Friday, January 22, 2016

How to vacation in the Middle East (and get paid to do it!)

Update Week 3
The best way to get through a traffic circle here is to take a breath, close your eyes, step on the gas and take your chances.  Those assumptions you might have about everyone going in the same direction, and cars entering the traffic circle yielding to the cars already in it; forget about it.  Signal lights; forget about it. Passing on the left; forget about it.  Imagine if you will, 14 million Arabian men playing high speed bumper cars, and not one woman driver in the whole country. That’s what we have here folks.
I have survived yet another week on the Red Sea coast.  I bought myself a chicken at the market and fried it up which lasted a few meals.  I’ve started taking lunches to the plant to get away from all the rice and stew (lamb, chicken, beef) and for that I make tuna sandwiches and buy fruit when we go to Jizan once a week.  One of my highlights this week was the discovery of Philippino hopias, which are small hard puck- like pastries filled with different fillings like beans, dates or pineapple.  I have tried onion hopias and date hopias this week, both of which were tasty with tea.
Tuesday night after work we went into Baysh village and had dinner in a Turkish Restaurant.  Apparently no women are allowed inside because they sit with their children on the curb, covered head to toe in black like a bunch of ninjas, waiting for their sons and husbands to finish eating.  We had souvlaki  style wraps, beef and chicken kabobs and fries for dinner, along with all the hummus and Arabian bread we could dip. Young beggars, children, waited at the door and watched us eat, pointing at us and discussing who was going to cling on to whom when we left.   We gave them our plates of left overs and got through them okay this time, but once before, with no food in our hands, they clinged on to our clothing and wouldn’t let go unless we gave them money.

Arabian Bread - A staple here along with hummus (also a staple!)

What we would call Souvlaki, is actually a Turkish fast food... barbequed meats wrapped in Arabian bread. "Kapoks"

And now for our Friday activity this week.  Myself, 10 Finns and a Portuguese  fella drove an hour or two southeast to a canyon just north of the Yemen border.  It is called Wadi Lahab or another name for it is The Rift Valley, known for its high mountain passes, narrow canyons and flash floods.

From the parking lot which is a couple kilometers off the highway, we started walking, rock hopping, swimming across pools (back packs held high) and climbing cliffs. We swam through caves and climbed underground waterfalls upstream with blinding water splashing our faces and running down our backs.  We scaled and climbed cliffs, jumped canyon walls and boulders the size of cars and houses. We swam through small holes with barely enough room to squeeze through. It was physically demanding but well worth it. I started out in Jeans and work boots but quickly learned that this was the wrong combination because I bravely stepped in a pool and disappeared. It was such a struggle to get back to solid ground. (I don't know how they do it in the movies because I damn sure can't swim well with boots and jeans on...) Thereafter I swam bare foot with my boots tied and looped around my neck, and my backpack perched on my shoulders.

Antii, Juoni and Mika

This is the entrance to Ladi Wahab (Rift Valley)

This is me soaked to the skin after many swims through pools that were deeper than I am tall. 

L-R Bottom:  Myself, Mika, Karri and Matti,  Top: Petri, Ricardo, Jari, Jouni, Antii and Jonas



And so it begins, another week in Saudi Arabia. My visa only permits me to be here for 30 days at a time so I booked a flight to Dubai on Feb 4th for 2 nights which will be a nice break. Work is going fine as I try to pull an out-of-touch corporate health and safety team into alignment with my department and the people who are doing the work. It is less the credentials I have and more my ability to get people to work together that serve me best in my role as OHS Manager.

These are SARs (Saudi Arabian Riyals) One Riyal is about 38 cents Canadian

Local Market in the village where I walk for fresh fruit and veggies after work.

Seemingly wild camels roam the countryside...

Local Monkeys here, known by the Finlanders as "Red-Assed Monkeys"...

The titanium smelter in which I am presently employed...