down the babies' throats and they showed their appreciation by crapping on my hand and shirt. I repeated the process that evening and next day, as mom had spent the night out again - I figured she'd been eaten or arrested or something. Next afternoon I got a little box to house the chicks and was preparing to bring them inside where they'd be easier to monitor. I also googled how to take care of ugly chicks (story of my life!). When I went to climb out the window to fetch them in who should I see but mom, making a big show of being the concerned parent! She still has a busy social schedule, stays out all night and just pops in every now and again (a flying visit) to give the kids fast-food before she pisses off again. Now when the family see me at the kitchen window they all give me dirty looks, but at least I won't have to teach them to fly! 

Climbing out the window
The kitchen window looks out onto a very small courtyard which is enclosed up to the roof of the building. Climbing out the window to feed the chicks brought again to my attention the fact that previous flatmates had used this courtyard as an ad-hoc dumping ground. About a dozen large empty water bottles, hundreds of cigarette butts, old food, old bread and other miscellaneous crap that had been tossed out the window littered the place. The pièce de résistance was a mattress which someone had put out to air or dry or something on the roof and it had fallen into our courtyard. No one had come to claim it and since it was too big to fit through the window, there it had stayed.

The hot ladder
I decided the time had come to clean the courtyard. I took a long piece of nylon string, tied a stone to one end and flung it up onto the roof. I then stabbed a hole through the mattress and tied the other end of the string through it. I then went upstairs, up a very hot (from the baking sun and 40 degree temperature) metal ladder, onto the roof and wandered about until I located my line. I then hoisted up the mattress, with bits of food and cigarette butts stuck to it, and dumped it on the roof. I tossed the loose end of the line back into the courtyard and climbed back down and back out the kitchen window. The outside chair broke when I stepped on it this time, making things a bit more challenging.  I threaded the string through the handles of all the bottles, tied it off and went back up to the roof. I hoisted up the empties and cut the string so that I could dump them. Unfortunately not all the bottles had made it onto the roof and about half of them went tumbling back down with an almighty crash. Feeling a bit irritated I climbed back down again, back out the kitchen window and tied them to the string again. Then back up to the roof, up the hot ladder blah blah blah. This time the enterprise was successful. Sweeping the courtyard afterwards raised a huge cloud of dust that hung in the air in the enclosed space and clogged my nose and mixed with my sweat. Did I mention it was hot? What the chicks made of these goings-on I have no idea - they still weren't talking to me.

Recently Al-Jazeera was awarded a contract by SANG to implement a new teaching project. They've recruited a bunch of English teachers and I was informed that three of them would be my flatmates. In preparation for their arrival Al-Jazeera’s maintenance people descended on the accommodation to check that all was in order for the new arrivals (their comments when they entered the room I described above were loud, rapid and incomprehensible, but their expressions said it all.)

Anti-glare window coating
For some incomprehensible reason they decided that there was a problem with the sun
shining through the bedroom windows. I never experienced any such problem and in any event the windows are double glazed. There could be a problem with street-lights shining in at night, and the way I solved this problem was to put up a blind (and later curtains after my blind got lost in the disastrous move described elsewhere in this blog). The maintenance people, however, took a more radical approach. They sent  a team of workmen to cover the windows with black, self-adhesive vinyl, effectively converting potentially pleasant rooms into dark, cheerless boxes. It also pretty well eliminated all natural light in the accommodation. No way did I allow them anywhere near my windows! I was so appalled by this madness that I emailed our CEO to express my feelings at this bizarre "solution", but it would appear that the decision is final.

Last night the maintenance guys returned to complete the finishing touches before the new arrivals get here. Since I get up at 0430 I tend to go to bed early. Just after 2100 the doorbell rang rousing me from bed. There they were – armed with 200 gram packs of complimentary washing powder for the new arrivals and 2 large bottles of Dettol for cleaning the place! The Bangladeshi dude who was the nominated cleaner walked around looking at the floor and  the kitchen and saying wonderingly “but it’s clean”.

They then proceeded to tackle the three empty bedrooms. Two of my neighbors who work in
The supermarket

the supermarket downstairs joined in with enthusiasm. They were obviously pleased to have the opportunity to see how I live and wandered about the place examining everything, especially my room and chatting to me in Arabic. I understood that one of them wanted my WiFi password.  At this point I decided “fuck it!”, closed my door and went back to bed. When the hammering started at about 2330 I got out of bed and made the industrious workers aware that I needed to get up  in about 5 hours time and suggested that they may like to wrap things up for the night and finish off some other time. Or never, for all of me!

