This ludicrous Arab 'news' page was stuck to the window above my kitchen sink for a few years and always made a mundane task like doing the dishes a good laugh.
Hehe, I'd chuckle as I scrubbed away at a stubborn piece of pasta glued to that saucepan thinking of all the dumb as hell, lazy as hell brainwashed students I've ever taught passing through my Saudi classroom and then I whiled away the time by playing a game naming the things that Saudis are actually good at, let alone excellent at, and each and every time I came up with absolutely nothing. Jack Schitt,. in fact.
There's even a TV show entirely dedicated to informing Saudis that they are the perfect human beings and schools keep the egomania levels up by teaching the same message: you are the bees knees, Mohammed, no question ... not the experience I had out there. At all.
"We're trying NOT to crash, Abdul Aziz!"
"Crash more fun, teacher."
"Hahahaha .... crash good, teacher! Dead!"
"But I was Little Red Riding Hood last week, teacher. I want to be the Big Bad Wolf."
"Can we play in the tree-house?"
"And congratulations to Mohammed for being the very first student at our Academy of Excellence to work out how to turn on a light!"
"I happy," said Mohammed. "My beard happy."
"Yes, thanks for that ... and I understand you even manged it in a college record time of five days, 19 hours and 47 minutes. Well done! We'll put another grand on the next salary, OK?"
All of which reminds me of a joke told to me by a routinely inebriated Englishman next to a swimming pool on a compound in Riyadh, the world's worst city by a clear margin, which went like this ...
... So Abdul Aziz comes home from the International School with his end of term report and proudly shows it to his father.
"Look father I have an A in English language and in Maths and History, blah blah blah."
"That's because you're a Saudi, Abdul Aziz."
"Yes, I thought so too, but I have one question, father."
"Ask me anything Abdul Aziz, I will know the answer because I went to the Academy of Excellence."
"Yes father, you are truly excellent but what I don't understand is when we have a shower after sports I can't help but notice that my dick is twice the size of the other boys' dicks. That's because I'm a Saudi, isn't it father?"
"No, Abdul Aziz, it's because the other boys are seven years old and you are 46."
Nb. Random Sandy Saudi reminiscences will come and go, if you get my drift.
Of all the jackass bullshit that was spouted at me by people pretending to be religious, one of the most repeated lines expressed by Saudis was that they liked Hitler. That initial statement of respect for the fascist devil was also intended to wind me up. These were grown men with families and camels and sneering moustaches and I've never met a race of people who so enjoy the bad and the negative aspects of life as much as the Saudis do.
On hearing that statement, I’d ask if they were satanists, always having to explain the meaning of the word, which I gave in the utmost detail. They will never forget it. Surprisingly only one guy ever complained to the boss who gave me a serious disapproving look, but he knew I’d forever be an unbeliever.
Fuck them. If they wanna dish it out, they gotta learn how to take it.
Hitler is popular with Moslems because he killed off 6 million Jews, the chief enemy of a people with a hell of a lot of enemies. They also share a hatred of liberal democracy. Yeah! Go fascism!
Another factor for admiration is that in the middle of World War II the Germans were having trouble getting oil and were eyeing up newly found wells in the Persian Gulf, controlled by the British and Americans. The Third Reich began a deliberate campaign of sycophancy towards the Arab world in an attempt to woo them and their oil away from Allied hands. To do so, religion was used. Then again, maybe old Adolf did really believe the earth is flat. Weirder things have happened.
Hitler hooked up with an equally insane Moslem known as the Mufti of Jerusalem and promised that the Third Reich would not intervene in the Mufti’s kingdom, other than to pursue their shared goal: “the annihilation of Jewry living in Arab space.” How charming. He missed out any mention of oil; the hook behind his kowtowing bait. If Rommel had managed to take control of the Levant and Arabia as envisaged in The Master Plan then no doubt the Nazis would have soon constructed their gas chambers on the sand not only for the darker-skinned but, in the case of the Arabian Peninsular, the inability of any of them to do a stroke of work.
“Put this lot on the scrapheap, Fritz. They're useless.”
