A Saudi Cocktail

A run into Saudi to renew my visa starts with a tense breakfast.  The tension only diminishes when we see the Bahraini shore.

As my mere black-enveloped presence in the Immigration Office might cause a riot, Mojo drops me off at my place of choice while he takes care of business.

I used to wait at a nearby Starbucks and read, but two trips before a mutawa, a religious “policeman”, knocked on the locked door during prayer.  A lone man, he marched into the family section to berate the Saudi women who were not praying and who allowed their scarves to slide off their hair.  He did not speak to me but he scolded the baristas.  The last visit the staff kicked me out during prayer.  I stood outside sweating after they locked the doors.

Driving in Saudi Arabia is not known to be a relaxing experience.  An everyday commute is more like a NASCAR race than the jammed, but orderly, Los Angeles freeways.  The constant vigil for sober drivers in the right lane deciding to take a left turn in front of you to chase down women on the other side of the three lane highway combined with road construction are the first ingredients for a Saudi Cocktail.

After an hour of sipping that cocktail, even the most agreeable couples explode.

Running late as usual meant we arrived an hour before mid-morning prayer.  The Dhahran/Khobar road was under construction in both directions without any exits or signs.  After driving twenty minutes in a circle that took us no where, Mojo shouted.

“Just drop me off at the Dhahran Mall,” I shouted back unable to stand the tension any longer.

He did only to find his ten-minute drive took seventy-five minutes due to a three car collision.  When I got his first text that he had just arrived I had barely walked halfway around the huge mall.  As I rounded Gate 9, prayer was called and all the businesses shut down.  I sat down and there across the aisle was the newly opened Pottery Barn.  Ah – a taste of home.

After prayer I rushed over to buy picture frames before Mojo showed up.  I was the only woman in a store with ten male salesmen who did not know the merchandise and one old Bangladeshi man who had the unenviable job of dusting the thousands of glass items on display.  I knew exactly what I wanted.  I walked through the store and discovered Thanksgiving turkey dishes I would never find again.  Finally I found the gallery frames way in the back behind the rugs.

Loading my items on the counter, I got another text.

“Eight guys ahead of me.  What are you doing?”

“Pottery Barn opened here.”

“Uh oh” was his response.

I still had time.

I raced to see the king-sized sheets.

Another text.

“Three guys ahead of me.  Officer decided to take a break.”

Still more time.  I circled around again and discovered even more things I never knew we needed.  Thirty-seven items in eight shopping bags later, I got the final text.

“On way, meet you at Gate 3.”

“Sorry,” I texted back, “ you MUST meet me at Gate 9.  I have too much stuff.”

He pulled up and the man with the trolley loaded the trunk.  As Mojo complained about his experience all the way home, we got to the middle of the causeway where immigration and customs met.

Still on the Saudi side, I pointed out the line with only one car but the immigration officer’s window would be on my side, the passenger side.

“You are willing to hand him the passports?” Mojo asked.

“Sure,” I said.  “It doesn’t bother me.”

As I rolled down my window, Mojo reached across me and handed the passports over to the young uniformed man.

“I didn’t want to insult him,” he whispered.

Just breathe, I said to myself.  I omitted the OM in case that might insult someone.

On the Bahrain side, 75% of the customs lanes were closed as they did something to the roads.  Like a herd of cattle being prodded with electric pokers, all the beeping cars funneled into the two open lanes.  Thinking of the trunk full of packages, I decided it was time to lift my sunglasses and wave to the customs officer when he bent over to tell Mojo to pop the trunk.

Mojo got out to review my purchases with the officer.  It did not take any time at all.

“Funny,” Mojo said.  “I remember you saying just this morning before we left how you were not going to buy anything.  You want to be able to walk away from everything we have.  And now you bought all this stuff.”

“That was before you screamed at me.”

“I screamed at you?  I didn’t scream at you.  I was screaming in frustration.”

“But I was the only one in the car….”

And that’s how our outing across the bridge ended – with a Saudi cocktail.

Really Officer. I Wasn’t the One Driving.

Comparison of Speeding Offeces 2010 to 2011

When the Officer at the public prosecutor’s office stopped me at the door and asked me where I was going, I should have known something was up.    A young Bahraini man was peering out from a square window in the door across the room.  His forehead made a greasy spot on the window but he didn’t care.  His eyes were fixed on the guard chatting with his friend.

“Am I in the right place?” I asked the uniformed Officer who was leaving.  “I need to pay this ticket.”

The Officer pointed me towards the cashier.  I walked across the room and peeked in the window.  No one was there.  I sat down to wait.  A Bahraini man wearing a Nike shirt came in and looked toward the cashier.  I said “No one is there.”    He sat down across from me.

In the window, an older Bangladeshi man pushed into view.  He made a motion like he needed to drink and pointed to the guard.  The man in the Nike shirt stood up and in Arabic called over to the guard something to the effect,

“Excuse me, excuse me.  This man he needs to drink.”

The guard looked up and scowled.  He responded angrily in Arabic and waved off the request.  Mr. Nike Shirt sat down quickly and shut his mouth.  I knew I was where no expat woman had gone before: traffic contravention jail.

Was getting a speeding ticket a jail offense?

All my good feelings about car registration deflated.  I felt a twinge of nervousness.  Mojo did not know where I was.   Since he never answered his phone, I decided to text him where I was in the ministry building.

“I am at public prosecutor’s office paying your speeding tickets.  So far they have not locked me up like the 2 guys in the room here.  FYI I am at office on first floor to the right of reception. “

He texted back “Thank you Great Goddess of Compassion and Understanding.”

Now three guys’ foreheads were greasing up the window.  I wondered how long they had been in there.    The Officer came back into the room carrying a white plastic shopping bag.  He set the bag on the desk then walked across the room to open the door.

Eight men came stumbling out.  The Bahraini ran over to the water cooler and began slowly drinking out of the paper cup.  The Bangladeshi man did not even try to get a drink.  The Officer opened the plastic bag and pulled out handcuffs.  He cuffed the men together two at a time.

My hands shaking, I texted back to Mojo.

“If I don’t come home, please come feed me.  The guard is ignoring the men banging on the door.  They just let them out and are handcuffing now for transport.  Still waiting to see my fate.”

Mojo texted back “Tell them you are only accustomed to handcuffs made of diamonds but will accept gold ones if necessary.”

The men walked out and the three of us waiting for the cashier eyed the empty jail room nervously.  It was 1:15pm.

A man in a white thobe with gold cufflinks popped his head out an office door.  “Excuse me,” he said.  “Cashier gone home for today.  You come back tomorrow to pay.”

“I can’t pay today?  Isn’t there someone I can pay?”  I tried to look disappointed to see if that worked.

“No, you come back tomorrow.  Eight o’clock to one o’clock cashier will be here.  You come then.”

“Thank you,” I said walking out.

I texted Mojo “They let me go as jailer only here from 8 to 1.  They told to come back tomorrow for my punishment.”

“I take it you will be sending me tomorrow,” he texted back.

“I am so traumatized I am going for some retail therapy.  I will be at City Center for the next five hours,” I wrote him.

“There is a limit on the Visa card.  I will cancel your AMEX card though.”

“Haha, very funny.  They don’t call me Mrs. Claus for nothing, coal-lover.”

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