When I got up this morning the whole place reeked of Dettol – for reasons that no doubt made a lot of sense to them but which escape me, they’d washed the floors with Dettol. Washing is perhaps too strong a word; it appeared that they had just spread water around using a dirty spaghetti mop and left it to dry. Also when I went to the bathroom I found that they had used my facecloth as a cleaning rag! This did not cause me to have warm and fuzzy feelings for them.

When I get home today I’m going to have to clean the whole place again to undo their “cleaning” and prepare myself for the arrival of my new flatmates. Flatmates are always a pot-luck sort of proposition; you never know what you are going to get. I do know though, especially after having lived alone for several weeks, that I am not interested in having roomies and sharing a kitchen and bathroom anymore. When my contract ends I’m going to be looking for something that offers single accommodation and preferably in a compound. Or in another country.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Flying, Driving, Moving and other disasters

18 August 2013

Always interesting to fly with with Ethiopian Air. After taking off from Johannesburg for Riyadh (via Ethiopia) we were diverted to Entebbe to pick up some random passengers who had been stranded there by a cancelled Ethiopian Air flight.

This made us late for our connecting flight to Riyadh from Ethiopia. I was one of the last to board and found an Arab gentleman occupying my seat. He wasn't interested in moving and when I showed him my boarding pass with allocated seat number he just looked at me blankly and shrugged. Mafi Englisi (No English).

It turns out that the first few people on board didn't understand the concept of assigned seating and by the time cabin crew realized that there was a problem people were just sitting wherever the spirit moved them. Since random seating seemed to be the order of the day, I took a seat next to an SA lady - on the aisle and near the front, so that was good - one wants to disembark as quickly as possible at Riyadh airport.Then a rather disgruntled looking character came up and asked me to move as I was in his seat; he had just gone to chat to his friend further back. I gave him a blank look and shrugged and pulled my seat-belt tighter. When he complained to a steward he was unsympathetically led to a seat at the back of the plane and told to sit and be happy.

Meanwhile, just in front of me in Business Class a dude was complaining incessantly about his seat (what exactly his complaint was I don't know - I mean, he was in Business Class!). Eventually the steward asked him if he'd rather swop with someone in economy class. When he declined the offer the harassed steward told him to "just sit and fly". Furthermore he didn't want to hear another word from the passenger.

After take-off the young dude who had hijacked my seat noticed that I was sitting next to a female. This caused him to remember how to communicate in English and all of a sudden I was "sir" and being urged to occupy my assigned seat - he would be only too happy to change seats with me. He seemed disappointed when I told him I was cool with my seating and he kept looking across the aisle wistfully where I was sipping my beer and chatting to the charming lady.

23 Aug 2013
Yesterday was an interesting day. My driver arrived at SANG with a flat wheel. The spare was shredded from an earlier incident and had not yet, after several  months, been repaired. We then drove for about 20km on the rim looking for somewhere to get a repair. The tyre places that we found were all closed so eventually I got out and looked for a taxi. 

An elderly party in a dirty heap stopped and offered me a lift, which I accepted. He chatted to me incessantly in Arabic, spraying bits of whatever he was eating over me. From time to time he erupted into song, singing loudly and tunelessly.

When we got close to home he rather belligerently demanded money for the transport. I had nothing smaller than a 100 riyal note which I reluctantly offered (Tip: ALWAYS have small denomination notes when using a taxi in KSA.The larger the note you offer the more likely you are to be overcharged). The 40 riyals change he gave me was damp from his sweaty pocket and while I was still counting the change he snatched back SAR10.

Once in my accommodation I needed the bathroom only to find that my flat-mate had been smoking in the bathroom thus rendering it unusable (by me) for half-an-hour.

With a full bladder, I decided to open a tin of spaghetti and meatballs for lunch (all the way from SA) but the tab on the can snapped off. Being resourceful  I fetched my hammer and a screwdriver. After whacking the tin a few times with a screw-driver the top descended into the sauce at high speed, causing a gout of tomato juice to erupt from the can onto me, 2 of the walls, the cupboard and the floor. "Goodness me", I thought to myself as I cleaned up.

After microwaving the remains of my meal I discovered I was out of bread, so I changed my spattered clothing and went downstairs to the local cafe. Sadly, they were closed for prayers and I had to wait for 20 minutes to get my bread.

