Turns out my 16-hour layover in Saudi Arabia isn't possible for anyone except Saudi Arabian nationals.
So the phone calls began...
Me: "But I will not be leaving the airport. Do I need a transit visa?"
Nice lady at the Saudi Arabian Consulate in NY: "I'm sorry ma'am, we do not offer transit visas."
Me: "But applying for a transit visa is an option on your visa application on the consulate website. Can I get a tourist visa for that layover?"
Rushed man at the Saudi Arabian Consulate in NY: "No! You cannot get a tourist visa."
Me: "Can I not get one because you do not offer them, or because I'm a woman traveling alone?"
All the extensions at the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Washington, D.C.: "The voicemail box for *garbled* is full. Goodbye."
Me: "Okay, so tell me how I can take this flight."
Man at the travel agency website I booked the ticket on: "You have to get a transit visa."
Me: "Saudi Arabia does not offer transit visas."
Travel agency man: "Then you cannot take the flight."
Me: "Can you find me another flight? One that has a layover less than 12 hours long so I don't need a transit visa?"
Travel agency man: "There are no other flights available."
Me: "I'm having a hard time understanding why you offer flights that non-Saudi citizens are unable to take."
Travel agency man: "Ma'am, I'm sorry, but you are the one that booked the ticket."
Me: "I understand that. But I don't think it's okay to offer flights to people that they are unable to go on."
Man at Saudi Arabian Airlines: "But you've already canceled the flight."
Me: "I. Understand. That. But that flight should not have been available for purchase at all."
Saudi Arabian Airlines man: "But ma'am, the cancellation has already been process--"
Me: "THANK YOU." *hangs up*
(Why can I not hang up on people without telling them "Thank you!" first? I thought hanging up on people was all about having the final word, the last laugh. Instead, I make myself indebted to the person at the other end of the line, almost as an apology that I got worked up.)
When I had told friends and family about my extended layover in Saudi Arabia on my way to Nairobi, I came to revel in the gasp or pause that usually escaped them. Yep, I thought, I dare to go where not many women dare to go. People think I'm being adventurous by going to Saudi Arabia, when, in reality, I'm actually not leaving the confines of the transit lounge at the airport terminal. Easy-peasy adventure cred!
However, after two days of countless emails and phone calls to more agencies and companies than I can remember, I just bit the bullet and paid the cancellation fee. At this point, it wasn't worth the frustration and the tears I could feel building up every time I hung up from another unsuccessful phone call. The loss of money hurt, but at the end of the day it's just money. And if money trumped adventure, I wouldn't be going on this...whatever you want to call this thing I'm doing.
In the future, when I hear of anyone taking a long layover in Saudi Arabia, I too, will gasp and pause. Not because I perceive it to be unsafe (mind you--you do need to be very respectful and careful as a woman in any Muslim culture), but because I hope they have better success than I did in navigating whatever Saudi visa they need to be there.
**Guest editor: the ever-lovely bosom friend of mine, Ann of Meant Green, who has opened up hearth & home during my final weeks in the U.S.**