KSA Driving

Now it is time for the ubiquitous Westerner’s observation of Saudi traffic.  This is a must for any Saudi blog worth it’s salt.


The oddest thing about traffic here is how similar the quality of the roads and vehicles are to the US.  The vehicle comparisons are more like the SUV dominated lanes of North Dallas instead of Prius happy Northern Virginia.  I’m pretty sure religious police here have some sort of ban on Priuses due to their suspicious lack of petrol consumption.


The wide roads with striped lanes, traffic lights, and curbs are similar to any US road in good condition.  The lack of a freeze thaw cycle and rain makes potholes pretty much non-existent.  Additionally, without a storm drainage system all the roads are nice and flat.  Of course this makes them lovely lakes if it ever rains, but that is minor detail.


The departure quickly comes in the design of the traffic islands, lack of signage, and odd rules of the road (described here with latent sarcasm).


The traffic medians are full of beautiful trees and nicely landscaped vegetation.  This is quite pleasing to the eye but eliminates an essential element to basic traffic flow.  The ability for one to turn or get out of the way of oncoming traffic whilst stopped waiting to turn.  Of course, this makes getting anywhere unbelievably frustrating.  Often we have to travel miles before being able to make a U-turn to get to the other side of the street.  This creates random bottlenecks in odd places throughout the city rather than distributing the traffic evenly over several route options.  This also makes Google Maps useless as it totally ignores road islands and assumes turning left or right is a valid option at any intersection.  I have to look at the satellite view and try and figure out the few locations available for multiple turn options when planning my route.  Here is an example:



Throw common sense out the window when navigating Jeddah roads!


Another frustrating feature is the lack of street signs and house numbers.  The street signs that do exist are mostly multi-part names.  Sometimes the names change.  For example Palestine Street is also referred to as Falstin Street.  Even if a street is fortunate enough to be named, most drivers don’t refer to the name unless it is a major thoroughfare.


The lack of house numbers makes the street nomenclature even more frustrating as there is no way to know where you are.  The result is directions by landmarks such after the Globe Roundabout, or two streets past the Danube Supermarket.


And finally, the best part about driving here are the rules of the road.  The following is a very serious how-to guide for following a few key rules that make driving in the kingdom exciting and adventurous.


The first rule is the “double-u-turn”.  If making a U-turn and the queue in the left lane is more than one or two cars the best option is to double-up the U-turn queue thus blocking the view of the first u-turner trying to look at traffic to his right and blocking two lanes in the original direction of traffic.  Perhaps a graphic would be more illuminating.



To properly complete this move it is best to not yield to oncoming traffic.  The oncoming drivers should know what you’re doing as they’ve seen the first u-turner waiting patiently to turn thus providing ample warning.


The second rule is the “left-handed-three-lane-turn”.  This simple move involves crossing two lanes of traffic to the left to make a 90-degree or 180-degree turn.  It is best to do this in heavy traffic when it appears many people will be turning left or you remember you needed to turn left while in the intersection.  The drivers in the other two lanes are often happily surprised by this exciting event and will relish the opportunity to test their brakes, effectiveness of their heart mediation, reflex times, and attentiveness of the driver behind them.  If all goes well, you should reach your destination 2-3 minutes faster.  If it goes bad, many vehicles will impact your car causing either (1) a multiple roll event or (2) driver side door failure.  Both options are fatal 99% of the time.


The third rule is the “snake”.  The snake involves never fully dedicating your vehicle to a lane of traffic.  It is best to modulate the vehicle’s left to right movements rapidly never holding a static forward motion. Blinkers should never be used and preferably permanently disabled (converting them to white strobe lights is a more appropriate use of the light housing and wiring).


Now that I’ve covered the fundamental driving rules, here are a few parting shots from the road:



This is an impressive billboard the size of a building.  It is also quite distracting!



A typical gas station.  $0.60/gallon!


Typical road in KSA.



Kamran, the worlds best driver!



Typical intersection with the countdown timer red lights (I actually like these…)



Typical large road during a ‘light’ dust storm.


Cruisin’ in the Crown Vic!

Saudi Food

Rashid was kind enough to treat me to some local Saudi food recently. Since Jeddah has been a crossroads for thousands of years most of the food here is a hodge podge mix from other nearby countries.  For breakfast we had “ful en tameez”.  This is the phonetic spelling as he didn’t know how to spell it in English and Google didn’t know either.


