Tuesday, April 10, 2007

TALES FROM THE ARABIAN DAYS

On occasional nights, I lie in bed remembering a sordidly delightful tale of pranks, replete with accidental twists, all wrought from one diabolically harmless mind – mine. These events are recounted herein, and they really did happen, having originated out amid the sands of Saudi Arabia. Each time I tell the whole story, listeners have implored me to write it down for posterity. And so, before the ten-year anniversary passes, I have finally submitted myself to that greater will of so many listeners and hereby commit the tale to writing.

It was before the 9/11 assaults on the U.S. – during a slightly less turbulent time, back in late ’97 or early ’98. I forget now the exact date, which wouldn’t matter anyway; for an expatriate English teacher, the sense of time overseas seems to be measured by events, rather than in the usual, discreet months, days and years. And the series of events that began one hot afternoon in the training center would mark for me a rather awkward highlight in an otherwise mundane career.

I had been hired on a one-year contract to teach English as a second language (ESL) to Saudi soldiers studying to be medical techs. Technically, I was working for the Saudi government in a language-training center at the Northwest Armed Forces Hospital, located just outside of Tabuk, K.S.A. I was one of a handful of ESL teachers. The all-male teaching staff consisted of two other Americans, two Brits, one Canadian, a South African and an Egyptian. Each of us had his own desk and we were set up around the perimeter of one big room, all of us facing the center. A rather stout, bearded and bespectacled English-speaking Egyptian headed up the program. His name was Ahmed. Ahmed was a tolerable boss, and a tolerably able administrator. He was assisted by a non-English speaking, determinedly humorless Saudi master sergeant, who was there simply to maintain a sense of soldierly discipline.

The other teachers were relatively easy-going, with the possible exception of one of the Brits – a fellow named Eric. Eric was awfully concerned about appearances (a national trait I suppose) and my casual American manners seemed to grate on him. Underneath it all, he seemed to be a somewhat resentful lad, at least that’s the feeling I always got when I was around him. Eric also seemed to suffer from a slight inferiority complex that I could never quite understand. (He was balding and I thought perhaps this might be having an effect.) He would make occasional stabs at trying to ruffle me (even going so far as to imply that I had cooked-up my ESL teaching credentials!) and yet, when I met these attempts with a kind of bemused astonishment, this seemed to irritate him further. I got to calling him Eric the Bald (behind his back of course). The other British chap (his name escapes me) was pleasant enough I suppose, though more in Eric’s camp. Because this other Brit had a face like Howdy-Doody, that became his secret moniker.

The other Americans were Bill D. and Eddie. Eddie was a Vietnamese-American, I think, and had arrived later than the rest of us. He was much younger and seemed rather self-absorbed. We just didn't click, maybe because of the age difference. Bill D., on the other hand, was a different story altogether. He was a quietly studious, gentle lad. His serious intellectual bent was offset by a sickly-yet-funny sort of humor that was a kind of daily feed for us all. Bill D. used to stack objects on his desk, each day trying to build his nonsense monument higher than the day before. My desk was next to his and we shared laughs and traded observations. There was another Bill, Bill M., a longtime Canadian expatriate who, like the American, Bill D., was an old Japan hand trying Saudi Arabia on for size. Neither one of them was very enamored with their new, non-Nippon surroundings but they were making the best of things. Bill M. kept a low profile and stayed in good shape by working out regularly. He was a wild man when it came to Thai women and he had plenty of stories to tell of past exploits and designs for future conquests. The three of us became fast friends.

Then there was André, the South African. He had been there longer than any of us. André’s white face often reddened, and I was never quite sure why. It seemed to me that André might be hiding a deep and old hurt of some kind. He was a bit distant, a bit “colonial correct,” but all-in-all a good man. The young Egyptian teacher (name forgotten) sat to the other side of me. He was slight-of-stature – a straight arrow as I recall – rather conservative, not very interesting or forthcoming, and perhaps a bit of a spy (I used to think) for the boss.

