Thursday, 27 November 2014

Fingerprinting Females

As per this message currently making regular appearances in my message inbox....

أخي المواطن . . أخي المقيم
تسجيل بصمة المقيمات متطلب لتجديد الإقامة اعتباراً من تاريخ 1/4/1436هـ الموافق 21/1/2015م  .
المديرية العامة للجوازات
Dear citizen..resident ,
fingerprints recording for females residents is a requirement for renewal Iqama service starting from 21/1/2015.
General Directorate Of Passport

...I went to get my fingerprints done today.  

A number of my friends got their biometrics recorded ages ago.  I thought I'd wait till the rush had died down because, from the fingerprinting stories they told, the whole exercise was bedlam and physically dangerous with crowds of women rushing at the single entry door of the fingerprint room.  

As I'm leaving for Christmas and not coming back till after January I figured I would preempt any glitch that may hit the system while I'm away and get my prints on file today. 

Unfortunately the messages I had been getting failed to advise that I should take my passport with me as well as my iqama.  

Yesterday I headed off to Royal Mall where, if there was organization in the fingerprint room, it wasn't immediately obvious and everything was written in Arabic.  

The only reason I got attention was because I was the only lost looking foreigner in the place and one of the ladies assisting must have read my lips as I looked around going "o..m...g" or something similar!

She, after having a little chat with me, advised it might be better to go to the Immigration Office to get my prints done. Given that I was feeling rather overwhelmed by the noise level, bedlam and queues in the place, I decided not to debate the ins and outs of her suggestion and left.  

Most of my friends had got their prints done at Sahara and one had mentioned a location on Dammam road that was not busy at all.  I figured I'd call in to one of those the next day on my way to work.  Hence the reason I'm at Sahara Mall this morning. 

The passport office is upstairs near Entrance 4.  There is a little passageway between Cinnabon and Roti Boy across which there is a divider tape that many women are ignoring and walking straight past and behind which one man is frantically trying to get women out of.  

He, it turns out, is also in charge of giving out numbered tickets.  It would help immensely if he was behind a little boothe that said "Get Your Tickets Here".  After collecting my ticket I sat with the other women, who obviously knew the drill, out in the family food section watching the little screen for my number to come up. 

While waiting I thought 'wouldn't it be nice if the two shops at which women must gaze while awaiting their number were healthy eating food shops'. Instead of eating sticky buns and sugar loaded drinks, eat a delish salad and healthy shake!  With the thousands of women who have to get their biometrics recorded and sit on their fannies while waiting for their number to come up, the potential for subliminal messaging about healthy food is huge. But no...we get to look at junk food!

On my way into the fingerprint room I read the note on the door that mentioned the bringing of passports and iqamas.  Oh crap, I wish I'd known that before!

There were a few women lined up in this little, fairly warm, airless room and two women behind desks.  I couldn't help but think what a terrible place to work.  The conditions could explain why the young woman behind the desk I was directed to was a bit terse.  That and the fact that she was being asked questions by numerous people at once, one of them being the male fingerprint guy who had to call his questions through the rather busy door!

I handed over my iqama, no mention was made of the passport, fingerprints were electronically recorded, photo taken while I'm looking off into space somewhere (I hadn't proprerly posed for the shot) and that was it, I could go.  

I thanked my busy fingerprinter, something no one else, I noted, had done before me.  

So now I am in the system.  Here's hoping there isn't a glitch due to a lack of passport.  I am a fingerprinted female in Saudi Arabia. 

Ka Kite 

Monday, 3 November 2014

Mastodon Bones In Saudi Arabia.

I was talking to a friend the other night about our Mastadon Cave Camping Excursion and it occurred to me that, although we went a year ago (on the last Saudi National Day weekend to be exact), I hadn't published the experience on my blog.  It has been buried among the  innumerable drafts currently clogging my draft box for the past year.  (Yes folks, there is a lot to talk about while living in Saudi!)   So here it is...Mastadon Bones In Saudi Arabia!

Mastodons?  What are Mastodons?
They're prehistoric elephants aren't they?
Aren't they similar to mammoths?
Yeah, something like that...

So went the conversation out by the pool the day we announced we were spending our Saudi National Day weekend searching for a cave supposedly full of mastodon bones.  I was worried our friends' responses to our long weekend holiday plans might put Hubster off the whole idea.  It had taken a long while to talk him into this little caper in the first place, (a good two to three years or so).

'Who told you about this?' he said whenever I brought the topic up (which made me think he never listened in the first place!)
'I heard about it at a coffee morning', I replied (again).
'So, where is this cave? he asked.
'I'm not completely sure', I replied.  'As usual information on the internet is kind of sparse, but it's about a six hour drive somewhere up near the Kuwait border.
'We're in for another one of your random trips are we?', he grumbled.
'You love them', I perked.
He sighed.