What strikes me as poignant is that both Adolf and Mohammed, the Moslem prophet, kicked off their careers as megalomaniacs by robbing the Jews - Mohammed in knocking off caravans crossing the desert and Hitler starting with Kristallnacht which robbed German Jews of their possessions and lives. And on this theme, a comment from a blog in the Spectator magazine makes a direct comparison between Islam and Naziism:-
Both ideologies had a leader revered as a prophet; a globally supremacist outlook and a desire to use terror and war to accomplish this ambition; a hatred of the Jews, a hatred of homosexuals; a hatred of those not of the faith be they the untermensch or the infidel, and a misogynistic attitude toward women which both Islam and Nazism deem or deemed fit only for reproduction, the kitchen and the place of prayer.
On that final point, I never once saw a female anywhere near a mosque.
The hatred of homosexuals gets a resounding belly laugh when my mind turns to the Saudis - the gayest men I've ever met - and is an issue that I shall address in the future.
Meanwhile, you may like Hitler, I don’t. Got that? Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, huh? Or is there some god-given excuse/reason for certain people being allowed to like or dislike something and some not?
Most Saudi employers take away the passports of their employees when they arrive, and keep them. This is against Saudi Labour Law and no doubt International law, but when did they ever let stuff like that get in the way of doing what they want - you should see how they drive! In this day and age you can teach monkeys and dogs to drive cars but you will never teach the Saudis.
The reason for this passport confiscation is of course control and power. When my father was dying in 2011 I told my boss I was going to the UK to see him. I didn't ask him, I told him, and I'd already bought a ticket and had a multi-entry visa permanently on stand-by in my passport with which I defied the government by keeping with me. Once the guy in the office asked why I had kept my passport for so long and so I told him to look at whose name was in that document and whose photo does it show. No way on earth would the Asian labourers be able to do the same. I remember a story surfacing of an African shepherd who had not gone home for 18 years. Neither had he been paid during that time. His passport in his employers dirty hands.
That evening my boss used an adjunct to call me and tell me that I can't go to see my dying father because I had work. I told the adjunct to tell my boss that I quit. He phoned back 30 minutes later to issue me a grovelling apology and the next morning at work before I flew that evening my boss said, "You're father is my father."
"No, he fucking isn't," I thought and gave him a lengthy cold stare.
Then he asked the key question, "Do you have your passport?"
"Yep," I replied, fully aware that if it was still with the Passport Department who so kindly look after it for us, then he wouldn't have let them give me a visa and I'd have been stuck in Saudi. About a month or so later the boss went off to some distant cousin's funeral for a week and a half.
Not only does the employer take our passports for 'safekeeping' but my employer stuck a fucking great government sticker on it as if to usurp the nationality on the front. I spent a good hour the other night peeling the fucker off. This photo is the easy-to-peel stage ...
... and the photo below is after 30 minutes scraping and it's still sticky. I'm now growing my right index fingernail to finish it off.
The pictures are indicative of the Saudi attitude to its foreign workforce in general: treat everything with a lack of respect while demanding respect for themselves and preventing people from leaving the country if they feel like it. Some guys don't get released for months and have their salaries stopped while waiting.
I pray I never again see a KSA stamp in my little red travel book.
Moving back into the western world has a lot going for it.
First up is fresh air, lungs wallowing, holding the oxygen like a wine-taster does claret, savouring it before exhaling coolly.
Second is rain, cool downpours every now and then, plump drops plummeting from pine needles, cloud-lined windows of healing sun rather than the blast furnace of the desert.
Third is a huge variety of delicious food, especially pork, deer and duck. May God spare me from ever seeing greasy sheep, oily rice and sultanas again.
And finally, chicks, of course ... all over the place against a backdrop of minimal religious interference because Mother Nature shows who the real boss is.
Yet through the fug of life in Europe's Jamaica my mind does sometimes flip back to a sandy recollection or two, and one has just dropped into my mental lap that involved the Unfortunate Arab and his Unfortunate Love of Money and All That Entails, etc.
