Unkept Promises

After stating that this would be the first blog I would be totally committed to, I haven’t touched it for over a month…after just the second post.

I have been considering a lot of topics to write about.  I never seem to have a 360 degree view of things here, though, and that makes reasoned writing difficult.  I never wanted there to be an air of blind fumbling to the blog – so I just wrote nothing, a sure way to get round the problem.

I’m also working on an hour-long  downloadable podcast for the blog.  The direction I’m taking with it is music interspersed with samples of documentaries, TV shows, the audio from YouTube videos, on given topics.  The first one is almost complete and will be up here soon.  It’s about Iraq, the war, and what it’s done to the people and the country on both sides.  I just heard today that $8.7 billion of the $9 billion that was spent on ‘reconstruction’ in Iraq is not properly accounted for.  That’s a big hole in the balance sheet.

I’ve got ideas for future topics, but if anyone has any bright ones, please email me.

In the meantime, I’ve been commenting on Ali Shah’s blog Real Talk quite a lot.  I like a lot of the topics he discusses, although I don’t always agree with him.  Also of interest is thegulfblog.com; Saudiwoman is always good; Saudi Jeans is good for interesting titbits; and BlueAbaya is great at detail on the way minds work here.  Any other interesting suggestions gratefully received.

It’s time to go and think of some other stuff not to write about now.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments


It’s Wednesday evening.  I love Wednesday evenings.  

Most of the rest of the world is marooned on an island as far away from a weekend as it’s possible to be.  I’m lucky.  My weekend begins two days sooner than yours.  With a Wednesday evening comes my Wednesday evening ritual.  

I’m driving the fifty miles back from work.  Everyone is bombing down the highway, faster, more aggressively, more recklessly than usual.  We’re diving in, out and around each other.  You can flash your headlights all you like, my friend, because this heap of junk doesn’t even go over one-thirty.  Finally there’s a gap to my right and I ease over to let the guy whizz past.  There are 3 or 4 behind him, nose-to-tail, shum-shum-shum-shum they go.  I’m so busy looking in the mirrors, trying to get back over to the fast lane that I almost don’t see the guy right up in front of me.  I catch it just in time, and there’s nowhere else to go but lurch round his right side; the sand tails blown across the asphalt by the non-stop wind nearly whip me right off the road.  Ah screw it, it’s Wednesday.  They’re all fast lanes.

We’re all racing in to the city at the same time.  Every day there is at least one amazing sight as the traffic is squashed tighter together.  Yesterday there was an 18-wheeler on its side.  Today there was a sedan with its radiator halfway through its engine.  The remains of blowouts are everywhere.

On to the inner city highway.  Less space, more pace.  Dodging the Dodges, ducking the trucks.  I’m finally back home.  

An hour later and I’m out the door again.  I’m on the way to my favorite coffee shop.  I’m going to drink cappuccino, smoke cigarettes and catch up with friends all night long.  I feel so damn good I might even zip over the bridge early tomorrow morning and spend the day in Bahrain.  But first to my favorite sandwich shop.  I get there and bang!  The door shuts in my face.  It’s maghrib prayer time – the sun has just gone down.  Yallah, ithneen shwarma dajaj, bass…please?  

Five steps to next door, my second choice.  Click.  The door locks.

Driving through the back streets, over to the coffee shop.  Crawling through unmarked intersections every fifty meters.  At the third cross, two young boys sail right in front of me on rollerblades.  They don’t blink.  I’m shaking my head so obviously that one of them notices, does a quarter turn, and offers me a cheeky two-fingered salute from his right temple, and they carry on.  I’m even impressed.  

I park up at the coffee shop – it’s still closed for prayer.  Off with the A/C and the engine so it doesn’t overheat.  Ten minutes later I’m inside, I’ve ordered,  and I’m cooling off.  It is great.  An hour later, the bill is delivered and it’s time for the last prayer of the day.  I leave my laptop downloading and go for a drive down to the beach.  

Just before the bridge to Bahrain there’s a guy behind me flashing his lights again.  I can’t move out of his way – there’s another car to my right.  I’m not trying to slow you down, friend, but what can I do?  I know you can see the car to my right.  I’m out of his way as soon as I can be, but he’s already parallel.  As his trunk passes my hood, he swings it out a little to give me a little scare, and he’s on his way.

The beach is deserted, and anyway by the time I’m there it’s time to head back.  I’m coming up behind a guy who kindly drifts over to the middle lane.  I’m almost parallel.  I’m on his left.  We’re curving left.  Shit, has he seen me? He’s drifting back towards me!  Hit the horn!  He catches it just in time, and I’m away from him.  

