Stories from the Middle East

I think life in Saudi might be a little similar to life in Cairo. This is from a friend of a friend who has been living in Saudi for many years

—– Original Message —–

Here it is 2 weeks back from my summer (and the weather I had while in Canada I use the term loosely) and it’s just been one problem after another. Now generally when I come back from a holiday there is always one or two things that have happened while I was gone that require urgent attention upon my return. This time it seems as if I am well and truly a shit magnet.

I no sooner walk in the door and discover that the water reservoir on the roof has had a catastrophic system failure during my absence. In other words the bottom basically rotted away and who knows how many thousands of gallons of water eventually went down the drain. Of course not before doing number on a couple of the walls of the stairwell to the roof. I guess when you build for a desert environment you don’t actually build for sustained water exposure. Anyway it’s a frantic call to the landlord the next day to have repairs made. Meanwhile, knowing how long even the simplest tasks can take here I took the precaution of filling every available container with water knowing full well that I would probably be without running water for a day or 2.

So it is decided that yes the tank cannot be salvaged and needs to be replaced. Water has to be shut off to allow the tank to completely drain before a new one can be installed. The next day I come home from work to discover that a sparkling white brand new tank has magically appeared on the roof but has still not been hooked up. Upon closer inspection I find the (and I hesitate to use the word) plumber up on the roof getting ready to do the deed. Now these tanks hold umpteen hundreds of liters and empty must weigh a couple of hundred pounds. And here is this little Bangladeshi who can’t be more than 5 feet tall and all of 130 lbs getting ready to shove the old tank out of the way and put the new tank in place. Of course it would never occur to any of them to actually remove the old tank. I’m already under whelmed.
Now just to add a little interest, I have 2 satellite dishes on the very same roof, one for television and another for Internet. So in my most Darth Vader like voice I warn the our little man that if he so much as touches either dish I will open a can of whoop ass on him the likes of which he has never seen. We spend a good five minutes going over how one will not touch the dishes in any way shape or form. With much head waggling and insipid smiling on his part I know I am already doomed. But one does live in hope that once in a very long while all the stars and planets align themselves and things actually go right. Of course pigs sprout wings and fly every other day too. Well it could happen!

So down I go and decide to get on the net and just for good measure I turn on the TV as well. Well immediately we have a problem as my TV subscription has lapsed during my absence so already there is no TV. But the Internet is humming along just fine. A quick call the TV people and one credit card billing later I am assured that my TV will be back in an hour. And then out of the blue there is not Internet. Not 30 minutes after our rather long chat on the subject I find that my little plumber friend has decided that the Internet dish was in the way and so just twisted it 90 degrees or so from it’s required position. Mafi mushikila (no problem) he tells me he can just twist it back. And proceeds to do same, not having a frigging clue. This my friends is why Bangladesh is not a world power! Funnily enough however, the Washington Post claims that they are somewhat better and flood protection and recovery than the US federal government. Recent events in New Orleans do give one cause to ponder that one.

I am sure the following 20 minute tirade of every obscenity know to man could be heard half way across Riyadh. The poor little thing didn’t know whether to shit or go blind. And of course all the cursing in the world was not going to get the dish pointed back to where it should be, however I did feel particularly good to vent at this hapless little thing. And he did apply himself rather well after that and I did have running water again after a couple more hours. Problem one (the water) solved. Problem 2 (the TV) in progress. Problem 3 (the Internet) new, unplanned but inevitable.

The next day I call the Internet guy to come and reposition the dish. No answer as expected. Meanwhile I am still without TV. So another call to the TV people to enquire about my subscription and I find out that my credit card was denied. Strange as it worked fine 2 days ago, but this is Saudi Arabia after all so would not really be a surprise if the bank decided to decline for no apparent reason. Call the bank. Is there a problem with the credit card I ask? No they say all is fine. Aha, the plot thickens. Back on the horn to the TV people and try to renew once again. Within 2 hours they assure me. Not a chance I decide but can’t do a thing about it but wait. Meanwhile I try the Internet guy again and finally track him down. He can come tomorrow and get things sorted out. Having crossed my service by phone threshold for the evening I decide to give the TV people 24 hours to get the job done. At least I can get on the net by dial-up so all is not lost. Meanwhile add a new problem to the list. New at number 4 is a worrying leak in the water heater in the bathroom. Seems the cheap as chips one I installed last year has corroded away at the fittings and is threatening to blow at any minute. Of course it’s just as good as the expensive ones the vendor assured me. Caveat Emptor. Today is Monday and nothing I can do about until Thursday except hope it can hold out until then. So I stick a bucket under it and hope for the best.

Tuesday evening and still there is no TV. Back on the phone and discover that my subscription is renewed and everything should be fine. Well I tell the guy, it is most certainly not. Now by some freak of nature I actually have someone on the phone that knows a thing or 2 and after a few diagnostic thingies we decide I don’t have a signal. Wonder how that could have happened?!?!?!? Indeed. Anyway it means that a technician will have to come out and put things right. The request is made but now I will have to wait for them to call and set up a service call. I can expect the call within 24 hours. Naturally. The Internet guy is a no show. At least the water heater is still hanging on.