I enjoyed working with my young student-soldiers. In fact, I think we all did. They were good fellows for the most part. All were male, Muslim (of course), military – and we had them for English training from about 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM every weekday. If you know nothing about Saudi society, the one thing you quickly learn is that each person has a certain tribal affiliation, some tribes being more connected and powerful than others. As teachers, we were instructed that certain things were haram, i.e., forbidden. For example, you could not mention, in the classroom or elsewhere in the Kingdom, things that were prohibited by Islam. Such things as the use of alcohol, cursing and swearing, dalliances with wild women, the eating of pork, or any criticism of the Prophet or Islam were all strictly forbidden. Being culturally sensitive, I noted that these certain subjects should indeed be avoided at all cost. At the same time, the prohibitions made the rebellious and unreconstructed subversive in me somewhat restless.

I should mention here that I have some natural identification with Arab culture because half of my ancestry is Lebanese. At the turn of the 20th century my father’s parents immigrated to America from a Christian area of Lebanon. I could say hello in Arabic, name a few Arabic foods, and utter one Lebanese curse – “Khuda bi timuk!” (literally, “Shit in your mouth!” – but this was in the Lebanese dialect, and it was said differently in the Saudi’s classical Arabic.) Of course, being an ESL teacher I was painfully aware that I needed to be a role model exemplar of propriety, especially with language. In any event, I was thrilled to be among Arabs for the first time in my life and I thought I felt some ancient affinity to them. In an effort to learn to speak and write Arabic, I even took a basic course in Arabic offered by Ahmed. In short, I proceeded to apply myself to my teaching duties and all went more or less OK, for a while.

The teaching program went like this: Every so many weeks there was a test. If a student failed three tests he would be knocked out of the program. This brings me to the subject of Jameel. Unfortunately for Jameel, he was just not academically inclined, at least to the minimal degree needed to study a second language. It was most obvious that he either could not or would not study. Each time he was tested, he failed. I actually felt a little sorry for him. I even volunteered to give him some extra help by tutoring him. He came to me after hours once, but it was apparent that his heart simply wasn’t in it. The point is, he failed three tests and was still in the program because he came from a powerful tribe of some sort. Jameel had used every conceivable political contact in order to stay. Still, the fact remained, that he had to go – but it had to be done with a certain amount of documentation by the teachers, following a protocol set out by Ahmed.

One day, Ahmed suddenly came into our room and announced that all of us were to go with him immediately. We were to meet with the hospital director. It concerned Jameel. And so we all trotted off – all of us multi-national ESL teachers – following Ahmed to the director’s office. It was in walking distance. And, as we made our way there, I began to have a premonition. We had been told that Jameel would be there. I knew that I had to impress the director, in no uncertain terms, that this so-called student was a hopeless cause and should be terminated from the program. I imagined Jameel objecting – saying who-knows-what in a language I could not understand – and trying his best to deny whatever I might say. And so I thought of the old Lebanese curse my father had taught me, thinking that this might be the only way to respond and defuse such a counter-attack. The problem was, I did not know how to say “Shit in your mouth!” in classical Arabic. And it had to be said that way so that the director and other Arabic speakers in the room could understand it. And so, as we gaggled along the sidewalk, I turned to Ahmed and asked, “How do you say ‘in your mouth’ in classical Arabic? (khuda is apparently the same across all dialects). Ahmed replied, “fee fum muk,” and I then had the verbiage that just might come in very handy.

We arrived at the director’s office and filed in. He sat behind his big desk in traditional Bedouin dress. There was a semi-circle of comfortable chairs set up and we were directed to take our seats. Jameel soon joined us. There were one or two other Saudis in the room as I recall. We were asked, beginning with Eric the Bald, to give the director our opinion as to the suitability of Jameel as a student of ESL. Ahmed served as translator. Eric, on the opposite end of the horseshoe from me, began. He waxed near-eloquent, in a dithering, respectful British accent. Sounding quite abstract in his analysis, and just a bit pompous in his delivery, I watched the face of the director as Ahmed translated Eric’s monologue. The director seemed unmoved. Each of us had a turn to express our thoughts about Jameel. Yet as I listened and looked at the face of the director for clues as to the effectiveness of what was being delivered, I could not help sensing that the point was not being properly – and definitively – made.

I was the last teacher to speak and by the time it came for me to do so, I knew what I had to say and how it should be said. The director needed some images for his mind, not all this abstract drivel, which was mostly what he was getting from my colleagues. And so, when my turn came, I turned to Ahmed and said, “Ahmed, please translate this exactly as I say it.” He agreed. I then turned to the director and looked him squarely in the eye. “Sir,” I said, “as a language learner, this student is as dumb as a stump (please translate).” As the Arabic words were spoken I noticed an ever-so-slight smile forming at the corners of the director’s mouth. I continued – “I would rather eat all of the sand in Saudi Arabia than have this student remain in my classroom.” This too was translated, and, when Ahmed had spoken, Jameel (just as I had predicted) jumped up, spouting something that I sensed was uncomplimentary about me in a machinegun torrent of Arabic. Completely prepared for such an outburst, I looked directly at Jameel and uttered the curse, “Khuda fee fum muk!” A gasp went up from the Arabic speakers in the room and there seemed to be a moment or two of shocked silence before the director said firmly to the student, “Sit down, boy.” (Of course he said that in Arabic and it was translated for us a bit later.) In any event, the meeting quickly broke up. We were hustled out of the room and quite soon found ourselves sauntering back to the training center.

The other teachers knew something dramatic had happened but they did not know exactly what. Eric, in particular, was very keen to know what I had said in Arabic. When Ahmed told him, he went boinkers and laid into me with every conceivable bit of venom he could extract from his beet-red face. The others seemed mildly amused, though a bit stunned. I just kept my composure, certain that I had done what I thought was best, under the circumstances. And I think I had Ahmed’s vote of confidence because when we got back to the training center he put his burly arms around me and gave me a big, joyful bear hug. We never saw Jameel again. Of course I did not hear the end of this for some few days, as Eric sulked, whined and dithered (as he was wont to do), and – when Eric was not around – the two Bills laughed and joked endlessly about my heroics. The hospital administrators saw it a bit differently, however, and insisted – much to Eric’s satisfaction – that I receive a written admonishment for using bad language. I really didn’t care. I had the best satisfaction of all. After decades of having this old Lebanese curse in my trick bag, I finally had the perfect occasion to use it.

Perhaps it was a poor reflection on me, but I do not doubt to this day that everyone – with the exception of Jameel, of course – remembers the incident and has a good chuckle over it, maybe even old Eric (though I doubt it). If you want to feel sorry for Jameel, don’t. He was an intellectual malingerer and a lazy ne’er do well who had a thick hide. I was quite willing to show him that privilege has its limits. I did have a moment or two afterwards thinking I might suffer some sort of tribal retribution for my deed. And more than once I looked over my shoulder, especially as I trod along the streets at night. But this was in the good old days before terrorism permeated everyone's psyche – or so it seems now – and no violence was ever visited upon me by vengeful tribal brothers.

Well, this does not end our story. There is more. If you feel that I have acted badly in this instance, hold that thought. Once you hear a bit more, you will almost certainly be confirmed in your view that your narrator had no business being in Saudi Arabia as an ESL teacher. And if you feel this way, you will find that you are not alone.