This common breakfast consists of Egyptian fava beans mashed up in a consistency similar to refried beans.  Accompanying the beans is bread called tamees, from Afghanistan.  It’s similar to pita bread and about the size of medium sized pizza.  A spicy mix of chilies, cilantro, tomatoes, and other goodies very similar to pico de gallo accompanies the beans and bread.


The first step is to add oil, salt, and spices to the beans.  Then add the pico de gallo mix to the beans and scoop it up with the bread.  This food is very popular with the labor forces as it tends to stick to your ribs all day.


Rashid, left, Sohel, center, and Kamran, enjoying fuhl en tameez!


For lunch I had Chicken Mhandi which consists of a full chicken, rice, and a couple of chili peppers.  Also a hearty serving, this meal had a unique flavor somewhat similar to Indian Curry.



This lunch will put hair on your chest!

Trip to Jeddah

Traveling 34 hours with two kids under two across nine time zones in three planes will test mental and physical toughness in unique ways.  Here is a little quiz to see if you have what it takes.

Q:   You’ve arrived at the first check in counter and suddenly realized you’ve left your 2-year-old’s only milk bottle in the car.  Choose the best response:

a) Run with arms flailing and the whites of your eyes clearly visible until you chase down the car and bottle is retrieved.
b) Act like you didn’t notice and say the kid must have hurled the milk from the stroller without anyone noticing if questioned.
c) Tell your kid to suck it up. Milk is for homebody-travel-rookie-sissies.
d) Act cool until getting through security and then say it must have been confiscated.

Q:  Your car seat travel dolly shears in two in the middle of a train door with your child strapped to it. The best response is:

a) Curse in a foreign language so people won’t think you’re a stupid American.
b) Play it cool and do nothing until everyone exits the car hoping nobody notices.
c) Accuse your child of secretly grinding loose the welds on the frame when you weren’t looking.
d) Drag the car seat out of the door and look at your wife with the “what in the H are we doing here look and who’s idea was this anyway” look.


Q:  The ideal response to the man on the plane in front of you yelling at you because your two-year-old is kicking his seat is?

a)    Nothing, pretend he doesn’t exist and go to your happy place.
b)   Curse in a foreign language so people won’t think you’re a stupid American.
c)     Offer him a shot of whiskey.  You’ve had five and feel great!
d)    Ask him if he has a spatula or a George Foreman grill to change the subject.


Q:  What do you do when the lady behind you on the plane yells at you for reclining your seat because she has a baby in her lap?

a)    Show her the baby strapped to your chest and the seat fully reclined in front of you.
b)   Poke her baby until he starts crying.
c)    Give her the spatula and George Foreman grill the guy in the plane before gave you.
d)    Lift up your seat and hope the one in front of you doesn’t crush your child’s head (or spill your whiskey).

Q:  How do you offload two car seats, two sleeping children, five carry-on bags, and two slightly crazed adults out of a plane, down 20’ of steps in freezing Frankfurt temperatures, and in to a packed bus on the tarmac?

a)    Don’t move until everyone exits the plane hoping all the flight attendants, who can’t leave until you do, do it for you.
b)   Hurl each bag in shot putter form from the top of the stair landing. (the guttural yell is critical to this move)
c)     Be the first to get up and block the aisle with all you stuff until other passengers start helping.
d)    Open the emergency exit, inflate the escape ramp, and slide everything down (make sure and put on your life jacket fully inflated to avoid questioning).


In all seriousness, though, these events did happen to us.  And I learned that no matter how much I prepare for a trip, there is no way to really prepare for everything, especially with kids.  That is what makes traveling with them so much fun!  Whenever I see other adults lugging screaming children through airports I will always remember this trip, and we will probably have several more like it to come. Thus I have a newfound respect for those parents and the level of mental and physical toughness it takes to take on kid-air-travel.

Malosi’s Doll

So every time, yes every time, Malosi gets out of the bath she sprints through our tiny apartment naked. One of her usual stops is at the side of my bed where she belts a exclamatory, “Heeeyyyyy!” and then scurries off to continue her nightly streak.

A few nights ago I had Rance on my chest when she rounded the corner of the bed. She stopped abruptly, dawned the sobriety of a Southern Baptist Preacher, and slowly walked away. A few moments later she ran back to the bed side, hurled her new doll at me, yelled “baby!”, and ran off.


