Sunday, June 29, 2008

Washington D.C: Gateway to Saudi!

Have been in Washington D.C for 3 days and will be there up until the 3rd of July. While roaming M St, NW and going to many touristic sites, I’m trying to refrain from making foolish generalizations, yet finding it incredibly difficult. My headlines are as follows:

Hubby, baby and I are subject to "random special screening" while flying to D.C. Well, usually only one of us is "chosen randomly", which makes sense! This time it is all three. All our luggage arrives at D.C with a tag that also indicates "random checking". Humph, I wish we had prettier underwear.

An African American barista at Starbucks shoves a drink my way asking, “This yours?” Her tone changes all of a sudden as she addresses someone else, “have a wonderful day mam.” I turn around at once to see the barista flashing a smile at another African American customer. I wonder, is there a white-black tension in D.C?

I give myself a scare while looking in the mirror. Two days of touring have turned me into burnt meat. From the other room hubby chuckles while mentioning that a friend of his on FB says “D.C is Riyad with trees.” I nod to my face.

When asking a security guard about the closest grocery shop, he looks troubled. “Oh mam, it’s too far to walk!”
“How far?” I ask.
He points to a bus stop across the street, “The bus should take you right over there.”
“But how far is it?” I insist.
“Eight blocks!”
I’m ticked, remembering word for word what a lady told me in Portland when I asked her about the closest Sushi. “Very close,” she said. “10, 11 blocks the most.”

When dining in an Italian Restaurant, stuffed with people, served 40% by Arab waiters, a cockroach teases our table. An appetizer arrives half cold. An entrée arrives as two parts: pasta soaked with tomato paste and mushrooms flowing in marsala sauce. They are supposed to be one dish, but I suppose the chef was too lazy to make plain pasta! Oh, the cockroach was done eating breadcrumbs by that time. I couldn’t find him. But I was hoping he isn’t climbing my leg.

Tourists everywhere. Tourists don’t care to make an impression. They don’t care to be polite. It isn’t their goddamn city!

Overcoming travel-constipation. Googling "constipated during " with google suggesting "during travel." Oh, well, not a classic case I guess! You name it, I've done it. Eating light, eating veggies, drinking lots of water, etc. Truth is, constipation isn't really the issue. My exit system gets lazy (no--dead!) when I'm overwhelmed by changes. This is final. Next time I travel, I'll start smart. Pill the night before hopping on that airplane.

Nobody is patting my back in D.C or summarizing their life on the lineup. Thought, with all the complaining, that I meant to say I hate it. Surprisingly, the busy, on the go folks suit my mood! It is sort of what Riyadh would have...

Tomorrow I visit Saudi Cultural Mission for the first time. Hope to finish up all pending business before returning home. Excited. Excited. Excited. Excited. Somebody please knock some sense into me because you never get THAT excited about something without turning into your own antagoniste.


frogman said...

i was wondering where you disappeared to, i can't recall you leaving your blog for such a prolonged period :)

i remember the feeling of wanting to come back to Saudi to badly towards the end of my studies.. the feeling eventually saw the light and all of a sudden I wanted to leave again..

sheesh.. talk about never being satisfied :)

Umm Ibrahim said...

Oh dear - sounds lie they should just be honest about this random checking and tell it like it is. :/

As for number 6 on your list... one thing worse than travellers constipation would be travellers runs, not sure I'd recommend the pill the night before! LOL

So you're coming back to Riyadh huh?! Sure is nice n warm here!

Insha'Allah all will go smoothly for you and your family. =)

The Queen said...

I've only been to D.C. once (10 years ago?) and I must say that I felt pretty ashamed by it. I couldn't help but think of all the people from around the world that go there and I was not proud of what they would find there.

I'm sure that guy was probably a little worried for you when you asked about walking to that grocery store. It seemed like a pretty rough town away from all the tourist things. We walked into a restaurant and walked right out and went somewhere else to eat. There is no way I am going to sit in a restaurant and share a table with the cockroach family!

Abu Dhabi/UAE Daily Photo said...

Ah the random screenings...The last time my husband was told that at the airport, he smiled and said, "Come on...let's not kid ourselves about this being random."

You asked:
I wonder, is there a white-black tension in D.C?

Yep. You should have cried out, "But I am more oppressed than YOU!" :D

أبو سنان said...

Having been to the cultural mission, if you stand outside it will sound like Riyadh, or what I imagine it to be. I've been all over the Middle East Saudi but is one country I havent been to and probably wont go to until the government recognises our marriage.

Saudi Airlines is also in the building, on a different floor and of course the Embassy is right across the street.

The hardest thing about going to either of them is the parking. If you can find it, it costs $10 even for a couple of hours. Last time I was lucky and found a parking spot right in front of the Embassy. It wasnt as good as my first visit to the Embassy where I was allowed to park in the back VIP area, but better than no parking.

DC is hot this time of year. Hot and humid. It remninds me of when I lived in England and the tourists in London.

I like going down Mass. Avenue with all of the interesting houses and buildings, many of them Embassies. You can get to it from the Cultural Mission very quickly. The Islamic Center (Saudi Mosque) is on the left from the Cultural Mission with the Omani Embassie right behind it with some really nice gardens.

