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Published: February 12th 2010
Written February 1, 2010; Published February 12, 2010
I arrived at the Kuwait City airport shortly after midnight on Monday, February 1 after leaving Minneapolis on Friday evening. The process for getting a transit visa to be driven from Kuwait to Saudi Arabia is much more time-intensive than arriving in Bahrain. However, the client nicely made arrangements for the visa to be waiting upon arrival. It took a bit of looking but I found the right counter, collected my visa, and went though immigration. It’s always so hard to know what to do the very first time.
There was supposed to be a driver holding up a sign with my name, but I didn’t see my name on any of the signs. As I was about to give up, I was approached by a guy who said “Khafji” which is the town in which I am staying in Saudi Arabia. I did wonder if he was really the right driver, but I hoped for the best. His English skills were as good as my Arabic, so I just said “AGOC” which is the name of the client. He nodded and away we want.
It took it more than an
hour, but we finally arrived at the client location and where my housing was. It was now 1:30 am. The driver was supposed to pick up the key from someone, but apparently that person wasn’t there. Again, keep in mind that there is NO verbal communication going between us. 1:30 soon turned into 2:00 in the morning. I gave him the name of my client contacts, but I couldn’t tell if he was reaching them. He then called the housing office and two guys came out. They wanted me to show them my housing form which no one had given me, nor did I know existed. 2:30 turned into 3:00 in the morning. I had traveled 8 hours from Minneapolis to Amsterdam, had a layover of almost 3 hours, and then flew another 8 hours from Amsterdam to Bahrain to Kuwait City, and then the ride into Saudi Arabia. Perhaps I was getting just a tad cranky. As the British would say, “I lost the plot” and the Australians would say I was about to “spit the dummy.”
I finally gave up trying the client contacts, arguing with the housing guys, and not being able to talk to the
driver except to say “hotel.” We drove back to the town of Khafji and went to a hotel. It was full. You have got to be kidding! Was the Lions Club having their annual convention in Al-Khafji?
I dragged my bags back to the car and we went to another hotel. I don’t think this place has a triple star rating in AAA or Mobil. I handed them my corporate credit card. Thank God for corporate credit cards. However, it was then that he told me that they only accept cash. The room was SR 250 and I had about SR 40 total (left over from my last trip to Saudi). Sigh. The driver had already left. Sigh. I was pointed to an ATM across the street, but told I could pay the next day.
Mind you, Khafji is a very small town. English is very limited and since I arrived at night, I really had no idea where I was or how far it was from where I was going. Did I mention that my Saudi mobile phone account had expired and I had no way to call anyone? And no one knew I was at the
My bathroom at the Rajan Hotel
There was no toilet paper, no toilet paper holder, and no shower curtain. As we Minnesotans would say, "That's different!"
hotel. Uh oh.
When I was shown to the room, I asked if there was Internet access anywhere, and miracle of miracles he said they had wireless! I fired off a quick SOS email to my client contacts with the name and phone number of Hotel Sleazy (my name for it) with copies to my next of kin, and perhaps Barak Obama (my mind was going quite numb).
The “suite” was very funky indeed. I went to find a tissue to blow my nose, but there weren’t any. Fine. I’ll use a piece of toilet paper. I look in the bathroom and not only don’t they have toilet paper, they didn’t even have a toilet paper holder. There was water all over the bathroom because there is no shower curtain and the plumbing leaked. And perhaps they don’t dry it between guests. The good news is that they did have a toilet (as opposed to the infamous hole in the ground). I decided to hold off on both blowing my nose and using the bathroom.
I decided to crash since I hadn’t slept well the night before the trip, the next night was on the plane, and
it was now about 4 am, local time.
The next morning (actually about 3 hours later), I woke up and checked my email for a return email from the client. Nothing.
I hit the bathroom and then I remembered about the lack of toilet paper. Well, when in Rome…. Instead of toilet paper, there is a hose. You either know about this, or don’t want me to tell you. I went with the flow, so to speak and then found out the shower was of the dribble variety.
So I went to the ATM machine and decided to see if I could find a store to recharge my mobile (cell) phone account. That’s when I learned that I was seemingly the only English speaking person in town. OK, I know it’s rude of me to expect others to speak English when I’m the foreigner, but hand gestures can only go so far. However, they went far enough to find out no one had a clue how to add minutes to an expired account. The minute cards did not work because the account was expired. I asked where a mobile phone store might be and was pointed left,
These switches and things were in each room. I have no idea what they do (other than the light switches). Any guesses?
right, and sideways. No luck.
That’s when I found out it’s the rainy season in Saudi Arabia (who knew?)! I made it back to the hotel and managed to get some breakfast. I checked my email. No response from the client. The phone in the room didn’t work. I went to the desk and asked them, well begged, for them to call the only two mobile phone numbers I knew for the client. The numbers didn’t seem to work. As I was about to give up, the client called the hotel! I was about to be rescued. The contact was very apologetic and couldn’t understand what went wrong.
I waited in the lobby and finally, in comes Edward. He paid the bill and we quickly left Hotel Sleazy.
Things started to improve dramatically. Edward called a shop owner he knows and somehow he was able to reactivate my phone account and put minutes onto the account. He took me to my “villa” and it’s really a very fancy four-bedroom furnished house. Persian carpets, heavy furniture, full kitchen, etc. It’s actually nicer than anywhere I’ve stayed and considering Hotel Sleazy was the worst place I’ve ever stayed, the contrast was amazing. So ends part 1 of my adventure.
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