The Verbose Narrative
Nothing is set in stone. That is a given in Saudi Arabia; so I actually don’t feel I can breathe easily until I am actually lifting off the tarmac at from RUH
. That is because Saudi Arabia employs an absolutely arcane system of visas whereby the only way a foreign employer can leave the Kingdom (when he/ she has come on an employment visa) is by through the permission of his or her company. This sets the tone for ridiculous demands that very often constitute a certain abuse of rights.
My company demanded I work an month with no pay. I agreed, because I was the one naive enough to sign the contract, but would very politely tell each of my classes I wasn’t being paid, which was tantamount to slavery, and that, whilst I would allow a genteel conversation, I would not use the textbooks, and that you are actively encouraged to complain and get my removal from the country expedited
. It never really worked since I was so ‘chummy’ with my pupils. They were a good, curious bunch.
My final day was a maelstrom of activity. I had to sign, countersign, politely placate, compliment, dash and rush, break tempers with banks, fret, folly… but the essential element was the handing over of my ‘Final Exit Visa’ which prompted a hum of joy, that might evolve into a roar of Braveheartesque ‘FREEDOM’
when the wheels lifted off. The smile from my face was unshiftable.
I rather wanted my end to be set by the sweet tone of the many fantastic and generous Saudi’s I had come across on my time here, and so refused my companies ratty Bangladeshi driver, and asked one of my students to run me out to the airport . I would be collected at midnight.
27th September 2012; the final day in Saudi Arabia.
Actually the drama started a little before midnight, when taking some left-over ingredients to a Syrian friend, I heard the most blood-curdling explosion out on my street. The unmistakable sound of disaster and carnage. I dropped my hamper and ran out onto the street, which was eerily silent under the explosion of dust and debris, not a couple of hundred metres from my door. The shrill, horrific screams of females pierced the sinister loom of filth…
Running over to the wreck of the goliath GMC car, it was a mess. Having careered at at least 100km/hr down our backstreet, lost control and collided with an electricity pylon (which now straddled the road), the car lay on its side.
The farewell drama outside my apartment.
Having heard that the voices were potentially female, I decided not to run to the smoking wreck, as this might have landed me in hot water being non-Muslim. I was silently furious as this went against every humane instinct I had. Thankfully the local Pakistanis were already fishing the occupants from the wreckage; and its contents astounded me
..... 8 children aged between 8 and 11 years old.
Kids were driving.
Yes… the driver was an 11 year old. Minutes later, fat-bearded fathers ran breathlessly down the road from the local wedding banquet hall… they had given their kids the keys , not uncommon, to see children driving cars here. All had blood stained thobes, yet were largely unharmed. My worry was not for the occupants of these tank-like American import cars which could drive over a land-mine unscathed, but for the innocent pedestrians (like me) who walk the street regularly conscious that motorists here don’t give a damn.
My student Abdul-Rahman (cousin in centre), ran me to the airport.
A little shaken, I lugged my luggage down to my friends Prado. What a glory it is to be taken to the airport by a friend or family… alters the whole dynamic of leaving. A steady 25 minute drive later, and we pulled into the departures terminal. After some very fond farewells, he left and I assessed the chaos in front of Terminal 1 for foreign international departures;
1am, peak time at RUH
On the RUH
baggage porters. Whilst in arrival they band about, remove your luggage from the belt without consent and such like, in departures they too stalk about keen to make more of a nuisance than a service to those in control of their luggage (the majority). After a little reflection in the dry heat looking down at the airport masjid lit like a spaceship. I proceed into the terminal.
Terminal 1 is a little wretched at the check-in stage… and beyond. After passing through a screening, there is almost no space before immigration. Squeeze out to either side and you will find the frugal few check-in desks. These are unnumbered, unmarked and do not have any digitalised representation.
I nestle in a corner and observe the stragglers approaching the TK
check-in. I also admire how so many of the Expat workers from developing countries lavish their luggage with fantastic packing (a myth about airport robberies?) and details of their home addresses. So, you can tell where each is heading too.
Mr Lakhaman, off to Kathmandu
And Mr Beni off to the same place, helping fill QR
’s Nepali services.
