Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dog Show Fun

Julie in Nashville sent this on. Even if you have never seen a big conformation dog show before, you should find this hysterical!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Taking A Trip

I noticed that I've been posting a lot of pictures of Mimi's butt lately so here is a nice photo of her face.

I'll be heading to the US in a couple of days. It takes about 30 hours to get there from here. My private driver first has to take me over the causeway to Bahrain--flights in and out of the Gulf region are much cheaper from Bahrain than Dammam KSA. My flight leaves around 2am Thursday morning. I have about 6-7 hours layover in Heathrow. And I'm sure there will be considerable visa and customs fuckwittery when I arrive at Washington Dulles. Woohoo! What fun.

I'll spend all of my time this trip in Virginia. I'm coming with quite a list of things that I need that I haven't been able to find here (or at least find some reasonable substitute). A good example is shoes. Finding shoes my size is nearly impossible--and I don't wear an unusual size at all! I could buy shoes in Bahrain but the prices are obscene.

I'm looking forward to marinating myself in wine, real wine, for a week, and doing some visiting.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Who's There?

I've said it before, I'm sure I'll say it again: it is a tragedy that Mohammad, peace be upon him, wasn't a natural historian. If he had been, there's no doubt that the Saudis would be more interested in the world around them. Since they aren't, it's up to westerners to write the natural history books. And from what I can tell, most of us westerners are working our asses off to keep this country running, thus limiting our leisure time to write books on plants and animals of the Arabian peninsula. But that's a soapbox for another time.

Information on the flora and fauna of the Eastern Province is spotty at best. Even so, I've become very interested in the subject since the dogs and I have been frequenting the jebels.

The wind "renews" the loose sand surfaces every day so even though the jebels get a lot of traffic--human, dog, car, bike--if you get out there very early in the morning, there are tracks, trails, and pawprints in every square meter of sand.

Who is making these tracks? Without a good reference book, I can only point my finger at the usual suspects: arthropods, reptiles, and small mammals. Oh, and a few birds for good measure. The vast majority of these creatures are nocturnal. I'd have to set up an overnight stakeout to see them.

The sandy areas are peppered with small plants and I believe there is a direct relationship between the winter rains we had, the number of plants green and growing now, and the number of tracks that I've been seeing.

Here are some photos.

I think these tracks are made by a creature that burrows just under the sand surface. It may be looking for minute bits of organic material to eat. Fossilized tracks that look just like this can be found in marine deposits. In that setting they are made by worms. There are no worms in the dry sand but something is behaving like those marine worms. The track is only 3-4 millimeters wide.

Having seen the small red foxes that live on camp a couple of times now, I am pretty sure these are fox tracks. Each pawprint is about 2.0-2.5cm wide; the prints spread a bit in the soft sand (I've compared these to the prints the terriers make). This was a veritable interstate highway of fox activity the night before. We also find quite a bit of what I think is fox poop.

I think these are made by one of the three varieties of dove that live in the Eastern Province. White-cheeked bulbuls are common in the jebel area but their feet are too small to make these tracks.

Each of these tracks is smaller than a US dime. I think they are jerboa tracks. Sometimes they walk on all fours and sometimes they hop.

These are definitely lizard tracks. I've seen lizards making them. What's interesting is that the lizards will run along a vehicle rut in the sand for many yards before veering up and off. There are two different sizes of tracks here. The larger one is about 2cm across.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Recently someone asked me if I chose to bring Mimi and Harry with me because they got along better than the other dogs. I've discussed in other posts the reasons I selected these two dogs--and it wasn't because of how well (or not) they got along. But the question prompted me to start thinking about this and to start watching them a bit more closely.

I've discovered that they actually do get along better than any two fox terriers I've had.

One of Harry's many nicknames is Mr. Crankypants. If he was laying on the couch next to me, he'd start growling if another animal even walked into the room, much less approached the couch. He wouldn't tolerate having any cat or dog (except sometimes Iz) touch him while he was sleeping. Sometimes he'd even growl at me if I tried to shift him around.

Mimi is generally so frenetic that I've never been sure that she even notices other dogs much except when they have a treat or a toy that she wants.

Harry has either mellowed in his old age or he kind of, sort of, might like to hang out with Meems. I noticed that at night they often end up sleeping back to back, or his head will be on her flank, or they will be facing each other with their legs all tangled up.

