The Spice Store
It doesn't get better than this!
Today was a great day! I went to the city of Dammam for the very first time. There weren’t any Aramco buses that travel on Saturday (today is an Aramco holiday), so I chartered a van for six of us (Bob, Glyn, Adrian, Eric, Don and me). This was a great way to do it because it cost each of us less than $4 each way. Transportation is pretty inexpensive here. The van driver was going to wait for three hours for us to do our thing in Dammam, but we convinced him to come back and meet us at 12:30 pm for the ride back.
Glyn had a map of Dammam which worked out well until we saw there were two sets of streets. From north to south the streets were labeled 12th Street, 11th Street, etc. However, from south to north they also were labeled Street 12, Street 12 etc. on different sides of the avenues. So the numbers got higher and lower at the same time. Hmmmm. You come to expect stuff like that after awhile. So we went with our own directions: to the right of King Khalid Avenue and to the left of King Khalid
Isn't this incredible?
I had done some internet research on Dammam this. I found out it’s the capital of the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia. I found one or two Virtual Tourist entries, a history in Wikipedia and that’s about it. That’s not to say that it’s boring. FAR from it. However, this place is really off the radar. It’s just north of Khobar, about 30 minutes from Aramco's location in Dhahran. It’s has about 500,000 people and it is truly an authentic Saudi city. It was great!
This is one of those places where you say “I’m not in Kansas anymore!” We were there for three hours and I did not see even one other western person other than us. We saw the open-air rug and textile markets. I bought a prayer rug for 10 riyals, which is about $3 US! It isn’t really worth negotiating a price down from $3.00. Bob bought a prayer rug that was quoted at 20 riyals. When he paid 20, the merchant said it was three more riyals. So Bob seemed to be negotiating in the wrong direction. However, I told him that I think it’s worth it for the story.
This is on top of a building that we saw driving into Dammam. But I have no idea why.
saw mosques that were incredible and I have a few photos. We went into one store that was a spice store that sold bulk spices and nuts. Penzey’s eat your heart out. I can’t begin to describe how wonderful it smelled.
We came across a HUGE building that was a city block big. It had 12 foot solid walls and guards all around. Finally we came to the front and saw beautiful fountains and shrubbery. We asked the guard what it was, but he didn’t really answer. When I went up to the gated fence to look, he was NOT pleased. I knew enough not to risk a photo, but apparently looking is not appreciated. We retreated quickly! Later, we found out it was the Eastern Province capital building. If you need to ask, you shouldn't be there.
The other thing we noticed is that there were concentrated areas of stuff. For example, 15 cell phone stores in a row, 10 bathroom fixture stores, groups of hardware stores, etc. The automobile traffic was typical Saudi style. That means you have to buy a separate insurance policy when you cross each street. The drivers don’t stop for anything, so
It's NOT a bike store.
you’d better RUN, even if you have the light and are at an intersection. They had divided one way streets (which is most odd) and cars would turn into both sides. Other cars were going straight and still others were doing U-turns. Picture New York City without any rules.
I stopped at a hotel and asked when prayer time was and was told noon. I was very proud of myself for remembering to ask knowing that at prayer time everything closes including restaurants. We finally spotted a restaurant at 11:45, right as they were locking the doors and shuttering the windows. So being smug about having my advance knowledge didn’t payoff one bit since apparently apparently they close 15 minutes before prayer time. So much to learn!
However, we retreated back to the hotel and found that the coffee shop was open and that they served pizza. When in Dammam, eat pizza I guess. Don, Bob and I devoured two pizzas and pop. I told the waiter that we were in a hurry and could he give us the bill since we only had about 15 minutes once the pizza came. He kept telling me “don’t worry, take
all the time you want.” The communication thing wasn’t happening. Don, Bob, and I bolted and moved quickly back to the appointed spot. We arrived exactly at 12:30, the van was there, and so was Eric, Adrian, and Glyn.
Upon coming back, we all needed to head over to the SAC Center for a “calibration exercise.” That means listening to a mock exercise and scoring it to see if everyone comes up with the same scores. I made signs with numbers (1.0, 1.5, 2.0, etc.) for people to hold up so it was like the Olympics. “And the Belgian judge gives it a 3.5, the Swiss judge gives it 3.0.” It worked amazingly well and the French judge (Eric, who lives in France) could not be bribed!
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