What’s your salary? is a question I was often asked by nosey parkers and after a while my stock reply became, ‘There are two answers to that question, Mohammed: One, absolutely none of your business. And two, more than you.’
It wasn’t just the Saudis who glowed green with envy, at times fury, when salaries were being compared, because in the expat Saudi world salary is directly connected to nationality. Thus, a Bangladeshi is cheaper than a Pakistani and he is cheaper than an Indian who is cheaper than a Filipino who is cheaper than a westerner who is expensive. That’s the way it is. The majority of Saudis do jackshit and are paid in between a Filipino and a westerner.
I always argued that the disparity in cost of living in our home countries offset this discrepancy in salaries and I’m talking white collar work here. In our little training centre, other than the Saudi boss, I was the best paid mainly due to birthplace but also down to some negotiation when contracts were renewed. I got double, if not more, what the Indian computer geeks and Jordanian instructors and Saudi secretaries got, and they knew it. And they didn’t like it one little bit. But the Indian guy’s salary would certainly go further in Bombay than mine would in London.
They didn’t get that because the $$$ signs bouncing around in front of their eyes like fantastic jewels clouded their logic, if they had any. After a while I could spot a ‘I’m insanely jealous of your salary’ grimace from 50 yards, written all over the face. Some growled as I passed.
There were also three guys who spent their free time queuing at the British and Canadian Embassies for immigration, and a few years ago one of them who did become a GB citizen saw his salary immediately double on receipt of the new passport that had replaced his Sudanese nationality.
When I arrived the Saudi king gave me a wad of cash, thanks for coming, termed a Relocation Allowance. Bonus before a stroke of work has begun! They also gave me a pleasant apartment in a leafy, peaceful, residential street 100 metres from a 24-hour supermarket where the Yemeni youths stacking the shelves always gave a cheery hello whenever I went in, no matter day or night.
In the bachelor’s housing block, the only problem downstairs were the ice-cold stares of the wannabe-fundamentalists from Bradford and Lahore and Ottawa while upstairs were a trio of harmless Filipino poofters who sang karaoke at weekends. In my final months I did notice a much more regular stream of Saudi men trundling up to the third floor for their ‘fun’.
The Filipino guys were so effeminate – hairstyle, gait, demeanour, fondness for skin-tight clothing - that they were pretty much female and there were times when I had to fight to control my laughter, but I had to give it to them (figuratively speaking), they did have a lucrative sideline going on up there, moonlighting as Homo Hookers. A Filipino teacher once told me that a Saudi secretary in his workplace would phone at one in the morning asking for a massage and react aggressively when refused.
Almost as soon as my wad of cash from the king had arrived, a rotund Jordanian wobbled into my office and asked to borrow it. Or 10000 Riyals/$2666 of it, which was craftily hidden in my flat and not doing much, so in an act of benevolence that would not be repeated, I handed over the dough. In fact, he drove me home to get it, explaining on the way that he was finishing off a house he was having built back in the Levant. I was financing the finishing touches.
“When can you pay it back?” I asked.
“After two months … Inshallah.”
Oh God no … Inshallah, meaning in English ‘God willing’ and a phrase ubiquitous throughout the Arab world. Allah controls everything, comprendez? So when things go wrong – highly normal – the perpetrator premeditates his likely fuck-up by laying any blame on Allah, because really it’s Him who does everything. Not us. Clever, huh? Not really. Thus my new-found friend and debtor next to me in his Mercedes Benz covered his sure to be defaulting tracks by passing the buck, as the yanks say, on to his god. How could I argue with Allah? Or get 10000 Riyals out of him?
The initial “two months … Inshallah” became 14 months and I had to extract it in bits and pieces from sweaty palms that really did not want to pay it back. Real anger lurked in the eye when hard cash was handed back to my side of the desk. Unfortunately interest payments on loans are not allowed by Allah (surely he’s passing up a marvellous money making opportunity here) so I received what I gave more than a year earlier – ten grand.