And so, three years after first finding out about a cave full of mastodon bones, we hired the trusty GMC Yukon and, with the topper to our bed stuffed in back along with a few other bits and bobs, and directions scribbled out onto paper, we hit the road last Saudi National Day weekend.

We would have hit the road three or four hours earlier in the day but Hubster has this penchant for not listening to much that I say (have I mentioned that already?), so was meandering around the compound (lord only knows what for), while I waited patiently for him to get himself together and out to the vehicle.  About three or so hours after our departure, when I asked why he was driving so slow along the highway, almost like he was out on a Sunday drive, he queried how much further we had to go and discovered we were only half way.  He wasn't impressed.
'Why did we leave so late if we have so far to go,' he said.
'I don't know', I replied.  'You were the one farting around'.
'If I'd known it was so far I'd have left sooner.'
'Well, I've been telling you all week it's about a 6 hour drive.  Perhaps you should spend more time paying attention to things I say.'

Then he said, 'At least you've got directions this time'.
'I have directions to the turn-off.' 
'What turn off?' he said.
'The one into the desert where we have to go to find the caves.'
'So how far is the cave from the turn off,' he asked and for some reason was hoha (Maori word for annoyed) when I said, 'I don't know'.
'But you have directions', he said
I bristled.   Then repeated in a very abbreviated form, (because he was starting to annoy me), the directions as I knew them - 'We drive to turn off point.  We turn into the desert and drive west looking for mountains.  I don't know how far into the desert we have to go because Google Maps doesn't navigate through desert.  Google Maps barely navigates to our turn off point!  Obviously you have chosen to ignore anything I've said about getting to these caves this weekend, so don't go getting shitty with me now!
And there began an argument to kick start our weekend.
Don't you love marital bliss!

With the late afternoon quickly passing by, the sun threatening to set as rapidly as it does in Saudi Arabia, and an uncomfortable silence descended on our vehicle because I refused to accept any Olive Branch approaches from He Who Can Be Very Annoying, we came upon a roadside settlement with a gas station in its midst and a hotel nearby.  Just past this, according to my info, was the desert turn off.  Certainly there were tracks that disappeared over the darkening horizon in the general direction of west, but which was the one we wanted given, as per usual, there were tracks all over the darned place into the desert.

Hubster looked at me for guidance.
I shrugged my shoulders.
He said it will be dark soon.
I said do you fancy staying at that hotel.
We turned off into the desert.

Driving into the darkening sunset in the desert along a track that disappears under swathes of sand at regular intervals is not actually a bright idea.  Each time the track got cut off by piles of sand we would look at each other, then I would hold on and he'd hit the pedal and we'd both hold our breath until terra firma was firm again.  We had been, we noted, heading slightly uphill for about thirty minutes before the track flattened out and we decided to pull over and have dinner.  There's nothing like a spot of campfire cooked food to help you decide what to do next, and we decided to stay put.

Dinner was scrummy
The billy boiled tea was hot and comforting.
After dinner we rolled out the topper and climbed in the back of the Yukon.
Ahh, the peace.  The quiet
The bright moon high in a blue black desert sky.
The traffic.

Say what?
Yep.  Traffic.
We discovered the next day that a number of Bedu camps were out along this track and, as it was the weekend, city folks were visiting their camel caring relatives.  Sometime past midnight, on their drive back to civilization, each car (yes all of them) would stop by our camp site to make sure we were OK.

It's great to know that Saudi's are concerned about people out in the desert.  It really is.  We even commented to each other how comforting it is to know that we weren't alone beneath this northern Saudi sky and we appreciated that, should we have required help, it was constantly passing by.  However, as we weren't in need of assistance at that point, we decided to drive our vehicle a little further away from the track so we could get some sleep because we're old and western and still haven't got the hang of really late Saudi activity.

Our Campsite...spectacular isn't it!
The next morning I was up bright and early to the sound of grunting camels at the nearest bedu camp site, and Hubster snoring.  Time to go for a look around before rekindling the fire and getting on some breakfast. Don't you just love a campfire breakfast and hot coffee.  (A spot of bacon would have made the whole event just perfect!)

After assessing our surroundings and checking if my phone could get reception (nope), we decided to drive further along the track in the direction of more mountain-ish looking terrain.  And wouldn't you know it, there, lying face down in the sand on one side of the track, was a fallen down sign.  It actually reminded me of an abandoned OK Coral sign.  We had no idea what the sign said, we couldn't see the writing, but presumed a cave full of mastodon bones must be worth having a sign for way out in the middle of we turned off and drove over the sign.

