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20131227 First Days in Arabia

Boxing Day and Christmas Day - just the normal work days here. The only note it was special was that our temporary (stand-in) supervisor bought us lunch and it was American Johnny Rocket burgers which were nice.

There's lots of work for me to do and it is really interesting. My first project is revising a training program for drilling engineers. It is very scientific and mathematical and highly technical. Let me put it this way, I would fail the test! However I understand most of it and I love doing scientific work even though I'm not a petro engineer. It is fascinating to try to understand every little detail, from the density of mud, the speed of flow, mass, time, velocity etc. and the many elements that go into drilling a well and cleaning it out. Quite amazing and I have a new admiration for the oil industry people. It's such a huge operation and everything is VERY controlled. I have to go through scanners to enter the work area and we have even to ask for keys to the supply cabinet. The people are all quite welcoming though and it is a very nice work environment. Plenty of coffee, tea, water, tissues. There are little sandwich carts in the lobby if you don't want to go to a cafeteria for lunch. EVERYBODY starts and finishes at the same time, and lunch is 11.30 to 12.30, and that's it. So when it's lunch time and quitting time, it's crowded.

The services one needs, for example post office, are only open during office working hours. So if you try to do anything outside working hours, no luck. I work Sunday to Thursday 0700 - 1600. Friday and Saturday = the weekend. Friday everything is closed because that is prayer day. So I found out today, on Friday you can't go into town, go to post office, or even try to go anywhere. You can pray or rest. I must find a bicycle so I can get out and about in the compound. The compound has over 11,000 people and it’s huge.

There is a dining hall close to the hotel where I stay and I walked over about 8am today, and it was open. I asked for two poached eggs please. The server replied "No". Looking a bit confused I realized that while the sign said you can asked for fresh cooked eggs, they only mean fried. I'm learning. The coffee is good so I chose a croissant, boiled egg, chicken sausage and sat by myself looking at the palm trees out of the dining hall window. Unless they are family members, men and women generally do not sit at the same tables. Men always sit together, even in Aramco. Outside seating in restaurants is definitely segregated, and single men are not allowed anywhere near females. Single men can’t go on many of the bus trips, or join any of the clubs that women are in. For example; a sewing group. Lots of clubs and groups in the company's compound and I’m trying to figure out what will interest me. It won’t be quilting!

It's a bit like being in a suburb of a sunny American town. Very manicured and tidy. There are loads of immigrant workers who run all the services from serving food, gardening, building, maintenance, front desk in the hotel, and you name it. Most of the immigrant service workers are Indian, Filipino, Bengali, Sri Lankan and some Nepalese. They are all extremely polite and provide excellent service. However, while everything is conducted in English as the common language, not everybody speaks the same level or the same version, and it's often hilarious (or for some people, frustrating) to watch how things work. Example, my safe didn’t work in my room. The Pakistani porter opened it and said it needed new batteries so I could set the lock. He left. Send the Filipino porter who saw the door of the safe open and said “Ah it’s open, you’re OK now”. So I said, “It’s open because I can’t lock it”. Eventually he agreed it needed batteries, so porter number three comes back 15 minutes later with batteries. It all takes time.

Day 1, I went to the reporting office to get registered and obtain my company badge (which you must carry on you at all times). Walked in at 7 AM. Not a soul in the waiting room.

  1. Take a number. Wait.
  2. Go to clerk 1, provide passport - wait.
  3. Called to clerk 2, sign a piece of paper, take a seat and wait.
  4. Called to clerk 3, finger printed – take a seat and wait.
  5. Called to clerk 4 – photographed - take a seat and wait.
  6. Eventually, my number was called again (about 45 minutes later – go to another room and get a badge.

All the admins in this group seem to be Saudi, and the few ladies are in full veil, only the eyes showing. They’re all very polite.

Little trip to the LuLu express supermarket today. Things like imported breakfast cereal cost about $10.00 a box. Imported cheese is about $25.00. Local things like eggs and yoghurt are not expensive. Interesting food selections, some American, much of it from the UK, and mostly chocolate and sweet things. I bought a handful of things and was shocked that it came to 180 Saudi Ryal which is about $60+ or forty pounds sterling. I carried it all in one hand, so it wasn’t much. I can’t wait to get out into the local communities so I can explore the souks. I think I’m going to take a bus tomorrow and just go wherever it takes me and take my chances. I’m glad I brought the abaya (robe) and head gear with me so I can just poke around and explore. I’m itching to get out of here and see the real side of Saudi life.


Wee Shufti

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