A few months slipped by. I generally stayed on acceptably good behavior. I honestly think the student-soldiers liked me and my teaching style. I taught with passion and drama, at times bordering on the eccentric, perhaps. But when you have a bunch of Saudi soldiers in your class whose thoughts are not easily turned toward learning English, you need to improvise and even entertain a bit to keep their attention and to make learning fun, instead of a chore. Still, I was getting sour on the Kingdom. For me (and the two Bills) it seemed so oppressive, with the religious police chasing the devout into the mosques five times a day, every day, and businesses shutting down during prayers; the women all covered from head to foot in these horrible abaya contraptions; powerless people going around uttering “Insh ‘allah” (“If God wills it”) to any slight reference to some future outcome; no booze; a desert littered with old car parts, lots of tires and all sorts of other trash; a society teeming with imported outsiders (Filipinos, Pakistanis, etc.) there to do both technical and more menial jobs; and just an overwhelming sense of having to endure a seemingly endless boredom. We were counting the days until the end of our contracts. In my case, I did a lot of reading. But I was also in the throws of trying to decide whether or not to get married (for the first time ever) to my Korean girlfriend.

One afternoon I was sitting at my desk, paging through an English language newspaper, when I came across an interesting article. It was all about a lively blues culture growing up in and around Buenos Aires – that’s in Argentina. I’ve neglected to mention that I am a fairly accomplished blues piano player and singer. In fact, to my great curiosity, the article mentioned some blues players I knew personally. One, I recall, was Bruce Ewing, Bobby Radcliff’s harmonica-playing brother. The article made quite a splash about this big blues music scene happening down in Buenos Aires. So intrigued was I, that I found myself soon hatching a plot to blow out of the Kingdom and head down there.

But first, I had decided that I would fly to Korea and marry my sweetheart-in-waiting. A Muslim holiday was coming up in early April. I think it was what they call Eid, the one where each family tries to get its hands on a goat whose throat they slit. Delightful. I coordinated my travel around this vacation time. I thought I was booked through to Seoul, Korea (operative word here being “thought”). I suppose I wanted to hedge my bets and leave open the possibility of returning by not saying a word to anyone about my nefarious plan. Still, I thought the best thing might be for me to take all my belongings with me in case things actually did work out. You know, at that time I wished with all of my heart that I would never return. Still, in the event that it turned out to be a bust down there, well, a fellow has to be pragmatic and flexible. And so I began to finalize my plans, facing the fact that I might end up becoming a “runner” (the derogatory term, and well-deserved, for those who leave prematurely (or run) and don’t finish their contracts). As I did not wish to just disappear, I thought a two-page letter explaining myself might be in order – a letter that I would slip inside my desk drawer to be discovered in the event I was not there when classes were due to recommence. Surely someone would, at that point, begin looking into my desk and would find it. I therefore prepared the letter, explaining my reasons. And I recall vaguely that the literary flourishes on the second page were not very complimentary toward Saudi society and the culture, at least as I had come to know it.

One day not long before my planned escape, I think it was sometime in March, ’98, a few of the class leaders approached me privately. They told me that they wanted to put on a play for Ahmed in order to demonstrate to him their command of the English language. They asked me if I could help them find a suitable drama for them to put on. Their initiative impressed me and I at once agreed to help them. When I went to the small English library on the base – mostly books left behind by expatriates like myself – there were very few plays from which to choose. I don’t know how it happened, exactly, but for some reason I started to get “ideas.” For some bent and twisted reason I thought it would be funny if my students performed Moon of the Caribee, by Eugene O’Neil. There were problems with the play, however, but they were the kinds of problems that just might make a suitable farewell present from me. You see, this O’Neil play is all about sailors drinking and whoring. And so I set about furiously re-writing the play, simplifying the English, while trying to leave its more tawdry elements intact. I even assigned parts. Ahmed got the part of the Donkey Man, not a flattering role I can assure you. But I must say, I didn’t feel that I did any of this out of spite but rather as a joke, albeit one in questionable taste. Coincidentally, the play was ready for distribution to my students the day I was due to leave on my “vacation.” Once it was in their hands, off I went, loaded down with such a crushing mass of baggage that I could barely move it all by myself.