I don't know exactly how we found the cave.
We drove around the base of the desert hills, in and out of little nooks and cranny's.  We'd get out and walk and explore.  We'd climb to the top of the hills to get a better view and then slip slide our way back down.  Then, as we were driving and scanning the area, a picture came into view.  The picture.  The picture I'd seen on the internet.

'I think that's it', I said.
'Yep.  I'm sure that's it, I said'
So out we got, and sure enough we had arrived!

The cave is more of an overhang, and it's not a large one either.  However, the roof is chock full of bones - or calcified left overs anyway.  It was pretty cool.  Signs of previous human visits were scrawled across the back wall of the cave.  I tried to find the huge tusk shape I'd read about, but came to the conclusion that previous humans had taken it!

The bones are obviously part of a shelf and I'm fairly certain that if someone wanted to do some extra digging, they would find a few more bones in that area.  Whether or not they are truly mastodon bones is a matter for discussion, but its a romantic notion that I don't mind indulging.

We sat there imagining a land full of mastodons and mammoths and wondered what had become of them all.  I took a few photos and then we drove around seeing what else there was to see in the area. There isn't much, although some of the landscape can fool your eyes into thinking you're looking at part of a giant fossilized mastodon leg or a mastodon head.  We did conclude how easy it would be to get stuck out here in this desert - meaning we probably shouldn't have come alone.  And how important it was to have bought plenty of water - meaning we'll definitely remember that for next time!

As we had succeeded in finding the Mastodon Cave, Hubster decided we might has well head out of the desert and find a nice spot for lunch.  I suggested 'How about the beach?  The coast is only 30 or so km's away from the turn off.'  So we headed toward the coast.

We never made it to the beach.
The entire north eastern coast of Saudi is under Aramco control.  Those lovely water spots shown on Google Maps can not be reached by random expat tourists who have no idea how to say to Aramco security guards with limited English to match our equally limited Arabic 'We just want to visit the beach and dip our toes in the water and maybe cook up a spot of lunch.'   One guy actually asked us where we were from and when we said Riyadh he said, 'Go back to Riyadh!'

Apparently if we had driven further north to Khafji we would have made it to the beach, but communication issues meant that, after contemplating our options,  Hubster decided it was probably best to head for home.   It was on way home, when we decided to pull off the highway to toilet behind some dunes, that we discovered one should not drive off the road onto questionable topography in the middle of a hot Saudi day.

The Saudi man who stopped to tow us out informed us that the sand is softer when hot and turns into a trap.  Hubster, who was feeling a bit silly for getting stuck just off the highway, was trying to act like he knew how to remedy the situation.  Our rescuer very nicely said, 'This is my country, I know what I'm doing.  Let me do it'.  Hubster shut up and soon we were out of the sand and back on the road.  Mr Rescuer, while rescuing us, told us he and the family were just returning from the beach at Khafji.  He also told us that in the past month three people had perished in the desert.  We both shut up.

After stopping at the nearest gas station to properly inflate our deflated tyres, and waving to our rescuer and his car load of kids who went flying past, I suggested that perhaps we could spend a night in one of the towns we had passed through on our way to the cave, with their interesting sculptures and streets all decked out in green and white and flags, to experience a rural celebration of Saudi National Day.  But Hubster had had enough adventure for one weekend, (he's getting on in years now, so it's hardly surprising), and wanted to get back to his own bed.

Another sunset was almost upon us and we still had a few hours of driving ahead, but our stomachs rumbling so decided to pull up behind a collection of interesting shaped rocks a little distance off the road, (Hubster checked the ground properly before doing so), to light a fire and cook up a rather late, though delicious, lunch.  Then we lay about on our Arabic carpet and fell asleep.  We woke to another carpet of beautiful stars filling up the night sky.  It took me a moment to figure out where I was and what they were, and my gosh the sight was spectacular.  The fire had died down to smoldering ash and it was so peaceful in our little rock enclave that we decided to revive the fire and boil up a cup of tea.  We might have been on our way home, but weren't in any hurry to get there.

We did enjoy our drive to visit the Mastodon cave and hope that future visitors will be responsible and not set about wrecking or tagging in it even more than it has been already.  I'm always amazed at our stupid and brainless we humans can be with the things we discover, and it did cross my mind that perhaps the Mastodon Bones of  Saudi Arabia (if they truly are Mastodon Bones) would be better off remaining buried!

Directions to Mastodon Caves

I used to be able to add my Tiki Tour Map to the blog, but Google in their great wisdom of constant upgrades have removed that ability (or I can't find the instructions for it).  So put these co-ordinates into Google Maps and go forth to discover Mastodon Bones in Saudi Arabia.

Turn off into desert: N 27 13.695 E 48 24.974
Cave location: N 27 12.120 E 48 10.500.

Ka Kite,

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