A few months later he was back in my office, dry washing hands, shuffling from foot to foot, asking for another ten thousand because the house is ready and his son is living in it but he hasn’t got a playstation or hi-fi (Allah forbids music) or computer or dvd or even a television, in this day and age, huh? I had become his de facto, non-profit bank and I seem to remember hearing that Allah permits his followers to deceive and rob from Kuffars (infidels) because they don’t believe what he says.
“I can’t,” I lied. “I’ve transferred it out of the country.”
Lying in the sand never bothered me because apparently for believers in Allah it’s OK to lie to Kuffars because they don’t believe what Allah says, so if that’s true for them then it’s good for me. An eye for an eye is an integral part of Allah’s law, known as Sharia and what the Islamic State and multitude of scattered fans would love to introduce to the global community. Unbelievers will have throats slit slowly, or be burned alive, or cut into pieces, livers sometimes eaten. Be careful kids, there are some deranged fuckers out there.
The rotund Jordanian was dejected. He would have to look elsewhere for credit and his grievance would burn until he found retribution; his version of an eye for an eye.
Right now is Ramadan the Islamic holy month of fasting. Read: not eating in daylight then mass gluttony by night for 30 consecutive days, and expected to work during that time but ‘excused’ for their piety. Saudis and oil-rich states only for work and eating because Moslems from other countries have to put in the full day’s labour and the price of food always goes up (sometimes triples) during this month. It’s basically 30 Christmas days on the trot. Then (great news for the likes of me) there is a two week holiday at the end known as Greed Recovery Period or some such. Many non-Saudi Moslems don’t get it. Mr Infidel made full use and every year he got out of dodge.
Due to the machinations of summer holiday breaks I was forced to endure a week of Ramadan in 2012 before my holiday officially began. During daytime NOBODY can eat or smoke or … some other stuff, I forget what … so to get round this I would secrete myself in a half-built security gate and adjacent office where the guards would sleep … I mean work, and where on the pan, still covered in a plastic sheet, I sat and smoked. A pick-up arrived one time. Two men got out, came into the office, waffled about something then left before looking in the uncompleted toilet cubicle. Thank God.
In our largish training centre there were almost no people the entire month so I would take sandwiches to my classroom, close the door, and eat them. During this period the rotund Jordanian had taken on the mantle of Mr Religion and when he saw me disappearing into my classroom he demanded angrily, “Are you smoking in there?”
“Yes, but out of the window,” I answered as that was in fact my intention. Thank god I had already devoured my sandwiches, having made a mental note to make more for tomorrow. Once he’d gone I closed the door.
About three minutes later the same door flew open and a fat Mullah (long-bearded religious enforcer) barged angrily in. I was sitting at my desk, not a cigarette or Mars bar in sight, and he stopped, saw what I was doing, was embarrassed, said sorry then left.
Mr Religion had his contract terminated not long after. There was khama in the sand that day. Lower class infidels caught eating or smoking were being whipped and imprisoned around the Kingdom and in this respect I want to draw attention to this guy, Raif Badawi, a truly brave Saudi soul whose alleged crime is to have an opinion contrary to what Allah says.
This picture floated my boat both before I took it and after. I used my Sony phone camera, which produces this slightly distorted effect when the zoom is used. I really like the black silhouette of the woman against the grey dusk. The building is SABIC HQ.
After the bureaucratic jungle of leaving, subsequent adrenaline rush, and going down the pub for 2 weeks, I've only just got round to sorting out my photos and so here is a pictorial timeline of the route out.
Nb. A more detailed analysis of the Saudi work ethic will follow.
PS. Couldn't get the slideshow feature to work so you will have to put up with the format below. Humble apologies.
My final days in the workplace found Dudu (see left), a Bangladeshi cleaner, scurrying around the stockroom, pausing very briefly for this photo and who is proof positive that being outside in the sun or locked up in a broom cupboard for too long leaves many befuddled by sandy life.
This guy was a whirlwind of energy and cleaned anything put in front of him with a whirling of limbs and liberal use of a can of scented air plus obligatory rag. He was paid $90 a month plus bed and gruel and the bloated to bursting point (Saudi) secretaries frequently sent him out to clean their cars, paying nothing. Not even a thanks.
