Saudi Adventure Part 2
by, 02-05-2009 at 11:23 AM (511 Views)
Dubai was a misty muggy 36 degrees Celsius at 5:30 in the morning, but the air-conditioned acres of airport soon took care of that and we were whisked through customs to the waiting bus which was to take us off to the beautiful Airport Hotel where we were fed a delightful breakfast, and given a suite in which to catch up on some much needed sleep.
The only thing missing was a razor, as it was not allowed on board as hand luggage, being considered a weapon of mass destruction since the September attack.
I could live with a scratchy beard, however, and only managed to sleep until 10:00 when the excitement of wanting to explore the city where East meets West, got the better of me and I was soon outside with my camera, photographing the wonderful array of motor cars, and exquisite buildings, and then, together with Elize, off to the City Centre shopping mall to drool over the wares, with many promises to return, once we had earned our “megabucks” in Riyadh, and buy, buy, buy!
Catching a Taxi was a whole new experience for me, and not quite certain if we were being ripped off or not, we hopped into a new Toyota Camry where we were whisked back to the Hotel for lunch, and final snooze before being woken up at 16:00 to catch the bus back to the Airport.
I thought it was hysterical when Elize was strip searched by a very manly looking female security officer, for setting off the beeper when walking through the security door.
My laughter did not last long, however, as I was “caught” at the next X-Ray machine, that picked up the fact that I had a pair of nail clippers in my hand luggage…another weapon of mass destruction since September!
Suitably chastised, and nail clippers confiscated we proceeded to the final departure gate where we came face to face with the first of the fully covered Muslim ladies, all sitting in “their” section of the waiting room, whilst the men were sent to a “safe” area away from the untouchable women!
Being the only Westerners in the departure lounge, had its merits, as we were shown to the front of the queue ahead of Philippine and Pakistani nationals, all scrambling to board the plane.
Soon we were comfortably seated, once more with TV screens and beautiful air -hostesses at our beck and call, we took off from Dubai, into the darkening sky, and heading west towards the Islamic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
There was little different about this flight, apart from the fact that alcoholic beverages were not served, and we were given the choice of juice or sealed cups of “plastic” water…a strange concoction that tastes like water, but is completely manufactured from start to finish, and does not even freeze when put in the freezer!
The Arabic pilot was obviously a learner driver, and prior to take off, wailed an Arabic prayer over the intercom. Take off was fine, but our landing was ghastly, (a sign of things to come?), as he managed to land first on one wheel, then the other, and then finally thumped the nose wheel down with enough force to smash it up through the fuselage!
Luckily for us, Boeings are built to withstand being dropped onto the runway by learners, as our trip might have ended there and then in the desert sands of Riyadh!
Again, we were ushered out of the plane, and taken to the front of the diplomatic queue, where I proudly greeted the immigration official and presented him with my passport and brand new Entry Visa.
A charming flash of white teeth appeared below his moustache, and he asked me if the lady standing behind me was with me.
Having been asked to be Elize’s chaperone, I obviously answered yes.
He then asked for her passport, and on inspecting it, the flashing white teeth were quickly replaced with flashing dark eyes, and a tone of voice that still sends shivers down my back.
“You go and sit there, I keep the passports!” was hissed at the two of us.
Elize suddenly realised that she was not dressed in her Arabic garb, and quickly shot off to the nearest Ladies’ rest room to change, fearing that she had done something to offend the man behind the desk.
The change of clothing received not the slightest recognition, and thereafter began three hours of interrogation in separate cubicles, by bearded yellow khaki clad officials. Much of the interrogation was done in Arabic, with an English word here and there.
Enough to convince us that we were both in serious trouble!
Rescue came some three hours later, in the form of a very sweaty Bassam Zein, Director and Educational Consultant of
Al-Ghad school, who managed to do some very smooth talking in order to save us from a night in jail and probable deportation the following day!
As events were to unfold, it is a pity that we were not deported that night, as the hell that was to follow over the ensuing month would be far worse than a night in detention and then back to South Africa!
On arrival at the Assamer Hotel, we were met by what can only be described as a very jaded bunch of teachers, sitting doing prep in the foyer of the hotel. It was now 1 in the morning, and by all intents and purposes, they had a good couple of hours of work to do, but all frantic for news from home, as well as rather bemused by our arrival. Only later, did the story finally unravel that they had no idea that Elize and I were arriving that night.
Apparently the less known about the future in the Arabic world the better, after all, mushrooms grow better in the dark…don’t they?
The next couple of days can only be described as “manic” on my part, as the excitement of arriving in this strange new world, which indeed could have been part of a totally different planet, took hold of my every sense.
It also managed to allow me to go blindly and unthinkingly into the unknown, as I entered headlong into this adventure.
From here on, I will copy from my diary entries, as they describe best the feeling of excitement at the time: