Friday, July 18, 2014

Iqama Received! Mall experience ....

After all the stories about how it would take two or three weeks to process, I was really surprised to have received my passport and iqama yesterday! I guess it is good to do such things during Ramadan. Who knew? Now I can leave the country and be able to come back! If I had the money I would use a few vacation days and return to the US for a bit, just to see how things were going.

Last night was Thursday; the day that I had designated as the day to go shopping for the following week. Apparently we westerners need to eat even during vacation! So, true to our word, my coworker and I headed to the Mall of Dhahran. I really don't like malls to begin with, and going at 10pm is not really an improvement. Actually we went at 8pm and finally returned about 11:30pm!

My friend and I visited a couple of stores and then stopped off at the food court. He then had to go to another store, and I, being tired, decided to go straight to the grocery store and meet up with him there. Unfortunately, I am a little more directionally challenged than I first thought. After walking around the mall for what seemed like an eternity, I exited the mall in order to find the nearest entrance from the outside. I couldn't see it and decided that it was much too hot to be walking around outside. I approached the very next entrance and attempted to enter. The guard put up his hand and hit me in the chest while exclaiming "where is your family?!"

I didn't realize that there were family only entrances to the mall itself, and I am not so sure that this was actually the case. Judging from the way he acted, and the way he said what he did, it seemed like it was personal. I think he looked at me, didn't like what he saw, and used it as an excuse to keep me out. Chalk one up for the security guard!

As soon as I get some actual sleep, I am sure this will all blow over :)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Reflections on the Process in Obtaining a Saudi Iqama (Residency Permit)

As I sit here during my Ramadan break with my brain seeping out my ears, I have plenty of time to reflect on the process I have recently been required to go through. It was a long, grueling process in which one endures great mental games and physical invasion in order to make sure one is "qualified" to live in the Kingdom.

A little overly dramatic? Obviously. However, one needs a little drama in life to keep things interesting, and it is much better to have it on paper than to have to deal with it in the "real world." It could also be a product of the coffee I have been drinking today, but I will throw that by the wayside for now.

The process all started with a word from my supervisor informing me that I would be going to Bahrain just before the start of Ramadan in order to get the required physical. (I had been through this whole process previously while in the states, but as that was for a visa for a different company, it apparently didn't count.) So, me and a colleague took the two-ish hour, 300SAR taxi ride from al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia to Manama, Bahrain. We were put up at the Holiday Inn Express for 3 days.

The physical took half a day; most of it waiting. We were required to do a chest x-ray, get our blood drawn, and have our blood pressure taken (along with height and weight). I think there were other things we were supposed to do but didn't. The blood draw was the worst. The one who attempted to take my blood at first, didn't seem to know what she was doing. For the first time, someone had a difficult time finding a vein. After two attempts, she went to get the more experienced worker (I think I may have caused some nervousness in her, and she was grateful to be rid of me). He had little trouble, and the process was soon over. 










Then it was time to go back to the hotel for the day to wait. The following day we went to a visa processing office. We arrived around 10am and finally left around 5ish. It was a long day of waiting. All that was to be done here was to get fingerprints taken and have our passports taken to be sent to get the visa. It was time was wait again... The following evening, our passports were delivered. 

We stayed the final night and returned to Saudi Arabia the next morning. We waited a couple of days to get over some sort of bug that I am sure we picked up at the hospital in Bahrain. Then it was off to yet another hospital for yet another physical! Another chest x-ray, a stool sample, and more blood!

This blood draw went easier. Interestingly enough, this time the person typed it while I was there.
      "What is your blood type?"
      "O-positive."
     "Who told you that?"
     "Doctors."
     "It is A- negative. If this is true, we are the same. I will check the microscopics later."

So, either my blood type has changed; or the doctors in China, the doctor in the US, and the doctors at the DoD were all wrong. Or, more likely, this typing was wrong. Did she not know what she was doing? Perhaps she was flirting with me... it could happen! I have no idea if it was corrected or not, but this makes me very uncomfortable with the possibility of having to be treated here in Saudi. 

Then we had to send the passports to Riyadh where they will be taken to the embassy and processed for the iqama. I have no idea how long this will take, though I was told that it would take about two weeks. So I sit here waiting and hoping... 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Journey to Saudi Arabia (MBS - AMS)

I finally received my passport with my Saudi visa on Tuesday, subbed on Wednesday, and went to the airport on Thursday to begin my long journey into the unknown! My first stop was, of course, the airport. MBS is a small airport (though still considered international, and I have not yet looked to closely as to what rules apply to such a designation), so TSA precheck is a bit modified (still have to take out laptop and liquids, but don't have to remove shoes), but as I was the only one going through at the time, I wasn't overly concerned about inconveniencing anyone with my having to open two bags to get the necessary items.