This sign was the bane of my sandy life, alongside bike punctures. There are 5 prayer times a day and 3 of them take place between 3 and 7.30pm, ie. after work.
EVERYTHING shuts down for 30 minutes, unless you are in a fancy hotel or restaurant. No idea why they are excluded but didn't complain. All shoppers, bank customers, diners, etc have to leave the premises while the Saudis pretend to be religious and shop staff get a smoke break.
A cretin in the Saudi government has plans to close all shops by 9pm. Doh! That's when most Saudis wake up.
The all-important legal status to live and work in the Kingdom of Hypocrisy. To be allowed to leave the country involved two weeks of bureaucracy and signature chasing.
But compared to these guys I've had it very easy. They use their spare time to stand by roads and hope to pick up some extra work cleaning or building. There are many stories of Saudis employing these men for the day, dropping them back on the road and driving off without paying. Cf. Dudu cleaning cars.
These guys were on the other side of the road. Whenever a car slows down they chase it and swarm round in the hope of work. There are 10 million expats in Saudi, the mass majority from Asia who do the back-breaking and dirty jobs that Saudis in their precious whites won't touch - in fact Saudis refuse most jobs unless they entail doing jackshit all day long...
Then along came yet another government cretin who had worked out how much money we 10 million expat grafters send home each year - it was billions of Riyals - and this cretin went ballistic, arguing that this was Saudi money and should stay in Saudi. Lol! He also argued that foreigners should be taxed in a country where non-Saudis can't open a business alone, have almost zero legal protection, can't buy property (mind you, who would want to?) and on the whole are treated like animals.
This attempt to tax us does rear its ugly head every now and then and on one occasion the government actually sanctioned it. On hearing the news, the Filipino ground crew at Jeddah airport simply downed tools and walked off the job. The government's Tax Plan for Foreigners ONLY was swiftly scrapped until the next cretin comes up with another one.
How could I leave behind such beauty?
Sandstorm brewing. I'll really miss those sometimes-6-WEEKers. What fun they were!
There's symbolism in this shot. Or is it that spliff that Tonda just knocked up? Behind the fence is the world's 4th largest petrochemical plant. If an Iranian missile hits it then the explosion would extend across the sea and back to Iran. Double whammy!
Having treated my driver to an expensive, drive-thru coffee he engaged the wrong gear, lurched forwards and threw the drink all down his leg. This is him off to the toilets to clean up.
HQ of city municipality from which I'm trying to get released. It doesn't just look like a maximum security prison, it is one. Reasonably easy to get into, relatively difficult to get out of. Staff being asleep helped.
Once final exit visa was secured, this was my incognito route off the premises just in case they called me back for an impromptu stoning, whipping or buggering... give me a few minutes and ... I'm through the undergrowth and into the wild! Almost there!
As soon as the plane took off we received small arms fire from the ground. They missed.
The anti-aircraft battery missed too and off we flew. The stewardess handed me a Scotch ... no ice ...
... and then we were angling away towards the persian Gulf, leaving behind just a line in the Saudi sand.
Before I knew it, like awakening from a bad dream, wondering if it had actually happened, I was being tipped out onto the streets of Amsterdam at daybreak. Yahoooo!
Prix d'Ami here I come!
No idea why this photo won't resize, but who cares, huh?
Next stop I was here and you can't visit Praha, however briefly, ,without visiting Borivojova Street in Zizkov. I had a few hours to kill before the train so I met up with The Man next to the pinball machine in a backroom of a backstreet bar.
Just out of joie de vivre, windows were thrown open and winsome maidens appeared, some topless .... saluting the day with their chiseled bodies .... light and hope sweeping their Bohemian gaze ... if you look closely.
Almost a most unfortunate name.
Downhill to the choo-choos and just time to check in on my second favourite team after Arsenal, known globally as Viktoria Zizkov, who I used to walk down this hill to watch on random Sunday mornings at 10.15am in 1992 and 1993. Christ knows why. The football was dreadful, although the stadium looks the same as ever vole.