2011-12-11: Blood

In an effort to save sea turtles in Tuvalu I’ve started biking to work.  Yes, I’m that naïve to bolster my self-importance to the level of controller of all things on this planet despite the fact that there is no reliable and unflappable proof of such a fact.  Regardless, the point is I’ve begun a route of a 20-mile round trip commute to work two days a week.  I’ve read it is good to have emergency medical information on you in an easy to find spot in case left incapacitated from an unfortunate incident.  Thus began my search for my blood type and the purpose of this entry.

I’m an O+.  I remembered learning the donor types in baby preparation classes at the hospital and decided to do a quick refresher on which types I could give and receive to.  Here are the results courtesy of the American Red Cross.

Blood donor recipient

O is the universal giver and AB is the universal receiver.  The next figure slapped me in the face and I digested the statistics.

Blood types

The average of all O’s is 48% and all ABs is 4%.  The balance is 46%.  In summary, an overwhelming majority of all people are universal givers and not takers. God decided that a majority of His creation would be hard wired to give rather than receive.  The hard wiring of our hearts was not so fortunate with the fall of man and now sin separates us God and his original design.  Despite this our core DNA still shows evidence of His creation.  All of this is a good reminder to me to be a giver this season rather than a taker.  More importantly, my focus of this season has been redirected to the birth of my Creator who ultimately gave all so I wouldn’t have to.

2011-10-09: Museum

Yesterday I committed to conquering a few museums on my list but not on Kelly's. First up was the National Building Museum. The massive columns and shear magnitude of the center core was worth the trip. The exhibits however were not.

I then tackled a quarter of the first floor of the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery.  For lunch I brown bagged it in the enclosed courtyard. A parabolic skylight system covers the classically stone clad surroundings making for a unique and memorable feeling of space. This is becoming a trend. I tend to like the buildings more than the exhibits.  By this time the t.u. Oklahoma game had started so I found Capitol City Brewery a few blocks away. The brews here are very tasty. I highly recommend a stop here. Unfortunately, an obnoxious t.u. fan and Oklahoma’s lopsided walloping caused my interest to fade quickly. 

I headed back to the Smithsonian to complete the first floor. Afterwards I made my way back home enjoying the beautiful fall weather. 

Looking back on the day revealed how I reflect much more on my faith and others when in the urban environment. Going through the day forces interactions with others without the veil of windshields and steel car doors. The five senses are engaged in the context of others forcing you to engage them in small but important ways. This doesn't happen in the commuter environment. It is easy to bubble myself and sanitize my environment. I like being forced to engage in the environment often against my will. It is easy to represent a false self in a managed and controlled environment.

2011-03-13: 529

Malosi and I are hanging out in the kitchen letting mom get some much needed rest, so we decided to finish our research on college savings plan.  After about 4 hours of weeding through many websites and Malosi loosing her pasi 8 times, she’s snoring now, I've finally landed on her college savings plan, USAA 529 College Savings Plan.

This was my first choice just because I’m a raving fan of USAA and their unparalleled customer service.  But, since I know little to nothing about 529's I decided to see what the market says about it.  It turns out to be pretty good.

 She is obviously ecstatic about all this.


2011-01-31: Gardening Begins

Despite being a stone’s throw from Central Market and being able to by as many leafy greens as I want any time of day for half the price I paid in Fiji I still have the garden bug implanted in me while in the Peace Corps.  Thankfully that is the only bug I know of I brought back.  

My first step in the Western garden challenge was building a real compost bin.  I may have overdone it a bit as my design experience was tailored for repelling rabid dog herds and curious club bearing village children.  The most challenging foe this bin has are curious squirrels, whose days are numbered anyway.

The sides are made of plastering mesh with a top of translucent plastic.  The frame is untreated 2×4’s which I found in the back alley.  Next time I will get treated wood and make the bins a bit smaller.  These are about 2’x3′.


Despite a few weekends of sub freezing temps the garden is still kicking. Growth rates however are nowhere near Fiji (despite not having cyclones, floods, and devil chickens).  I have noticed evidence of vagrant trespassing across my rows.  I now have access to advanced projectile weaponry (no more rocks and sling shots) and will eliminate all garden invaders on site.  


I almost bought a nursery starter at the hardware store for $6 but quickly re-gained my senses and dug a few free starters out of the recycling bin.  Old fruit bins, juice and yogurt containers, and an egg crates make handy growing vessels.