When I put a dog bed out on the porch for them to get some sun, Mimi will almost always lay down next to Harry. Even when one of them flops down and stretches, it won't dislodge the other.

I can even have toys in both hands getting ready to play a rousing game of fetch and the dogs will be bouncing up and down side by side.

With the "honor" training that I've been doing, I can now get both of them to spin at the same time--this done while I am holding treats, a prize that would have led to bloodshed with any other pair of terriers. Well, except maybe Dyna but I learned never to underestimate her. She's pretty feisty.

Add to this the two baked goods incidents--I came home both times to clean pans and no blood. It may not have been pretty at the time but they clearly worked out some sort of arrangement for gobbling the goodies.

I had to choose two of my dogs and maybe I made the choices for the wrong reasons but it seems like it is turning out okay.

Friday, February 12, 2010

More Desert Adventures

Fox terriers in tan-colored desert landscape.

DSL thinks that I'm just putting the same photo up over and over--"fox terriers in tan-colored desert landscape"! She says she can't tell the difference. I thought this was funny because this had occurred to me too.

But I assure you, every photo is new. And in this post, you will be entertained by even more pictures of dogs in the desert!

Harry leading the way up to the jebels.

I have found a new place to take the dogs for weekend and evening walks. It's an area of perhaps a dozen jebels separated by deep wadis located to the northwest of my house. It is accessed by a parking lot next to a soccer field. I can even get in an hour's walk/run with the dogs after work. The topography provides a considerable cardio challenge for all three of us. I guesstimate there may be a couple of hundred feet of elevation difference between the top of the highest jebel and the deepest wadi. Doesn't sound like much but when you scramble up and down that half a dozen times in an hour, well, it can be fairly challenging.

GoogleEarth image. Pins mark my house and the jebels to the NNW. Click on the image to expand it.

The rocks exposed in Dhahran are part of the Dammam Dome, an anticlinal fold with four-way closure. Every rock you can see is some sort of sabkha carbonate deposited in a restricted marine setting. Sabkha carbonates later exposed in desert environments erode into interesting but quite jagged surfaces that are related to their original depositional environment...but this isn't supposed to be a geology lecture. After our first trip into the jebels, I learned that I needed to wear my boots (trail shoes were simply not up to the task). The dogs' feet are quickly toughening up on the exposed rock.

Investigating interesting cracks.

The jebels are now our preferred exercise location. I can exhaust the dogs with a good hour of scrambling several times a week and stay out there for a couple of hours on weekend mornings. The vistas across camp are interesting, there are plenty of holes and crevices for the dogs to sniff about, we've only seen one other person out there so far (quite a change from the crowds walking around the golf course in the evenings), and it has never been a primary trash dump for camp so it is just nicer to walk around there than in the trash tip and the spray fields.

Looking SSE towards Khobar and the Arabian Gulf.

Yesterday, we had another desert adventure when we went out with the hash again. This particular run wasn't all that great (it was far too long) but the scenery was nice and the company around the fire afterwards was entertaining.

My little social butterfly Harry at the start of the hash.

This hash was an open desert run with a lot of soft sand/dune scrambling. Most people dropped to a walk after the first few dunes.

I took a quick break to take this photo. Mimi had been pulling me along and she was wondering why we were stopping.

The red circle marks the halfway point of the route. If you enlarge the pic, you might be able to see some people on the top of that hill. Very few of us made it out that far. This is a great photo of the open desert though.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Elle est une comedienne!

I made a joke in French class last night!

After only seven classes, Madame Hella is mostly speaking in French now, except when she has to translate a new vocabulary word. The class is small (attrition from first class to seventh has been more than 50%) so those of us that remain get a lot of practice reading and speaking. So far there's been a lot of repetition of basic grammar forms and vocabulary.

At the end of class, Madame Hella usually asks if there are any questions. Last night, she did that, then quickly asked, everyone understands? Noha, a young woman in the class, only heard the second question, not the first, so she pipes up "oui!" Of course, Madame Hella thought she was replying to the first question so asked Noha, so what is your question?

Noha hesitated, looked puzzled. Mme Hella asked again, did you have a question? But Noha misunderstood, and answered "oui!" again. Mme Hella said, then what is your question? Noha again hesitated, frowning.

