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Iqamas and Iguanas

You will remember the never-ending saga of trying to get an iqama for Elaine, this being the essential permit she needed to gain legitimate work in KSA. Last time I dipped into that subject in May I had been running around the Istiqdam and Chamber of Commerce of Commerce offices before getting the magic yellow slip of paper that allowed me to apply for an entry visa for her iqama. I sent it back to the UK for her. So Elaine took her bits of paper, certificates, declarations from the Police that she is not a known criminal (Hampshire Police undertake this service for the whole of the UK) etc, down to London for the visa agent to check over. She then walked up to Harley Street to have the obligatory medical examination, and this was a series of questions, blood and urine sample donations and a chest x-ray. The medics passed the results (all good) to the agent who then submitted the whole package to the Saudi consulate. A week later her one-time entry visa was issued.

When she came over to this country at the start of July there were more things to do, and the first of these was another medical. The Ministry of Interior "Absher" on-line system has a less-than-helpful list of clinics and hospitals where iqama medicals may be performed, and there are over 100 places listed country-wide. I have been here long enough to know not to take anything official at face value, so on my way back to the compound after work I popped into a handy hospital that was on the list and asked for an appointment. "We don't do iqama medicals" said the receptionist, adding that they had never done them and he didn't know why the MoI had his hospital on its website. The next place I tried did do them but couldn't offer an appointment as their data link to the MoI system was out of action. I then tried a local clinic that was not on the list and they said "sure, just call in when you want it done". Great! So that evening after dinner and mahgreb prayer closure time I took Elaine to the clinic. There was the payment of 150 SAR (GBP 30) and then within the space of half an hour further blood and urine samples were collected, along with a stool sample, and finally another x-ray. All good service at 22.00 at night. We had to go back three days later to collect the result. I asked my company help guy what the next stage was, and he said the clinic should have forwarded the result directly to the MoI. So the next evening I went back to the clinic and after a short but successful argument they agreed to do this.

The following day I received a confirmation text message from the MoI that the medical result had been loaded. Next, I had to send Elaine's passport, my original iqama, two photos of Elaine and the original medical form to my colleague in Jeddah for him to submit the final application. A week later the iqama was issued and all the documents couriered back to me in Riyadh. Hooray! The process for Elaine had taken 11 months to complete, and scores of man-hours of effort, argument, frustration and incremental steps to achieve it. And this is just as well as Elaine was starting her new teaching position in 1 week's time.

What about iguanas? This is a bit tenuous as it was during a visit to a pet shop, when I saw three of them basking in the window. Out here there is no need for heatlamps to keep them dry and warm, they are right at home. But why were we in a pet shop?

Elaine and I both are fond of animals, and she is an out and out dog lover. Without too much effort we found ourselves on the list of a charity for fostering rescued dogs. We were offered Koda (not to be confused with the rather excellent Biggar-based youth accordion, fiddle and pipes group ). Koda is a lovely, sweet natured wadi dog (local breed) who had been through the wars. As the result of a traffic accident she had her rear offside leg amputated and was looking for a temporary home until she could find a companion dog for the flight and move to her new owners in the USA. We took her in,but quickly forund that our apartment did not suit her needs. She needed a house with a garden and living with us wasn't going to work, so in the dog's best interest we handed her back to the charity. She will make a tremendous family pet as she is so patient and tolerant. But not to be for us.



Three days later we were offered Belle, a small mongrel that looks like a corgi-collie cross wearing a King Charles spaniel uniform. She is two years old and very affectionate. We have had her for a week now and she is settling in well. Saudis are predominantly cat lovers and pet dogs are a rarity. When we took Belle out for a walk at the parade of shops near to our compound, every child, without exception, made comments to their parents and pointed to her, and several wanted to take pictures too. She will have to get used to the celebrity life!



We have had several visits to pet shops to buy dog accoutrements, and noticed that these are heavily cat-centred. Unlike the UK there are few - if any - animal welfare rules and all the pet shops are stuffed with live kittens, cats, rabbits, exotic birds, tropical fish and iguana, but few dogs. The conditions in which they are kept are variable, and I'm sorry to report that the RSPCA wouldn't know where to start were they here. Actually, I do have a suspicion - I have heard that there is an outdoor pet souk in the old city area on Friday afternoons, and conditions there are supposedly terrible.

Finding suitable dog food in supermarkets has been a challenge. Our nearest supermarket has a 40-foot long unit which is labelled as Pet Food. 95% of the products are catfood, the remaining 5% dogfood, all dry mix, which Belle has advised us she doesn't like. After a bit of scouring we have found that Carrefour sells tins of wet dog food, so at least we are spared too much expense. However, if we owned rabbits, exotic birds, tropical fish or iguana our only option would be to buy pricey stocks at the pet shop.

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* Call Alastair Fyfe directly on 07785 370074 (UK) or +966 503095212