At the lights we’re stopped for a while.  From nowhere an oversized teenager on an undersized BMX comes across us at speed, bangs straight over the crosswalk, around the median and disappears up the street, against the traffic, in to the darkness.  The lights change, and I’m in to the back streets again, keeping my eyes open for those two damn kids on rollerblades…

This piece isn’t about me.  It would be pretty boring if it was, wouldn’t it?  In case you didn’t notice, go back and count the number of near collisions I had in less than two hours of driving.  This isn’t even about driving standards.  It’s all been said before.

What this is about, though, is my crazy admiration for people who drive – and in many cases live – like they couldn’t care less whether they live or die.  It’s truly amazing – and I’m not even being sarcastic.  

They’re not stupid.  They know that driving at 180, chipping every car in front off the road, is lunacy.  They’ve all seen the gory consequences.  If there’s one thing that isn’t censored here, it’s blood and brawn smeared over asphalt and aluminium.  

They know that taking 3 or 4 spoons of sugar in their tea is going to give them diabetes sooner or later.

They know that chugging down 40 hardcore smokes a day is going to kill them young.  

They know that staying up all night shatters them for whatever they have to do the next day. 

I’ve said it before and I’m certain I’m going to say it again:

I like the Arabs.  I don’t understand them, but I like them.

Posted in Attitude, Smoking | 2 Comments

Dirty Cigarettes

Standing at the cashier in my local 24-hour shop the other day, I saw a similar but unique version of something I’ve seen many times before in the Gulf: A man asks for a pack of cigarettes – Davidoff  – the pack’s nice.  He pays his 7 riyals.  The cashier produces the pack of cigarettes.  The man picks them up, examines them, and upon finding a small dent down one side and a very slight layer of dust on the cellophane seal, tosses them back on the counter.  “Old!” he says to the cashier, “no new?”  

“No new,” comes the reply.

“Give money.”  The cashier draws the customer’s cash back out of the till, and the man exits, cigarette-less.

What struck about this brief encounter was the way in which it illustrates one thing I have noticed about Saudi Arabia since I moved here – that is, the importance of appearance.  

I’m assuming that the customer here was buying the cigarettes for himself.  As a smoker, I know that being out of cigarettes is far worse than having them and not being permitted to light up.  The potential for something to go badly wrong and then for me to badly need a nicotine hit is enough to make me start scratching at the walls.  So, the guy’s out of cigarettes, and needs the safety net of a pack by his side, but the presence of a dent in the side of the pack and a dusting of sand overrides the screaming of his nerves?  Man, if it was that easy, I would just quit!

The brand that I smoke, Davidoff Slim Light, has recently changed its pack.  Where once it was a simple light beige with those fancy cut-off corners that people here seem to love – these are the most expensive cigarettes you can buy here, at $1.85 – now they’ve changed it to an explosion of pink roses, with a pink rose motif just before the filter on the cigarettes themselves.  At least, those are the only packs they sell at the shop.  I can’t think why they’ve started importing these packs, as it is rare indeed to see a woman smoking cigarettes in any Gulf country I’ve ever lived in.  Shisha, yes, but cigarettes, no.  Maybe they’re going for that niche market of smoking florists.  Who knows?  

Anyway,  I’ve lost count of the number of times people have pulled me up on this: “Hey, you’re smoking women’s cigarettes!  What’s up with that?  Don’t you think it’s strange?”

My main argument is this:  1.  It’s a cigarette.  It contains nicotine.  If it was in the shape of a dead cat and I needed a smoke, well, I’d probably go ahead and light up kitty by the tail.  After all, the tobacco industry doesn’t call them Nicotine Delivery Devices for nothing.  Do you smoke Marlboro red because it makes you a tough guy?  All that shit about the Marlboro man?  He doesn’t really exist.  Smoking Davidoff  doesn’t turn me in to a young, rich, intelligent male model with a yacht.  The most attractive thing a cigarette will ever give me is cancer.  2.  If I dressed you up in a dress and some make-up, would that make you a woman?  No, it would make you a man wearing a dress and some make-up.

The importance of appearances here can not be understated.  From the kid who takes out a loan 50 times his salary to get his hands on some beast of an SUV, to my colleague who’s just found the perfect cowboy-style hat to protect against the sun, but won’t buy it because he’s worried that everyone in his home village would lynch him if they saw him wearing it.  Anything and everything gives the opportunity to lose face.  

Isn’t it easier just to say, “You know what – screw it.  It’s only a pack of smokes, and God damn it, I really need a fix” ?

Posted in Appearances, Attitude, Smoking | 2 Comments