THEY’RE ON VACATION

July 7, 2016


As a “working” engineer, I have been extremely fortunate over the years to have had positions of employment that were truly fascinating.  One such position was Engineering Product Manager for General Electric Cooking Products.   I was involved with the International Group, specifically the Latin American Pole.  My basic charge was to oversee the design, testing, and troubleshooting of cooking products for sale into the Caribbean, Central America and South American countries.  These products carried the GE logotype and represented mid to top-of-the-line configurations.  It was a great opportunity and a very rewarding job in that I was expected to become knowledgeable regarding the various country standards our products had to adhere to.  Our products had to comply with UL, CGA, IEC and all local and country codes that applied to the various gas and electric products.

For many of us, cooking with natural gas, propane or butane can be considered somewhat of a “black art”.  There are many factors affecting gas burner operation: 1.) Gas pressure, 2.) Type of gas used, 3.) Injection velocity, 4.) Number of burner ports, 5.) Overall design of burner including burner throat, 6.) Overall input of burner, etc.  The proper balance MUST be accomplished or the product can experience: 1.) Flashback, 2.) Lazy or drifting flame, 3.) Noisy burner, 4.) Sooting, 5.) Excessive burner temperatures creating issues with burner sagging and distortion.  In 1998 several issues with burner sagging were experienced with one type of “up-shot”, multi-port burner.  This burner was running on propane with excellent results on all previous occasions.  One issue—the problems were all being experienced in the Middle-East and not Latin America.  As always, we tried addressing the problems with e-mail and then phone calls.  Replacement parts and assemblies were shipped but the problems ultimately were not solved.  Our reputation was at stake as well as cessation of sales so the decision was made to send representatives over to witness first-hand the occurrences and propose a “fix”.  I, along with an engineer from the company that designed the burner, was selected to make that visit.

I looked upon the problem as a challenge and was eager to see what could be done to solve the dilemma.  A problem in one area of the world is bound to turn up in another.   The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan were the countries experiencing issues so those became our targets.  The necessary travel arrangements were made, immunizations received, visas obtained and we were off.  I flew from Louisville, Kentucky to Frankfort, Germany on the first leg of the trip then to Dubai in the UAE.  Our itinerary was Dubai, Riyadh, Cairo, and Amman then Gatwick in London.  From Gatwick back to Louisville on the last leg of the trip.   Two and one-half weeks was allotted for the venture.  Our visit was the first of August and I will NEVER forget upon landing in Dubai the announcement coming over the intercom—“It’s a balmy 111 degrees Fahrenheit in lovely Dubai. Hope you brought your swim suit.”  I did NOT but I did as told and brought two changes of clothes per day due to the heat and humidity in the countries we would visit. Even that was not enough.  Thank goodness for hotel laundry services.

Our work in Dubai was a success but Riyadh was a great deal tougher.  Due to constituents in the propane “mix”, we had great difficulties in orificing each burner to burn properly with no “yellow-tipping”. Yellow-tipping is an indication of soot and soot is an indication of incomplete combustion.  NOT GOOD.  Soot will cover the bottom of cooking utensils and can eventually bake on, thus destroying the bottom surface of the utensil.  The ultimate solution, at least for Saudi Arabia and that propane mix, was a different burner system.  We recommended just that.

The point of this post is really our flight from Riyadh to Cairo.   The flight was absolutely packed with no seats vacant.  In Saudi culture, the ladies must be accompanied by a male with no Saudi lady traveling alone.    Approximately one-third of the flight had passengers, all wearing the customarily burka, with eyes-only visible.  This is who they are and what their culture demands.  It’s just a given.   The nose wheel rotated, we reached altitude, leveled off, and when all was calm I immediately made an obligatory visit to the bathroom.  Very uneventful flight!  Approximately two and one-half hours with a lovely meal provided.  Before we landed, I made another trip to the bathroom.  Upon returning to my seat, I realized something very,very strange indeed.  Where had all of the ladies, festooned in their burkas, gone?  They were nowhere to be found.  Our sales rep in the Middle East was a great gentleman and friend named Wassim.  I asked Wassim—OK, where are they? Where did they go?  This brought about a hardy laugh.  His reply—“After we left Saudi air space, they went to the bathroom and removed their outer covering.  They are on holiday.  No more Saudi oversight.”  This absolutely blew me away.  When leaving Saudi Arabia, these ladies actually became “people” recognized by the human race as such.

Culture, ethnicity, language, religion, regional norms, behavior patterns, etc are absolutely fascinating.  I think the reason we have not been visited and colonized by little green men is they realize we have an enormously complex system here on Earth and they simply do NOT wish to be a part of it. Too much agony.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

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