Well, I made it.
My journey started at 4:30am on Wed July 30th and mercifully ended at 11:00pm on Thurs July 31st following 8 hrs of stopovers, 3 soggy, processed airplane meals, 19hrs of sub-prime seating in economy class, 2 wailing kids, 1 rickety, rusty winged plane, and several incidents of cultural taboo.
Upon arrival to the Riyadh airport, I did my best to stay as low key as possible…then I remembered that I was a 5’11” single white woman with no abaya (aside – the black cover-up/veil dress that Saudi women wear) and absolutely no knowledge of arabic. As I stood in the international customs line across from a hoard of 20+ Saudi men, I feigned nonchalance (and failed miserably as my starkly naked ears burned scarlet) at the 20 pairs of dark brown eyes boring into every square inch of my uncovered skin.
I needed to escape. The bathroom. I walked with controlled urgence towards the doorway crowned by a bunch of dots and squiggly lines, translated underneath in English – “toilets”. Praise be to Allah. Get me out of here. Thankfully the English translations were written under all Arabic signs to date. I had just enough time to formulate this comforting observation before I realized that no track record was perfect…my stomach dropped as I faced 2 separate doors with what appeared to be slightly different squiggly lines and no English bail-out. I desperately looked for a clue in the squiggles…a skirt? How about some squiggly breasts? Well, I had a 50/50 chance, so I ducked into the door on the left. Let’s just say it’s a good thing I didn’t buy a lottery ticket that day. I very near lost a whole lot more than a bit of urine into the bowl as I watched the hem of a white robe sweep by outside the stall door (aside – the Saudi national dress for men is a white robe with a white/red checkered head cover). I waited until I heard his stall door close, then hauled ass back into the main airport.
I was met by one nursing representative (Nerissa) and a driver to accompany me to my new digs. We wove through thick thurs night traffic (aside – Saudi weekends are thurs/fri), past the Kingdom Tower (think giant can-opener), and dozens of shopping malls the size of cruise ships. When Nerissa got out for a few minutes to show another new arrival to her apt, the driver and I had a short conversation. He knew 6 words of English: “beautiful”, “single?”, “how old”, and “call me”. Conveniently enough, he could also adeptly print his name and phone number in perfect English characters. Apparently (he actually got this across quite clearly), he was going to take me to Dubai and Bahrain on my vacation. Right, dude. Allah would love that one.
The rest of the evening was relatively uneventful – met my roomie briefly (her name is Tonia, she is from New York, but currently living in Atlanta). I crawled into my stiffly starched sheets tattooed with the hospital logo, and slept until 11am the next morning!