The first stop was to be Riyadh, where I was due to pick up a connecting flight to Manila, and from there fly directly to Seoul. But, lo and behold, I landed in Riyadh only to find I had no confirmed connecting flight, though my ticket indicated otherwise. With the holy day in full swing, it was next to impossible to get a flight out. In a quiet panic, I hung around the airline counter trying to convince them to help me with a flight as I was on my way to be married. It seemed my plight fell on deaf ears, until…someone heard me. It turned out that a certain Saudi businessman (he sold GM cars) was also trying desperately to get one of his employees on a flight, any flight. He spoke English and he soon seemed very intent on helping me too. Being in a strange city, and grateful to be assisted in any way, I gladly accepted his kind hospitality. Soon I found myself and my luggage being whisked away by my Saudi host to the lobby of a stylish hotel not far from the airport. When I tried to speak with them at the desk, a man there said a very strange and puzzling thing. He said, “We know who you. You are a peacemaker.” Go figure. As it turned out, everything had been arranged by my host. I was given a key and helped to my room. What a day! I collapsed on the bed, too exhausted to question or believe my incredible good fortune.

As a hot sun rose over this desert capital the next morning, I rose and phoned the airline. I was on a waiting list and simply needed to wait. My bride-in-waiting was informed, as best I could explain things, and I next contacted my curiously enigmatic host. He wasted little time coming down to the hotel to meet me, and he offered to give me a tour of Riyadh. We proceeded to drive here and there, while my host and I got to know each other. It was fun. I felt that I was receiving the kind of legendary hospitality that is known only to Islam and reserved for the desert stranger. And my host, I think his name was Abdullah (I have his business card somewhere) treated me in a princely fashion. We had lunch in a lovely new place downtown. He broke for prayer as I sat and sipped my tea. He refused to let me pay for anything – the hotel, lunch – he wanted nothing from me except my company. We talked. He tried to counsel me about my decision to get married – “Get rich first, like me. Then you can have all of the girls you’d like.” I think he told me he had two wives. I forget. But I have never forgotten his very hospitable kindness to me, a stranger in a strange airport abuzz with overexcited, traveling pilgrims. The following morning I was on my way, first stop, Manila.

Upon landing in Manila, I learned that I had, for reasons unknown, been bumped up to first class. Did I want to wait in the first class lounge? Certainly. I made my way to the luxury lounge to find, of all things, an open bar with top-shelf liquor. After my long dry spell in the Kingdom-of-teetotalers I was literally like the thirsting man wandering in from the desert to an oasis of booze galore. Needless-to-say I partook liberally of their stock, feeling a bit self-conscious perhaps, as I hefted down mass quantities. Things were looking up, it seemed. And lunch in the first class cabin was not half bad. It wasn’t long before I landed and fell into the arms of my awaiting bride, who (again) whisked me away to total and complete connubial comfort in a hotel in downtown Seoul.

It took a few days to regroup and get all of the logistics just so. But before too many suns had set, we found ourselves at the Korean City Hall taking our marriage vows. I must say that I could never have envisioned such a marriage for myself. But it was now done – a fait accompli. Now, my dear, with your permission, I’m leaving for Buenos Aires. Yes, believe it or not, I was very soon off again into the wild blue skyscape, one-way to Latin America, via Los Angeles and Miami. And on international flights, they let the booze flow, at least they did then, and I was drinking cognacs, two at a time. Oh I felt lovely, married but on my own again, my bride to meet up with me once I got re-established in new digs. It felt truly marvelous, this new adventure of mine.