The guys at the table next to me began laughing. I began laughing. It was like the comedy routine "who's on first" except in elementary French. Noha was getting more confused, Mme Hella was now getting confused.

I said "Noha est une comedienne!" We had been working on articles and professions during that lesson so these were the very words we had been using for the past hour and a half. Everyone cracked up and that was the end of class.

Sunday, February 07, 2010


It gets cold here! It was around 48F when I took the dogs out at 430am this morning. The sky is perfectly clear, the air is dry, and a stiff, cold wind is blowing from the northwest. I wish I could say the air is clear too but if the wind is blowing at all, there is a more or less permanent haze caused by blowing dust. It is rare for us to be able to see the Arabian Gulf from high points around camp most days--and it is just a few kilometers to the east.

I know, I know, it isn't the snowstorm of the century. But it is as close to winter as it gets here!

The cold weather produces some very interesting winter variations on the generic thobe, the long white robe that many Saudi men wear. I still can't help thinking that most of them look totally ridiculous in a thobe but there is no doubt that the thobe is often worn by Saudis in a deliberate attempt to distance themselves from westerners. As I've mentioned before, the Saudis also appear to believe the thobe is a dashing representation of their Bedouin "heritage" despite the fact that almost none of them are descended from Bedouins in the first place.

Anyway, for winter wear, thobes are constructed of darker, heavier cloth--think suit cloth made into a robe instead of a suit. Around the Arabian Gulf area, it is common to see Arabian men from other countries wearing thobes of all sorts of sedate colors (blue, brown, grey, even khaki) all year round--it's only the Saudis that wear the white ones.

In addition to shifting to the dark thobes, the men may put on a jacket when the weather gets a bit chilly. Believe me, a Burberry trench coat or a western suit jacket does not improve the overall silliness of the thobe.

But best of all, even though a Saudi man may don his pin-striped winter thobe, he will still wear the cheap, grotty sandals (glorified leather flip flops for the most part) that he wears in the summer.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


Today I am entertaining. My first visitor. It's just Martin coming over for steaks on the grill and an an adult beverage or two. But even so, I spent all morning cleaning the house.

The cleaning frenzy started after I took the dogs out on our usual weekend morning desert jog. We went to a new place, a cluster of jebels tucked away on the edge of camp. I chose the most difficult route, lots of up and down alternating with jogging along wadis filled with soft sand. The dogs are exhausted, all according to plan. They spend far too much time laying on the couch but it's not like I have other options for them right now.

Regarding adult beverages, I neither made them (a lot of trouble, time, and effort) nor brought them onto camp (very risky). I sweet talked a friend who makes very decent brown and white sid into supplying me on a regular basis. He puts the sid in real liquor bottles--most people do--which can cause amusing moments if you happen to have the real thing sitting around: now which one is the "real" rum? (People with good connections at the US Consulate usually have a large supply of the real thing.) I have to return the bottles to my friend for refilling. Of course I pay for the transaction. There is quite a bit of labor that goes into any alcohol made on camp so there is a cost associated with that. And he's doing me a favor as he does not usually sell his product.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Me and Aramco Industrial Security

So there was another incident last week. No, not a baked goods incident, although it did involve the dogs. It also involved Aramco Industrial Security.

That's the name of the security department for all of Aramco. It includes the camp cops who drive around giving tickets (sidearms prominently displayed), the guys who scan your bags and check your IDs at gates into the main admin area, and the unfortunate guys posted out at all of the rigs (sidearms there too).

Last Tuesday, as usual, I took the dogs out at 0600 for their final morning pee. This is their last pee opportunity until Upul comes at 1100. We always walk across the street to a large grassy area. There is also a large grassy area outside of my building but the one across the street is more special is across the street!

Anyway, I happened to look at my watch as we came back into my patio: 0615, I noted, because I was thinking about taking the bus in to work that day instead of driving. I unharnessed the dogs, opened the door, and went in my apartment towards the kitchen. The dogs suddenly veered right. I turned, saying "what are you silly dogs doing?" because they usually follow me everywhere.

I turned to see my dogs jumping on one of the Aramco camp workers, clothed in the standard issue orange overalls and orange safety vest, trying to hide in my front room. He couldn't get all the way into the room because I had a puppy gate propped up in the doorway to keep Mimi from peeing in there.