Arab waiters? I guess it depends on where you are staying. Some areas like Fall Church and Arlington have a lot of Arabs. Out in the suburbs where we are there are Arabs, just not so many.

There is black/white issues in the DC, and a lot more than that. If they thought you were Arab they might have a problem with you as well. A lot of blacks have issues with Arabs because some Arabs sell alcohol in the communities and have a habit of treating blacks bad. Not all, but the reputation catches on.

DC isnt that bad, I have lived here almost six years and Manal for most of her life aside from 3-4 years in Saudi and a couple in Pakistan and Austria.

Trevelyana said...

I'm not a fan of DC. It looks like all its fellow american cities, it lacks any real sense of culture, history, or cobblestone.
Basically, like the rest of America .. it's bland.

DC is like a pair of black formal trousers, while places like London, Rome, or Barcelona are like big ol' Tie-dye shirts--no two are the same exact pattern.

But anyway, good luck.

أبو سنان said...


I agree with you about DC to a certain extent, but there is MORE culture to be found here than in many US cities. There is the Kennedy Center and the National Opera for one.

It is a bit unfair to compare DC to places like Paris and London. London has been around for some 2,000 years. How long has DC been around?

I know where you are coming from, I was born in Germany and lived outside of London for years and lived for periods of time in cities like Berlin, Paris and Dublin, but we must keep things in perspective.

Trevelyana said...

Well in perspective, in 2,000 years I still wouldn't want to go to DC.

My point isn't DC particularly, I've likened it to every other US city, my point is that it's classically American-like and that it lacks personality.

أبو سنان said...


I am not sure what you mean when you say:

"My point isn't DC particularly, I've likened it to every other US city, my point is that it's classically American-like"

Are there no US cities that you do like? I have been all around the world and I have to say that American cities certainly are lacking in many regards, but a lot of them are better than many I have found in other places in the world, especially the Middle East.

For instance, I'd take Seattle over Amman any day of the year, although Amman has a history that Seattle cannot hope to match.

Considering I was born and lived in Europe, but I am American, I am rather open to all cities and realise that comparing cities usually doesnt do one good.

One can get something out of almost any city they visit, but that depends on the person doing the traveling. One must be able to open themselves up to a people, a society and a way of life that is different from theirs. If not how would a white guy coming from a typical American military family like myself have enjoyed places like Damascus, Cairo and Beirut.

Sure, I found the culture to be a bit too much, but over all the people were nice and the places great to visit, when everything is taken into context.

You are Saudi and American right? If you do not like American cities do you plan on leaving when you finish medical school? If so, where do you plan on living?

Having never been to Saudi, can you tell me why a city like Riyadh might be superior to a city like New York City?

If you are not huge on American cities did you consider Europe for Medical School? There are some good ones there.

To a certain extent I hear some of my wife in you. She is Saudi, but cannot stand large portions of the culture and the BS in the country, at the same time she doesnt really like American culture and society even though she has lived here a huge chunck of her life.

She is kind of caught in a middle ground. She wouldnt consider living in Saudi again, but doesnt like it here too much either.

Personally, as an American, I prefer Europe, especially the UK and Germany. For me the redeming value of the USA lays in it's freedoms, not always it's peoples, and in it's nature and pre-Columbus history.

I am a huge fan of American Indian history and love wondering the ruins in the American Southwest.

American Bedu said...

Welcome to WDC, Aysha! doubt Arabs and particularly those from Saudi undergo additional scrutiny and screening. I remember my spouse and I going out of Dulles... I was whizzed through but then noticed he was not right behind me (in spite of his diplomatic passport) so I waited. He was receiving secondary security. The security noticed me waiting and told me to go on; I was finished. I remarked. "no, I'm waiting for my husband." Change of manner.... that man is your husband? me - yes. him - well I'm sorry but you will need additional screening too then. me - do not apologize to me if I require additional screening for security. I would not like to think you are being discriminatory in any way...

Naturally hubby was appalled at me and my typical bluntness but I believe in calling a spade a spade...

Can't wait to meet you in Riyadh!

DC Native said...

Ayisha, Just stopping through. Washington, DC is where I was born and raised (in the actual city, not the burbs) and I adore it, as only a mother can love her delinquent child! I am constantly defending it from people, Americans and others. Best to come in April when everything is in bloom, then you would understand how to love it! Also, it is very strictly divided between work areas and neighborhood areas, so what you find in one, you will not find in another. next time you go, walk around the capitol hill neighborhood - you will like it and find it friendly. Sorry it left you with a poor opinion, hope you will give it another chance one day. stay out of the burbs there though!

Anon said...

What DC Native said pretty much sums it up. You have to remember that when (Arab) DC natives say DC, we mean the metropolitan area (Northern Virginia, southern Maryland, and DC itself).

There is plenty of history and culture there- George Washington's estate in Mount Vernon, all the historic civil war battlefields (some still intact). This was the frontier where America separated in half for quite a while. Museums, along with nightlife, is one of the best in the nation.

Saying there is no history is ignorant