5 September 2012
One of my colleagues has a serious nicotine addiction and smokes incessantly. Although I dislike inhaling his second-hand smoke don't complain when he smokes in the kitchen or passage of our shared accommodation. As an ex-smoker I know how powerful the urge to smoke can be. However, when he smokes in the bathroom, there is a problem. The bathroom is small and has no windows, so when I go into it after he has used it it really pongs and I find it unusable for the next half-hour.
The first time I spoke to him about this and asked him to not do this he rather vaguely said "ah well... we'll see what happens" (ins'Allah?). What happened was that he bought some air freshener to mask the smell of the cigarette smoke. Unfortunately the result  of this strategy was that the bathroom ended up smelling of tobacco flavored citrus. Not too pleasant. 

We spoke again and I suggested that he use the second bathroom when he needed to smoke whilst taking care of his ablutions. Things went well for quite a while and then he started smoking in "our" bathroom again. This time we had a fairly loud discussion about the issue and the problem disappeared again for a while. Then recently he has again felt the need to smoke in our bathroom and I again find it unusable several times a week.

This is the same person who some time back chatted to our other flatmates about some issues that had arisen for him in the shared accommodation. We all want to smile when we come home, he told them, and this means that we need to consider the people we share with and be prepared to compromise. This, he asserted, will make life more pleasant for all. Yes, quite.

About 10 days ago we heard from one of our Egyptian flatmates that we were being moved to other accommodation. Initially we disregarded what he said because his English is such that we were not really sure what he was trying to communicate to us and secondly we had received no official notification from the academy. Then a second flatmate seemed to be saying the same thing, and when I inquired from the supervisor he confirmed that this was indeed about to happen.

This seemed like a heaven-sent opportunity for my smoking flatmate and I to part company, especially since things had become a little tense between us. He could join a group of smokers or people who don't have a problem with inhaling second-hand smoke and I could cohabit with people who are happy not smoking in the public areas of the accommodation. A win-win situation.

Accordingly, I suggested this to our supervisor. I also asked him to where we were being moved and when, and when could I inspect the new premises. The date of the move was more or less confirmed but my repeated requests to inspect the new premises and my suggestion regarding the solution to the smoking issue were ignored. I kept nagging and was then told that the manager in charge of accommodation had been informed of my request. This also had zero results and the day arrived for the move. A work crew arrived, dismantled our furniture and loaded up our garbage bags full of our belongings. We were both headed for the same destination all! 

I traveled to our new digs with the first truckload of stuff. Words cannot describe how I felt as I explored my new "home". Opening the front door, my nose was assailed by an indefinable
Curtaining kindly donated by previous tenant
Guest bathroom

smell - sort of a mix between rotting vegetation and the smell you get around a landfill site.

The air-conditioner in one of the  bedrooms wheezed asthmatically and barely produced a breeze. The air-conditioner in the other bedroom roared like a bulldozer and produced a weak breeze.

One bathroom had a spectacularly filthy toilet and a washing machine perched on blocks above a squat toilet. The shower rose like a skinny apparition in front of the
window, thus preventing the window from opening. To shower one would need to stand between the toilet and the washing machine and use the washing machine as a soap dish and face-cloth rack.

The pièce de résistance, however, was the kitchen. There was nowhere near enough cupboard space to hold our groceries and pots and pans. The cupboard that were there were broken, rotting and filthy. 

A white substance  that most closely resembled pigeon shit was spattered on several of the
Mr. C. Roach agreed to pose for the photo
surfaces. The walls, especially around the dirt-encrusted stove, were filthy with the ghosts of meals past. Some brown substance had also run down some of the walls. No hot water was available in the kitchen. I opened the fridge and cupboard using only one finger. Moving or touching anything resulted in mild panic amongst the cockroaches who would run excitedly for cover. The kitchen appeared to be the source of the pong (and the cockroaches) that permeated the entire apartment. 

There was no way I was going to use the kitchen for anything, so I set up a table in the passage for my microwave and kettle and this became my pro-tem kitchen. I was afraid to leave my 2 boxes of groceries on the floor in case the cockroaches fancied upgrading their own accommodation, so I placed both boxes on a drying rack which would at least make it more challenging for potential cockroach squatters to move in.

To round things off, I got a phone call from our HR department to inform me that they had received complaints about me smoking in the accommodation and inconveniencing the other occupants. Academy rules forbid smoking in any of their buildings and I was to cease this inconsiderate and unhygienic practice immediately! By now I was so dispirited that I meekly agreed not to smoke indoors.