I freaked out. No, really, I did. Completely and thoroughly lost it.

I ran up to him and yelled "what the fuck are you doing here?" (as if he could speak English...) then I ran to the phone, the land line phone. As soon as I stepped away from the guy, he threw himself out the door (the only door to the apartment).

My hands were shaking so badly I could hardly dial the phone: 110, 110, I repeated, trying to focus. (Someone at work asked me how I knew the number because he didn't...and I looked at him and said, well, that's the first number I memorized when I got here. Seems sort of obvious.) I was pretty much hysterical when IS answered. It was the first time I've never been asked to give my badge number to conduct a transaction. He only asked for me to confirm my address.

In less than two minutes, there were more than a dozen IS guys outside my place.

Here's an interesting twist: I was only three feet from the guy so I got a very good look at him. I recognized him immediately as one of the workers in the Mango area (I live on Mango Circle). I knew I had seen him before. Even in my panic I noticed quite a few details: he had recently had his hair cut (the back of his neck has been cleanly and recently shaved and his hair was neat and trim around the edges), he was wearing leather safety boots (most of the landscapers wear rubber boots), and he was my height (most of the workers are Bangladeshis and Pakistanis who had crappy nutrition when children and who are quite short and small but I looked this guy directly in the eyes).

The IS guys called in all of the supervisors and they rounded up all of the workers they could find in the immediate area. To my horror, they then paraded dozens of these guys in front of my gate for me to look at. I thought I recognized the guy but wasn't sure. I was seriously freaked out and just not thinking clearly. Couldn't be sure.

I went into work later that morning and thought I was okay but that night I didn't sleep at all. I ended up spending the night on the couch, cell phone clutched in my hand, heart thumping at every bump and rustle made by my neighbors. I eventually calmed down but have been obsessively locking both of my doors all the time now (I have a wooden inner door and a full glass outer door similar to a storm door that I had recently had installed. Both of them lock.)

After sending some emails to some friends over the next few days, I found out that a single woman, a teacher in the Aramco Schools, had come downstairs on Monday, the day before my incident, around 0530 to discover a camp worker walking into her apartment. Where does she live? Down the street from me on Mango!

An IS investigator (normal clothes, no obvious sidearm) has been working with the two of us for the past week.

This morning after I got to work this investigator brought in two binders containing more than 400 medical records--with photos--of all of the landscape and sanitation workers in camp. I started paging through the first binder. Thirty, fifty, ninety, one hundred photos. I would pause at one or another but then keep moving on. I wasn't sure I would recognize the guy from a photo! It had now been more than a week. I just wasn't sure...

then I turned to page 126--and I had a panic attack. I couldn't breathe, I broke out into a sweat, my heart was racing, and I almost started crying.

Yes, no question, that was the guy.

I had to fill out a written statement, mostly dictated by the investigator. I could barely hold the pen because my hand was shaking so badly.

I really thought I was over this incident but all it took was a single photo to prove otherwise. I'm very proud of my amazing brain and my very good memory but I'm a little surprised at my physical reaction. Like Spock would say, it's not logical. That night I stayed up on the couch, I kept telling myself, that noise, that's just the neighbor coming home after her shift at the hospital like she does every other week, but my irrational lizard brain kept replaying the video of me turning around to see that guy in my house. When my lizard brain saw that photo, it told me to RUN before my eyes really even processed the image.

The investigator asked the teacher and me to look at a group of guys today after work. They set them up in parking lots near our houses then asked us to casually walk out and take a look.

She and I identified the same guy.

He will be jailed in Khobar, where there is no doubt he will be roughly handled. Then he will be deported.

His motive? Almost certainly petty theft but there is always a small doubt that if uncaught for long enough he would have progressed to violence.

Don't mistake my mention of his treatment by the Saudi police (Aramco IS can't get away with that sort of thing, too many Westerners around) as any sort of gloating or sense of justice served. I state this as a fact.

As a geologist working for the Exploration area, I have considerably more wasta than the teacher and will be using it to get confirmation in writing that this guy is off camp and out of the country.

I always lock my doors now.

And I have some VERY GOOD dogs who knew the second I opened the door that someone was inside. Even if they were jumping up on him because they just knew he was there to visit them!