[Another person has caught my attention. (feel free to skip this paragraph). So much so, that I will put him in parenthesis as it is non-aviation, more human rights, and another sight that left me perturbed that night; - an African man sits on the spare seat next to me, I know he is young but a slow scan of his quivering body shows he is in a dire state. He is shaking with virus or illness, eye’s blank and fearful. Then a young Saudi man emerges from the crowd with a hard gaze and angled shneb. Without so much as recognition, he throws this man’s belongings and documents on the floor in a bedraggled plastic bag and walks off. So concerned am I for this man’s health, I offer him some Oreo’s and water. He takes the Oreos and fumbles, shaking uncontrollably, with the wrapping. The man’s shoes are unworn, and his thobe is oversized and starched, indicating that his employees had simply bought this to get him through immigration.
The story I put together in my mind, is that clearly this man was brought over as a labourer for a Saudi family, and had either done a runner, disgraced himself, or not disclosed that he was suffered from some disease. The look of menace from his Saudi employee is remorseless and intimidating, and reminds me of the strong moral lapse when it comes to overseas employees. His ‘owner’ see’s that he gets through immigration, and without even a ‘cheerio’, leaves. I keep tags on the man throughout the flight, and then through DOH
where he gets on his Khartoum flight]
Back to me! A little perturbed by this scene of the young, dying African labourer, I am once again reminded of the disparities when my friend phones and says he is returning, and to come out to the entrance hall… I am humbled and touched when he gives me two presents, a wallet and some prayer-beads, and insists on giving me the very watch off his arm ‘for sentimental value’
(which was a phrase I taught his class with great difficulty the week before). Extraordinary.
Abdul-Rahman had returned wielding gifts.
A trolley of QR
paraphernalia is wheeled out, and 4 non-descript desks are turned into QR
’s real estate. I am not keen to queue and as others seem highly keen, I await it to settle. Except, it never does, so I soon join. The tail-end seems to be made of trendy young Saudi things, festooned by adoring friends, heading off to their prospective University cities. Already out of thobe and shmuh, they are ready to ingratiate themselves into Western society…
check-in – no digital displays
Check-in is chaotic, disorganised, aloof and a thorough pain in the arse. Maroon suits fumble, but there seems to be no leader of the pack co-ordinating this affair. I would hate to see check-in for the A330. In any case, the check-in area is so full, I am considering there might be an upguage. Surely this lot can’t fit on a babybus. (This flight has since been upguaged and moved earlier).
It takes a frustrating hour and 5 minutes before I am finally seen. The gent is polite enough, but when I ask if I might check-in a hang-luggage item, he tells me “Sir, you are already overweight”
which is fair dice. Annoyingly, he won’t check me through to Glasgow. I feel as though if QR
are utilising this profit maximising technique of chumming up with Flybe, the least they might do is make it seamless by checking luggage through. Now I have to fret about being browbeaten by BE
Immigration is gruff and unfriendly, and in spite of polite pleads for the contrary, he thumps down on one of my pristine protected species double pages, which will probably get me into hot water on my next Asian trip (it didn’t). Still, the absolutely glory and delight of passing the most tricky hurdle (immigration) swells like a wave over me. Yipee.
Where I had arrived into 6 months prior.
Airside is functional, uninspiring and a lot like the glimpses you saw in the second trip report. The only differences are the ethnicities tonight, which is to say 85:12:3 ration of Overseas labourer: Holidaying/ studying Saudi’s: The perennial white man ex-pat.
Departures for tonight. Note two ADD
flights in close proximity.
There is diddly-squat in terms of information for what flight is boarding and at which time. I take a stroll and admire a vast queue for boarding the EK
flight which I arrived on a little under 6 months prior on, two almost simultaneously departing ET
flights and an AF
A330 being towed to Terminal 2 in salute to the partnership between AF
The toll of my frantic day, the extreme sleep deprivation of the last week (through stress and excitement alike) and the idiocy of the late hour leave my eyelids drooping. Therefore, it is good to see activity at the gate, the subsequent boarding of the aircraft some 50 minutes prior to departure.
Looks like it will be the A320.
Pleased to see it is one of the new A320’s. All very beautiful, smart and serviceable on-board. I am welcomed by a friendly Japanese lady, though staff further along the fuselage find it more difficult to interact with passengers.