Greetings from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia! I made it!

Wow! What a ride! It took 26 hours, from start to finish, getting from Cottage Grove, OR to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. To say I was tired does not do justice to how I felt when I finally crawled into bed at about 10:15pm local time (8:15am PDT) on Saturday August 5, 2006.

My day started when, at 3:45am PDT, Friday August 4, 2006. I got up showered and shaved in 15 minutes. My old Navy days clicked into gear rather easily, as they always do when I have cause to dredge up that particular set of skills. I’d been packing for the previous two days, and I’d finished up on Thursday night – loading everything into Cristina’s Mountaineer for the trip to the Eugene airport before I crawled into bed about 12:30am Friday morning. I woke Cristina up at 4am, and she managed to pull herself into action even though morning is not her best period of the day.

Before I left, I said good-bye to the house pets. Anybody that knows me knows that my animals are very important to me. We’ve had Cea (Chaya – our Shepherd/Wolf mix) since she was about six months old, Beatrice (alley cat #1 and a manx) since just after she was born, Skye (our Cairn Terrier) since she was six weeks old (Cristina will correct me if I get that one wrong), and Bear (alley cat #2, adopted from the Humane Society) since he was about six months old. Much to Cristina’s chagrin, I’ve got this St. Francis of Assisi thing going with the house pets. She’s good in a pinch, but they’d much rather have my attention; it’ll be interesting to see how that plays when I finally get to go back home. I’ve got a feeling that I’m going to drop in the pecking order. 😉

Check-in at Eugene was the first task. I knew that my two checked suitcases were overweight. I had to take a selection of my professional books with me, and books are heavy. The basic limit for bag weight on flights is 50 pounds. Up to 70 pounds, and the airlines will charge you an extra $50 per bag. Over 70 pounds — well, it gets really expensive, really fast. My two bags popped in at 65.5 and 73.4, respectively. The guy who checked me in just let it go at $50/bag, saying that he didn’t want to force me through the hassle of having to equalize the load. I really appreciated that. I hope he has a good year.

Cristina waited with me until I had to pass through the security checkpoint. She paralleled me, standing just outside the line. We kept touching each other and kissing. Previously, the longest we’d been apart — in seventeen years of being together — was twenty-one days, when both our moms had separate medical issues requiring our attention. The prospect of being apart for long past that milestone didn’t excite either one of us. We’re big kids, grown-ups, even, on some days; but, right then, we were love struck teenagers staring woefully into each others eyes, contemplating a long three-day weekend apart from each other. How could we manage? I finally made her leave.

Honestly, the rest of the trip, until I arrived in Saudi Arabia was pretty mundane air travel stuff. I dozed on the flight from Portland to Washington Dulles. Ate some lunch, drank an Iced Americano from Starbucks, and waited. I did try to find a wireless hook-up, but the only one I could find had an unsecured web page for accepting payment for the day pass. Sorry, no can do.

Traveling on Air France was pleasant, both the trip to Paris and the trip to Riyadh. Well, there was one physical issue on the trip to Riyadh: My right thigh began to cramp in the hamstring area around hour 21 of my travels. Im telling you that I wish that had not occurred. I couldnt sit down for about fifteen minutes, and I had to move my leg gingerly thereafter. Other than that, though, the flights were good. Air France had very pleasant attendants, and all the food, water, coffee/tea/soft drinks, beer and wine, were free. Of course, going into Saudi airspace, they had to stop serving alcohol and remove the open containers to the trash. I dont drink when flying because it dehydrates a person very badly in pressurized cabins. But, the water was good.

I dont sleep well on airplane flights, so the best I could do was doze for five or ten minutes here and there. So, I got my fill of movies. I watched Over the Hedge (Id give it a B-) on the U.S. flight. On the Paris flight, Air France gives each flyer their own personal screen, with a selection of programs and games on demand. I watched two movies: MI:3 (better than I expected, a B) and Keeping Mum (B+), a little British film of which I enjoyed it all except the very ending. They showed one film to everyone on the Riyadh flight, Little Manhattan, but that didnt interest me much; I tried to doze, but couldnt.

On arriving in Riyadh, I filled out the usual paperwork required when entering another country and started looking for the correct line through the passport portion of Customs. I saw one that said Businessmen with Business Visas (I think that was the wording), so I got into that line, along with about two hundred very brown-skinned, Indian sub-continent folks (maybe Pakistani or Bangladeshi?). Within seconds, a young Saudi Customs Officer approached me and asked me if I had been on the Air France flight. I confirmed that I had, and he directed me to a line on the other side of the room, lined with Westerners of all colors, that moved at warp speed in comparison to all the remaining lines. I stayed in the queue right up to the black line behind which they have individuals stand, and then stepped forward to the official reviewing passports. I had the passport opened to my visa, and he spent about thirty seconds reviewing it, the paperwork I gave him, and whatever information came up on the computer screen. I might (and I stress the might) have been in line for a minute-and-a-half. I went on and recovered my two bags, both of which made the trip safely, though one TSA-approved lock had slipped off the suitcase and was dangling there. From there, I went to the second part of customs, loaded my bags, my carry-on, and my computer onto a conveyor belt and waited as they were x-rayed. The official watched passively as they passed through the machine and waved me on to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

I pushed through the exit doors and saw a crowd of maybe one hundred people standing behind a pretty barricade comprised of frosted glass and chrome many of them holding up signs with peoples names on them. I scanned the mass of folks and spotted my contact, a Bangladeshi named Shahin holding up a card that had my full name printed across it: James Gregory Hubbard. I acknowledged him with a nod of my head, and we both made for the end of the barricade. We escaped from the 112-F heat into the confines of his car and began our journey to the FAL Compound.

Ill detail the FAL Compound in another entry, but briefly let me say that, when we rode up to the gate, an armed tank, with machine-gun toting soldiers (National Guard, actually) standing atop it, greeted us. An armored personnel carrier sat not far off, and armed soldiers manned the entry into the living area, which is arrived at by winding through a maze of concrete barriers intended on slowing a truck bomber. Once inside the compound, though, it was like being in any apartment complex except that it is truly multi-national.

Thats really where the story ends. I got my stuff into the apartment, got a basic unpack done, and then went to bed. I only slept for five hours, rising at 3:30am, but what a glorious five hours they were. 🙂

By the way, marhaba means welcome, but is used as a greeting the same as we’d say, hello.

Copyright, Greg Hubbard, 2006.


4 thoughts on “Marhaba!

  1. Hey We am glad you made it to saudi ok. We wish you the best during your stay there. Keep us posted on all the fun stuff you get to do over there. Love ya Shawn and Tasha

  2. Hey Greg!

    What the he** are you doing in Saudi? 🙂
    Hope this post goes through this time. I’d like to get back in touch with you and Mom.

    – Jason (S)

  3. You’ll get through it and be home soon. We love you lots! Jakob and Rylee are growing like weeds. He looks like a Hubbard, very much like a hubbard!

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