The flight to Detroit was extremely short and uneventful; we even arrived early! I was grateful for the little additional time as I wasn't sure where I was going to have to go to catch my other plane, and I had been instructed to recheck in and get a boarding pass in Detroit for the leg to Amsterdam. It turned out to be just one or two gates down in the other section of the terminal. When I arrived at the gate and gave them my name, the agent responded "oh, Rice. I just finished processing your upgrade! Here is your ticket. Go spend some time in the lounge to wait for boarding, which should be in about a half an hour." I took him up on the suggestion and went to the lounge to breath and relax a little.... and take in the news that I had actually been upgraded to business class on an international flight!

The flight itself was comfortable. I had a very good multi-course meal, watched some movies, and may have even dozed off a time or two for a couple of minutes. I will write more on the flight itself later so as not to add to the length of this writing.

I arrived in Amsterdam and went in search of a transfer agent so I could obtain my final boarding pass. A sign pointed me to Transfer Desk 4 as I would be flying on a KLM flight. There were a number of blue self-check in machines, counters on the other side of them, and a desk where one would enter the area of the counter. I approached the desk where I was told that I needed to use a machine. I attempted to use the machine, and all was going well until it asked me a question! The flags of confusion and delusion had been raised!  The computer obviously didn't like me, so it informed me that I would need to speak to an agent. I very much preferred this anyway, so I took that as a win for me, at first! I approached the desk again. As the agent was dealing with others at the time, I used the machine to the right of the desk to obtain a number. The agent, a little miffed at my obvious provinciality, took the number and told me to just wait a minute. I sheepishly waited for her to finish and call me forward.

She took my passport, and looked me up on her computer. She asked how much luggage I had checked with a bit of shock seeping through her voice. I told her two, and she related her surprise. "It says here that you have checked six, and that you owe 800 Euro." We shared a bit of a chuckle as she attempted to change it, and when she had to call over a supervisor because it wasn't letting her do it. It looked like the computer was having the last laugh on this one after all! We did eventually get it taken care of, and I went off in search of the KLM Crown lounge to wait for the 4 hours for my next flight. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

More Complications.... but closer!

My new employer has been working hard to get me my visa and on my way, but things are never as easy for me as with normal people. I am thankful that I don't have to deal with most of the issues; all I have to do this time is wait... but even that can be a bit nerve-wracking.

It seems that because my former recruiter obtained a work visa for me, it needs to be cancelled at the location it was issued: Houston. I was told that the normal procedure when someone is not sent is for the hiring agency to cancel the visa so they have that visa slot available for someone else. In my case, this did not happen. In an effort to correct what they saw as a bad situation, my recruiter decided to not cancel my visa and to look for other possible positions. This desire to help actually hurt me in this instance.

When I was hired for this new position, I had to send in my passport to the Embassy in DC. The business visa was denied because of the non-cancelled business visa. They requested a letter of no objection from the company that had authorized my visa. I was thinking this was going to be a huge hurdle, but I emailed my recruiter, and she emailed her main office to obtain the letter. The very next day, I was CCed on an email to my new company with the necessary letter attached.

My passport was sent from DC down to Houston where the old visa will hopefully be cancelled with no problems. I am currently waiting to see how things turn out. I am thankful that my former recruiter worked so diligently with my both during the time she was attempting to get me there herself and for the service she provided during this time of need. I am also thankful that I am not the one who has to deal with the airfare. My company had already reserved a ticket for me and had to cancel it. They will get another one as soon as we find out when I will actually be allowed to go. Uncertainty seems to reign in my life :)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Devious Job Pixies!

Last March I was hired by a contract company in Saudi Arabia for a teaching position there. I informed them of problems that would have to be discussed concerning when I would be able to start. We discussed them and agreed on a start date.

As I am a compulsive job hunter, I kept looking during the time my recruiter and I were discussing a possible start date. I talked with a contractor who wanted to keep me on file for a job they were granted a subcontracted for in Afghanistan. The following day I was called and informed that job had been cut. I was hired by another contracting company in Afghanistan for an English teaching position. Within a week, I received a call stating that the position had been "descoped".  And prior to my job offer in March, I was offered a position at an international elementary school in Kabul. I accepted the position and they said they were going to send me the paperwork. I never heard from them again. I tried emailing them with no response

Fast forward to December. The contract company had told me that the physical I would have to undergo in order to get the necessary visa should be done in December. The time came, they sent me the paperwork, I filled it out, and proceeded to get my physical. There were a couple of health issues that came up that needed to be addressed. This was done with no problems.

