The work day was good, the news was good, and with the bosses blessing, I headed home in time to shower and pretty up for the party I was attending. I went downstairs at party time and hopped in my drivers car, smiling, whistling, and wearing shorts and a short sleeve shirt, not a care in the world.
So I headed out to a gathering of Westerners, a few Near Easterners, and a few Asians. This is the most recent of a handful of such events that I've been to. The guest lists aren't that easy to get on, but I seem to do alright. Something was "off" and I noticed it almost as soon as I walked in. Now, I know me, and I am well aware that I should always listen to that voice, and I should've just turned around and left. However circumstances being what they were, I was scheduled to be there until the end regardless and thus tried to make the best out of it. Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda...
One of the things that we've discussed a lot amongst our circle of friends is the ability to "go home". I'll cover it one day in a blog post, but for now its enough to just know that this place is tough and that not everybody can survive it. Of the ones that can or do go the distance, some get pretty weird. Maybe they were weird to begin with, but Saudi accentuates it. Of the ones that get weird there seems to be a few common threads. The one I notice most is that they're "compound expats". Their knowledge of Arabic ends at Asalam Alekium, their knowledge of the Saudi Arabian culture ends at the bad experience they had a souk when dealing with what was almost certainly a non-Saudi or at customs when dealing with the
Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the fact that a lot of people are gone for the summer, maybe it was just an off night, whatever it was, I wasn't having a good time at all.
As I am famous for doing in such situations, my emotions betrayed my brain and I began noticing all the bad and ignoring all the good. Such things are not only silly, they are ill advised and immature. It did however give me a few things to think about by the light of day.
There is no permanence here, this is a temporary place. Attempts to make this place have a more permanent feeling may be futile and if not careful could end you in a situation similar to what I saw last night; A sorry excuse for life and the desperate grasping at memories of desperate and sad people whose lives have passed them by. Can they ever go home? I don't have that answer, but for many of the ones I've seen so far, I doubt it. They decided on a 10 year stint at Aramco for the benefits and the money and instead are going to trade life.
I can do my 14 months...If I was going to stay longer I'd need a few things. I haven't decided yet. But, I'd need a dog, I'd need a truck, and I'd need some grass. Compound or villa, doesn't much matter to me, but I need grass and a patio to make this work for anything more than just a temporary stay.
In the meantime, think I'll plan on my next 14 months, keep trying to improve my Arabic and keep exploring the non compound side of my temporary world, hopefully if I play my cards right, I will be able to go home and I'll go home with a better understanding of the Middle East, of Islam and an entire culture that I would never have had access to had I not come. In'shallah
**Note: I despise all customs officers, their very job makes them annoying. I'm not a criminal and have done nothing suspicious, so being treated like a potential criminal annoys the hell out of me. So far in my travels, the ones at Heathrow are the best.**