Somehow, for me good feelings always seem to wear off like cheap cologne. After Los Angeles and Miami we flew the length of the South American continent. On and on we went, barreling through space. It was mostly at night, but when daylight came, all I could see below were cloudbanks, lots and lots of dismal, gray cloudbanks. “Not an auspicious omen,” I thought. I bought a duty-free bottle on board and heaved it in with the rest of my mile-high belongings at baggage claim. I cleared customs and headed for a cheap pension. I’m forever on a shoestring budget, it seems – but what can you expect? I was making a simple and meager salary as an ESL teacher. All I could picture was a bed with white, crisp, clean sheets and a bottle on the nightstand next to me. Well, somewhere between the airport and the hotel, somebody lifted the bottle – another bad omen.

Hey, what’s all this got to do with tales of Saudi Arabia? Hold on, my friend, it has everything to do with my tale – this part of my journey was undertaken because I guess I just had to come here and experience this happening "blues scene" for myself, impulsive blockhead that I am. Yes, yes, as it turned out there was no blues scene. I went to the club I had read about in that dicey little paper at my desk in the Kingdom. There was nothing but a Jewish Argentine guitar player who spoke reasonably good English. He befriended me, maybe because he felt sorry for me, or maybe he too wished there was a blues scene there and there wasn’t. We arranged to meet the following day for some dinner. In the meantime, I took a look around. I dropped into some language institutes, feeling out what they were paying. They weren’t paying diddely-squat. So now what? Stuck way down in the southern hemisphere, money so low I could barely keep moving, and now what? I had to think fast, especially because classes would soon be starting up back in Tabuk. Think, you big dope – figure it out. It can’t be all that bad, can it? I soon knew what I had to do.

The next day I was on the phone to some friends, begging for money to be wired via the American Express office. As extraordinary luck would have it, these same friends would be in Paris in a few days time. And so, my short-term money dilemma solved, I managed to book an AirFrance flight back to my awaiting desk in Tabuk. I was even able to arrange a short layover in Paris so I could meet up with my friends! The only problem was that I would be late for the resumption of classes. Obviously concerned about that, lest someone discover the letter in my desk, I tried numerous times to get a phone line into the Kingdom, but failed repeatedly. In these days it was extremely difficult (and expensive) to call into Saudi Arabia, though I never dreamed it would be so impossible! Needless-to-say I was feeling a bit frantic. But I finally resigned myself to my fate. On to Paris!

That night at dinner my friends belatedly toasted my marriage (presently “on hold”). The French wine was flowing. The awful cares of the world seemed to disappear, even though I knew that the next day I would be going back to face some terrible unknown fate. “Oh you foolish man,” was all I could say to myself. I kept my fingers crossed that they would not discover the letter. However, I suppose I really did myself no good by leaving my students with that play, that damned play!

Early the following morning I had one of those supercharged hangovers that feel like no hangover at all; the kind where you feel a bit hyper, like you’re on top o’ the world, friendly, optimistic. That was good because AirFrance suddenly gave me grief over the amount and weight of my luggage. It seemed ironic to me that after so many flights, only now, at this very last leg of my journey, this French airline was getting its pantaloons all wadded up over nothing. Well, as I said, I was feeling topper, and I somehow managed to sweet talk the female airline supervisor into letting my extra baggage aboard, even though I couldn’t pay the overage fee. Yes, to my ever-lasting relief, she let me squeak by, and I was, once again, on my way.

Now it was back to Tabuk, via Jeddah. As the plane lumbered on, an incredible realization suddenly popped into my head - as I reflected back on my flight path it dawned on me that I was, at this very moment, actually finishing up a complete low-level orbit of the entire planet! – around the world on one-way airline tickets! How absolutely amazing, in a screwball kind of way! For some reason it hadn’t hit me until just then. That was some daggone vacation all right – an almost total misadventure. And little did I know, this pricey little romp was not quite over for me yet – not by a long shot.

I arrived in Jeddah late and had to stay over, compliments of the airline. The first thing I did when I got to my hotel room was to try again to call. No luck. In the morning I finally got through. Apparently, when I did not show up as scheduled, Bill D. decided to go through my desk for some clue as to my whereabouts. Sure enough, he had found the letter and handed it over to Ahmed. So when he heard my voice and found out I was coming back after all – well, we all felt a bit queasy. None-the-less I was off to face the music that very morning.