Three hours later ...
... and finally, thank God, home to where the grass is always greener!
He spoke in English, “Is that your bicycle?”
I replied in the affirmative.
He said, “You cannot ride a bicycle on the corniche!”
“Now listen here, my good man, I’ve been riding a bicycle on this corniche almost every day for five years, other than when I’m on holiday away from these Godforsaken sands, so don’t start getting uppity just as I’m about to leave.”
“Forget about it.”
“Yes, it’s forbidden and there’s a penalty of 7,500 Riyals ($2000).”
“7,500 Riyals! Shouldn’t there be an option to be flogged instead? For riding a bicycle and getting some exercise? How do you justify that?”
“You can ride after 9pm. Until then it’s dangerous.”
“How is it dangerous?”
“Accidents!” he was getting uppity.
“I’ve spent years cycling here and the only danger of accidents is from those jerks in cars.”
Saudi youth spun out of control no further than 50 metres away. Some of them not even old enough to drive. A few years ago two young sisters, my neighbours, were on their way home from school and crossing a wide street on the green man signal when two 14 year olds in a car ploughed straight into them, mowed them down and killed them. The deranged clerical judge decided that both the boys AND the girls were responsible and therefore let them off all charges.
“You can cause an accident,” Jabba al-Jobsworth told me in all seriousness.
“God gave you two eyes. You should try using them.”
“As well as those guys driving over there, I think you’re more likely to cause an accident in that golf buggy, buddy. Look at the size of it. You’re taking up half the corniche. You could run over children or short adults, like Asian housemaids”
“I said that as well as those guys over there I think you’re more likely to cause an accident in that golf buggy, buddy. And get your ears cleaned out when you go for the eye test.”
“It is forbidden!”
“What, the buggy, eye test or clean ears?”
“No, the bicycle! Let me see your Iqaama (all important residence permit, the size and shape of a credit card).”
“I haven’t got it with me.” It was true. I never left home with one.
“It is forbidden! There is a penalty of 7,500 Riyals if you don’t have your Iqaama. Where do you work?”
He stopped dead in his tracks. I’d given him a piece of information that gave me some traction in the argument. We worked in the same government ministry. We had a connection, known as wasta, the vital ingredient to a sandy recipe. It’s not who you are, it’s who you know. He would let me off the extortionate fine, but more than likely with a bit more bullshit for good jobsworth measure.
A small boy on a small bike whizzed by and Jabber al-Jobsworth didn’t even see him. I extravagantly pointed at the boy furiously pedaling off towards his picnicking family. On the street, cars flared horns as if in battle.
“He’s a child.”
“Children can cause accidents too.”
In a dejected huff he climbed back into his wide buggy and jerked off at a climbing speed that would at least maim someone if run over.
When I very first got to Jubail I sized up that corniche (it can run to about 18km) and thought ‘buy a bike’, which I did. It was one of few activities that kept me sane or at least kept the blood pumping. In fact I got through three bikes. The first got stolen, the second collapsed from heavy-duty use and the third I gave away to some Indian navvies during my last week.
As I cycled off, I thought of the other kids on bikes who would spot me, follow, then pull the hilarious stunt of skidding to a halt in front of my bike and forcing me to brake and swerve. Then it dawned on me that my bike was way bigger than theirs and so I just smashed into them when ever they tried the same trick, to howls of anger. One time when a kid in a white thobe (ankle length dress) did the skid trick, I smashed into his bike and caught the brat by the collar of his thobe, held him up by the neck and shook him around for a while. He screamed and blubbed and a couple of passing ladies openly laughed at the scene. Unfortunately for the kid my hands were oily from some earlier gear trouble and when I let him go his collar was streaked black with the stuff.
So my advice for anyone going to the sand is don’t get mad, take your time and teach them a lesson.
There's more. There's much more.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
"The more I see of Humans the more I like my dog."
the Last Tree
Is Cut Down,
The Last Fish Eaten,
And the Last Stream Poisoned, Will Man Realize That Money
Cannot be Eaten
Cree Indian proverb
The genius of Hrabal.