Going to bed and to sleep was another 'gedoente'. Since it was impossible to sleep with the noise of the air-con I switched it off when I went to bed. An hour later I woke up sweating in the heat and had to get out of bed to switch it back on. After listening to it for half-an-hour I again switched it off and slept for another hour. And so on for the rest of the night.

Before going to bed I had composed and sent a rather bitter email to our company CEO in which I bared my soul concerning my views of the accommodation and the message it sent me about my standing in the company. I was heartened to receive a call from him the next morning where he apologized for the cock-up and where he promised to remedy the situation without delay.

True to his word I received another call later in the day to confirm that we will on Saturday be moving back to the place we vacated on Wednesday. Luckily I haven't unpacked much so repacking and resealing my numerous packets and bags should not be too much of a schlep.

I don't believe that things happen "just sommer" or without there being a point. I believe that everything happens for a reason so I am looking for reasons that I needed to have this experience. What has changed in my life or my attitudes that wouldn't have changed without this event. What has happened that otherwise wouldn't have happened? Right now I have no answers, but I will keep looking.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

An Embassy Affair

Some time ago, a colleague and I managed to get an invitation to an event at the French embassy in Riyadh. It was a very formal affair and when we got there almost everyone apart from the two of us was dressed in tuxedos (I do not own a tuxedo).

Eventually the gates opened and we all streamed in. After being scanned and searched for cell phones, cameras and weapons we moved to the outside bar area. We ordered a couple of beers and by the time I had taken a couple of sips of mine my colleague had finished his. I should mention here that alcohol is illegal in the Kingdom, apart from in the embassies, so this was a rare treat.

After a quick visit to the bar my colleague returned with a couple of Chivas for each of us which, for me, was nectar from the gods. I must confess that I had smuggled a small plastic bottle onto the premises which I filled with Chivas for my future enjoyment. 

In due course the bar closed and we moved to our assigned tables for the meal. We shared a table with ten other guests and I found myself seated next to a rather introverted Italian guy with a rather extroverted Swiss girlfriend. She proudly informed us that she was a sexologist and she clearly enjoyed the speculative looks that this information provoked from all the males at the table. Her boyfriend seemed vaguely discomfited by all the attention she was receiving.

My colleague, meanwhile, had bribed one of the waiters with SAR100 for him to keep bringing drinks and at regular intervals he would leave the table and reappear with more drinks for us. Sadly, each time I was ready for another drink I found that he had finished them. Fortunately there was wine on the table which I enjoyed with my meal. As the alcohol took hold, my companion’s appreciation of etiquette suffered and he became louder and contradicted nearly every comment made by anyone at the table (with the exception of the sexologist).

Growing bored he drifted off again, and after he had been missing for about 30 minutes, a rather
austere French gentleman informed me that he felt that my friend was in need of assistance. He led me across a marble-tiled courtyard to where my colleague was sitting on a step. Of his former exuberance there was no sign. His head was hanging, his eyes were lusterless and his general demeanor was that of one who is not feeling in the best of health. He promptly confirmed this assessment by vomiting onto the marble tiling, said vomit splashing onto my shoes and trousers.

At this, the French gentleman opined that this would probably be the appropriate moment for us to make our exit. I could not disagree with him so accordingly I returned to my table to get my jacket, only to find it was missing. I saw what appeared to be my jacket on the back of another chair, but when I tried to take it the owner of the jacket objected. Once he had proved to my satisfaction that the jacket in question was indeed his, I returned to my friend where I found that my jacket had been place next to him (fortunately, not right next to him). All stops had obviously been pulled out in order to hasten our departure.

I dutifully supported the inebriated one as we exited the embassy, him leaving damp and smelly footprints as he wobbled off the premises. I found a taxi and off we went. Sadly, his stomach had not yet finished rebelling against the evening’s insults and he abruptly wound down his window and sprayed more vomit into the slipstream. The upside of this was that the cars behind us kept a more respectable following distance following this incident. Eventually we got home where I had to pay the irate taxi-driver a bonus of SAR30 for a car wash. I managed to get my colleague up the stairs and into his room, where I gave him a gentle push in the general direction of his bed, where he collapsed like a dead man and immediately started snoring.

The next day he asked me if I would like to chip in half of the bribe he had paid the waiter to keep the booze coming. I politely declined. I then waited for him to offer to refund the taxi cleaning fee which I had paid on his behalf. In this respect I was destined to be disappointed.

We have not gone to any other social events together and regrettably, I have been unable to get any more invitations to embassy events. My emails to the lady who arranged our invitation to the French embassy appear to be disappearing into cyber-space - surely she wouldn't be ignoring me...