Arabian Nights

Posted by Abdel Kadz on Sunday, March 08, 2009 with 4 comments
My brother arrived about two months ago after his two-year contract with a company in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia ended. Together with the pasalubongs and the Balikbayan boxes he brought home with him, he also had tons of stories to share, and over coffee and after finishing a good film well into the wee hours of the night, he got to share them with me and I was like a child being read a fairy-tale story to bed.

We all know, as kids, about the stories of Scheherazade spanning about 1,001 nights she told to a king to save her life. The stories my brother imparted were not altogether of the same nature. It did not involve magic lamps and flying carpet rides and hidden treasures or any of the sorts. His stories though were meant to save me, albeit used in a different context: to dispense a first-hand account into and prepare me for what life would be like if ever my plans push through. See, I might be leaving this month to work as a staff physical therapist for a 250-bed capacity, JCI-accredited tertiary hospital also in Saudi Arabia (in Dammam). Even if the pay is so-so a wage, the thought of working in a reputable medical institution was enough for me to take the offer. The contract is for two years, and I am still getting used to the fact of working in a foreign land, to mingle with people of a different race and of a different culture. I am reminded of the phrase “we’ll cross the bridge when we get there.” Up until this point, I am not sure if I will ever be physically or emotionally ready to set my feet on it, what more cross it.

His tales were mostly about his day-to-day experiences in his workplace, Riyadh and its Muttawas, life in general in the Middle East, and the religious pilgrimage he was able to undertake while he was there (the minor, which is the Umra, and one of the Five Pillars of Islam, the Hajj). His stories were funny at times, like the first day in his workplace and the barrier that is the language that he battled with for some time. It could be scary, too, like rumors of men being raped, especially those who do not have facial hair and who are mestizos. This particular bit of information I thought back then was just that, a rumor, but my brother confirmed of such occurrences and even recounted of an instance when he and a coworker where involved in a heated fracas because a local made a pass on one of them. This is not to generalize all Saudi natives of being sexually crazed, but given the fact that males and females are not allowed to be together in public places and should be a fair and acceptable distance from one another, except if they’re married, men there (Arabs and foreign nationals alike) are bound to have their libidos suppressed (hehe).

I was just mesmerized hearing of the stories he had to tell to a would-be OFW accumulated over two years of working in KSA. My family and I are one in saying that he came home a better man in that he became more responsible and independent, on top of that, a God-fearing and a true Moslem. I needed to hear those stories because in a few days or weeks or in a month’s time, I will be experiencing basically the same things he has been through. It is nerve-wracking to think that when that time comes, I will no longer be on the listening end. Instead, I get to live the stories as they unfold.