Arriving back in Tabuk, I reported to the training center. I noticed right away that “things weren’t right.” People were looking at me funny, then quickly looking away and hurrying off. Feeling like a leper, I cautiously moved about my work area, when Ahmed suddenly appeared and ushered me back into his office. He informed me that he had turned my letter over to Saudi intelligence, they wanted to interrogate me, and, given the circumstances, I was not to re-assume my teaching duties. I was to continue receiving my pay, but I was to have no contact with the students. Curiously, Ahmed said nothing about the play, and I wondered what had happened there, but kept mum.

Later that day, I think, the Saudi investigators called me in. I was a bit nervous, to say the least. But it’s funny – now that I look back on it, it really amounted to nothing. They showed me my letter and asked me what did I mean by this, and this, and this? I wish I had kept a copy of that. The bottom line? They kept “investigating” for some 40 days. In the meantime, prohibited from teaching and my passport being held by the military authorities, I was free to spend my time as I saw fit – while still collecting my pay. Looking back, I suppose they just wanted to make sure I had the airfare to fly out of the Kingdom.

It was Spring, early May. Each morning I hiked down to the swimming pool. That’s where I set up what I called my “new office.” There, in the shade of an umbrella, I would sit on my chaise lounge and hold court, so to speak. I swam laps with my mask and snorkel, and when it got too hot I’d cool off again, lounging in the pool like a contented water buffalo. The wait was tedious in the beginning, but I soon adjusted to it. Ah, creative loafing! There were books to read. And there was that lovely girl from South Africa, Anita, who seemed to enjoy hanging around with me. Of course I was now a married man, and some serious adjustment to the old bachelor life was in order. But glory be – she was magnificent in that white bikini! She wrote me a hot steamy letter some short time later. I received it not long after I got back to the states, in June I think. She had one of those impossibly long and cumbersome South African last names. I never lose letters, especially ones like this. But I guess fortune plays tricks because suddenly I couldn’t put my hands on it, despite tearing the house apart looking for it. And more than once I tried e-mailing the old place, trying to get her contact information – all for naught. It was best this way I suppose…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Finally, the all clear was given and I was able to shove off. In all, I was about two months short of my one-year contract. Not bad, considering. So I said my goodbyes and off I went. But wait – there is one more detail to tell. I had a layover in Athens on the way back. As I was perusing the postcard racks, I found the perfect one to send to Ahmed. It was a picture of an orthodox priest astride a donkey. I jotted off a few wry lines and put it in the mail. Bill D. told me later that he had seen that postcard and had had a good laugh over it. Ahmed, after all of this, surely must be a good sport, I thought. Indeed, I also found out from Bill D. that the students, probably deeply shocked at the contents of the play I had handed them, had brought it to Ahmed. Bill D. said he thought Ahmed kept that re-written Moon of the Caribee locked away in a desk drawer. Good thing, too. I he had wanted to, he could have turned it over to the Saudi authorities. I always did wonder why they never confronted me with that bit of deviltry. But I had left well enough alone – the off-color play was never spoken of after my return (except in whispers to the two Bills, of course). It’s a shame that they didn’t just go ahead and put on the play. But then, you can lead a bunch of donkeys to a tavern, and you might even find them seats, but try to get them to wet their whistles, if’n they’re not partial to stopping on in in the first place, and you might as well just hang it up, pilgrim.

That’s it. This ends my tales of the Arabian days. Soon afterwards I got another passport, with another number. I guess I’m blacklisted from returning to the Kingdom, though with a new passport who knows – I may yet return one day for a sequel to this mother of all misadventures.

Colesville, MD

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I laughed out loud- 15 years after the events narrated, and 6 years after first reading what you wrote

Bill D