Wednesday morning the TV service tech calls and we set up an appointment for that evening. We meet at the agreed location at the agreed time. Since Riyadh doesn’t really have addresses (actually they do but every street name is some combination of Mohammed Fahad Abdullah Faisal Ahmed, no one actually has a clue where anything actually is) you always have to meet people at a commonly know location and bring them back to your house. The government tells us that they are going to start mail delivery to homes within a year. Lord alone knows how that is going to work, but I digress. The TV tech discovers that the dish is point 30 degrees in the wrong direction. No surprise there. 100 riyals later I do have TV again. Problem 2 is solved. Mr. Internet has his phoned turned off.

Thursday morning and it’s off to the plumbing souk to buy a new water heater and various fittings. Drag it all home and begin the joyous task of removing the old one and putting up the new on. Yes I did say up. Water heaters here are all electric and are hung at about 8 feet up the wall. Since all the domestic water systems here work by gravity it makes sense but sure doesn’t make it easy to do anything with them. So drain the old one, remove all the lines and by shear brut strength wrestle it down from the mounting hooks. It doesn’t take long before I am soaking wet and covered and red sludge sediment from the old tank. Install the wiring in the new tank, hoist up the wall over my head…it must weigh close to 75 pounds…and mount it on the brackets. Hook up the hoses, check for leaks, and plug it in and presto it all works. Now spend another hour cleaning up the mess. At least problem number 4 is off the list.

Friday, a well deserved day of rest. But of course that would be too easy. Mid afternoon my downstairs neighbor returns from holiday and comes knocking on my door. Seems he has a massive water leak in his bathroom. I tell him about all my recent fun and games but assure him that all is right with the world. He tells me that it is still leaking, badly. After figuring out where exactly his bathroom is located in relation to my place we discover that a pipe in the wall my second bathroom (which I seldom use) has of course sprung a massive leak and is indeed flooding him. Fortunately there is a shut off valve so we can stop the immediate problem. Being Friday (Sunday in the real world) there is nothing more that can be done. The plumber will come tomorrow to make repairs. Meanwhile I spend half an hour mopping up all the water. Problem number 5 and I am not the least surprised.
Saturday morning and it is back to work after the weekend. As I stumble into the kitchen to make coffee I notice what looks suspiciously like a mouse turd on the counter. Pretty big mouse I think. A quick look around and I see that a bag of flat bread has been gnawed at and a couple of peaches sitting on the counter have some bite marks as well. Once the caffeine reaches the neurons I realize that what we have here is no mouse but most definitely a rat. My worst phobia has become a reality. But can’t do a thing about it now except toss every scrap of food I can find because I have to get to work. I spend the whole day at work stewing over my predicament. I can either trap the thing or move. Moving is looking like a reasonable option. But knowing my luck I will move the rat along with me. So right after work it is off to the hardware store to get some rattraps. Not wanting to leave anything to chance I buy 5 top of the line rattraps and a jar of peanut butter. Traps are baited and set. Time to meet Jesus Mr. Rat. Meanwhile my good Saudi friend Fahad calls to see if the Internet guy has come. I tell him that the Internet is now the least of my worries and tell him of my rodent problem. God love him, he is over within an hour with 3 cage traps to supplement mine. Seems his rat phobia is second only to mine. Just for good measure he called the Internet guy and once again I am promised that he will come the next evening. Well it’s off to bed, barricaded in my room, with hopes of an untimely rat death through the night. At least the plumber has been and problem number 5 is off the list.

Now in all the years I have lived in this place I have never had any problem with vermin except the odd roach. And it had been bothering me as to how the damn rat got in the house in the first place. Lying in bed it finally occurred to me. All day Sunday the plumber was in and out of the house while doing the water tank. And of course it would never occur to the idiot to keep the door closed. There are days when a gun and a big case of bullets doesn’t seem like an unreasonable method of making the world a better place.

Sunday morning and I hesitantly crawl out of bed. Now as much as I don’t want a rat in the house I am not really keen on disposing of the carcass either. But much to my chagrin all the traps are empty. Of course considering how much bread and fruit he ate the day before, well maybe he just wasn’t that hungry. But don’t worry…I’ll get you my pretty!
Sunday evening. No rat. Monday morning. Nothing. Monday evening. Same. Damn this is one crafty little bugger. Meanwhile I have methodically thrown out every scrap of food in the entire place. There is nothing except what is in the traps for this critter to eat. And still he taunts me. Which brings us to today, Saturday. One full week now and no rat. I have pulled the place apart looking for any evidence of its presence and have found nothing. Not another dropping. Nothing chewed. No nests of any description. Nada, nyet, nothing. This is either one anorexic rat or he has decided I am not really all that hospitable and picked up sticks and left. Maybe one look at those jaws of death rattraps and that was enough to convince him to blow. Tis a mystery, but the traps get baited afresh everyday. Let’s face it I am just not that lucky.

After all the internet guy still hasn’t shown up.

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