Friday, January 15, 2016

Up in Smoke

Up in Smoke - Kevin smokes the Hookah

Weekly update:  Days are a predictably humid 32 C with nights only a few degrees less. I change my shirt mid day because it is stuck to me and I have to watch out for heat rash in my armpits and the back of my knees.  But there is no snow!  I should buy a thobe, the loose cotton, long-sleeved, ankle-length garments worn here. The worst part is that this is the coldest it will get here, and highs will be going up to 50 C. Whewww!
Mornings start at about 5:30 am when I make my own breakfast (we go to Jizan City about an hour south once a week for groceries, where the "Panda" is similar to one of our grocery stores with the exception that there is no pork or alcohol (both are prohibited within Saudi Arabia's borders) and the few women seen are covered head to toe in black abayas, save for their eyes... one ran into me with a shopping cart.
I commute to work with my Finnish counterparts, an O&M Team (Operations and Maintenance) from Finland, for which I am responsible to keep safe.  It is about 30 km from our housing complex to the plant and the drive can be challenging given the lack of driving rules and enforcement.  Vehicles weave in and out on either side of the road at speeds over 120 km/hr.  Potholes and speed bumps are not marked.  We pass at least two security checkpoints as we arrive in Jizan Economic City, a massive industrial initiative surrounding a port on the main Red Sea shipping route.  The titanium ore for the smelter I work in is shipped from Africa, smelted here and sent on to become artificial hip joints in other countries.

A Mosque being built down the road from my place

Welcome to Jizan Economic City

Walking the mall in Jizan (prayer time - all stores close for about 25 minutes)
A sea of abayas

Non-Alcoholic Budweiser is available in restaurants
Thursday after work, seven Finns and myself drove in two vehicles to Jizan.  Though we drove at top speed and try as we might to make it to a restaurant before prayers (They have five prayer times every day based on a difficult to read prayer table and depending on how far they are from Mecca), we didn't make it in time and had to kill about 25 minutes in the mall across the street.  The stores, which of course were closed, were high end with high fashion ladies wear, purses and jewelry being the main theme.  Dinner was disappointing; we ate at TGIF and I had the soggiest oiliest burger I have ever eaten.
After dinner we raced across the city to a shisha place the guys have frequented before, arriving as it were, at prayer time again.  A sympathetic security guard snuck us in the back door and we enjoyed a relaxing mint-flavoured smoke break served with traditional yellow tea.  Very nice.
After dinner, we found a shisha place and smoked the hookah

Once again it's Gathering Day, my weekly day off and I carried my one cardboard box full of dirty work clothes to our camp washing machine and did my laundry. Its now drying in the sun on a rack at my doorway while I read Khaled Hossein's "The Kite Runner"... A great read about betrayal, guilt and redemption... about a cowardly boy from Afghanistan who seriously neglects his best friend in his early life only to find out that he was actually his brother in his later life.

Tonight we played football (ie soccer) at a local soccer pitch.  It was the Finns against the East Indian/Pilipino team (I played for the Indians) and we lost 9-8.. Great game!