Important Notice

It is not my intention to denigrate Saudi Arabia or its people. It’s like everywhere else, there is good and there is bad. I would rather focus on the unusual and the humourous. Offence is not intended.

“The country is not perfect. The media cannot be trusted, mistreatment of religious minorities is common and there are some that live in fear.” You can decide for yourself whether that statement is about Saudi Arabia, the UK, or any country for that matter.

To quote the Joker, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

That is all I will say about either subject.

Monday, 18 September 2006

Freight / Customs

I’ve been worried about my freight arriving since I got to Saudi. I was worried for three reasons:
1) I didn’t expect it to actually arrive,
2) I thought they’d confiscate my DVDs or my PC,
3) I knew that it would be major hassle.
I’d been watching its progress online and was getting worried about the fact it was in Indonesia for about 3 days. I had images of it being left out on the runway in 90% humidity under the baking sun.
When we left Australia we sent freight to Singapore and Riyadh. My wife picked up the freight in Singapore a few days before the rest arrived in Riyadh. She had no hassles at all. You’d think the process would be about the same in Riyadh, right? Ha!
I’d been warned so when it finally arrived I arranged for an Arab speaking driver to come with me to pick it up. Thank god for him because if he had not come with me I think I’d still be there.
Roughly, the process consisted of the following simple steps:
Drive to the airport
Go through security screening
Hand in passport and get a pass
Go upstairs and queue at window 1
Hand in your paper at window 1 and then wait around
Go to window 2 and confirm your details.
Go to window 3 and get a photo copy of a paper they give you (at your expense)
Go back to window 2 and hand in the photo copy
Go back to window 1.
At this point we were directed downstairs and I thought we were done. I’m so naïve.
When we got downstairs a similar process was repeated ad nauseum. We went backwards and forwards from the same two counters so many times I got dizzy. It was bewildering and excruciating.
Whilst we were waiting a customs official insisted on giving me a book called “Understanding Islam”. A gift I was glad to accept, but in those circumstances who would dare turn it down? “I don’t want this stupid book, take it away! Now, can I take my DVDs through customs?” The book is sitting next to me now, staring at me. I think its daring me to not read it.
When I finally saw my boxes my heart sank. My once white boxes were now a dark brown / black colour. They really had been sat on an Indonesian runway for a week!
They were dumped on a big x-ray machine and I knew at this point the fun was going to begin. At this point I should state the obvious, that porno or religious material (other than Islam) is not allowed into KSA. If you are caught with porn you are in trouble. Now I had no porn, but they often confiscate DVDs and even PCs to check them. You get a receipt and you’ll get them back if they are ok, but I did not want the hassle of going through all of this again.
Customs official: “Any cds?”
Me: “No.” thinking “but loads of DVDs so please don’t open the box.”
Customs official goes to open the first box
Me: “But I do have some DVDs!”
Customs official: “Movies?”
Me: “No just my wife’s DVDs, they are TV shows. No movies! No sex!”
Customs official pulls out some DVDs. The first one he looks at is a movie.
Me: “No sex! I watch the movies with my family” etc etc etc
My friendly Arabic Driver:

Customs official: “What is in that other box?” (my PC with all my personal details and more movies, that's what!)
Me: “I can’t remember”
Customs official: “OK, free to go”
Me: *stunned relief*

I don’t remember ever feeling so happy. The weight of the world slipped from my shoulders. This would be the end of the story, were not for the fact that at that point the shutters went down for prayer. So I sat in the dark with my boxes hoping it was all going to end soon.
We got out about an hour afterwards. It seems we still had to make another 5 or 6 trips to the same counters before we could leave. The whole episode took about 2 1/2 hours.

You have to have a deep respect for the patience and stoicism of the average Saudi. Gentlemen, I applaud you.


Sand Gets in My Eyes said...

Ah! I see you have learned the first - and most important - lesson for an expat in Saudi - patience. When all else fails - and it will - remember to be patient whether you're dealing with the government agencies that run out of paperstock to print your new DL or the client who insists on sharing family stories for the first hour of every meeting or just the consumers who have no concept of "waiting in line". Sure, it gets on your nerves and tries your patience, but what's life without a few trials?

Anonymous said...

Well, don't expect everything to be perfect. It can happen anywhere in the world. Last time I went to the states I had to wait for like 4 miserable hours to finish the customs process.


Jeziah said...

so...ummm...did you read the book? I mean as long as you're in Saudi - "Capital of Islam" - you might as well investigate Islam don't you think?
Check out if you lost the book.

(yeah yeah...those Muslims and their brainwashing again eh?)