The contract company emailed their client, got the go ahead, and had me send everything to the visa office to be processed, and I was granted a brand new Saudi business visa! This had been scanned and emailed to my contractor and to myself so that I new that it, meaning also my passport, were finally on their way back to me! I was told that they would forward this information to their client and that I should receive an email telling me when I would be flying out. The email came, and I excitedly opened it! Unfortunately, it was an email to inform me that the job was no longer available!

Frustrated, I emailed out a number of other resumes. I received an interview with a school in China. I interviewed with them, and they said they wished to hire me. I received an email with three attachment explaining various benefits and rules, etc. The email reference an offer letter that I needed to sign and send back. I emailed the recruiter to ask about this. He looked and said that he had forgotten to attach it, and that he would send it first thing in the morning. Four or five days later, I had not heard from him. Then he calls and asks if I had received the email with the letter. I inform him that I did not, and he said that he would send it right away. It is the following day, and I have received nothing.

Fortunately, I had an interview yesterday with a government contractor with a contract in Saudi Arabia teaching Saudi Air Force mechanics. They were looking for someone who could leave by the end of the month. Today, I received the offer letter and have sent it back. I am happy to now have a job and will be off once again making my way in the world.

I know that I have been a victim of those notoriously devious job pixies. They have been researching how I react to their whimsical giving and taking of jobs, and now that I have received what I hope to be my last one this year, I assume they are bored with me and have moved on. If you happen to have an experience with these pixies, do not be discouraged; they do leave eventually!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Mind Full of Travels!

This past couple of weeks has been extremely eventful. I haven't had time to sit and write about what has been happening. Now that I am at the airport awaiting the first leg of my next journey, I have a little bit of time to catch up and relax and report.

From Reno I returned to Michigan for a couple of days. During this time I stayed at a decent hotel, visited my brother, and attempted to relax (which I tend to have a very difficult time with). From there I flew to Baltimore for a night. I stayed at the Westin and loved it! It is a luxurious hotel which I would definitely stay at, but the price is a bit more than I would typically like to spend.

After my short night in Baltimore, I boarded the plane to London. I was actually heading to Endinburgh, but it was on a separate ticket. I was required to transfer terminals and recheck in. The gates at Terminal 1 were great! They are self gates at which you place your boarding pass on the scanner and look into the camera. If all checks out, the gate opens and you go through to security. Shoes, belts, and such are not required to be taken off at first, unless they feel there is need. They are particularly strict about the liquids though. Apparently they do not have as sensitive detectors as those in Terminal 3 as I went through the former with no problem, but managed to set off the others while all on me was the same.

This trip led me up to Edinburgh as stated previously, and then off to London for a night. Then I made my way off to Denver where I was to make contact with the group I would accompany on a glorious trip to Zimbabwe and South Africa! So much fun, so little time!


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Connections and Coincidences

Spending a week in Las Vegas may sound like a great thing, and for the most part probably is, but I was not really feeling all that upbeat about it. I had just started an antibiotic regime that was causing me to feel a lot less than stellar, and as usual, I was there alone and was not too fond of the situation. All that being said, it was quite relaxing, and I did have a bit of fun as well. 

On my way to Las Vegas via Chicago and Seattle, I sat next to someone I had met previously at a Frequent Travelers University (FTU) in Tampa. If this rather interesting coincidence weren't enough for my connection based brain, upon my arrival, I sent an email to another person I met at FTU letting him know of the meeting
   
    "I just wanted to tell you that I am not coming to Houston! OK... now back to your regularly          
     scheduled program. :)  Actually, I am on my way to Las Vegas. I was thinking that it had been a long 
     time since we had spoken, so I felt l should send an email. Then during my trip, and interesting thing 
     happened: I ended up sitting next to someone from FTU:  ... Still getting your Southwest fix?"

A fairly innocuous email to which I received the following part of a reply: 

     "Well it really is a small world. I am replying to you on my southwest flight's WiFi en route to LAS 
       myself!"

So, I told him I wasn't going to Houston, where he lives, but instead was on my way to Las Vegas. I then proceeded to ask him about his propensity to fly Southwest. He read it on his way from Houston (obviously) to Las Vegas while flying Southwest! To the normal person, this really means nothing. However, to a person like me who loves to see all the connections that happen in life as connections, it was quite interesting. 

Of course we decided to meet up upon his arrival. We enjoyed a nice lunch at Beijing Noodle Restaurant inside Ceaser's Palace and then walked the strip to see what we could see. He also showed me the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens inside of Bellegio! Much fun to be had all around!

Horse display inside the Bellegio Conservatory. 

The Eiffel Tower. I really need to take a true "European" trip. 

Fountain show. Really needs to be on video!