Thursday, June 24, 2010

Drunken Arrival

I didn't really want to write yet. I was going to put things off until tomorrow. It's night time here and I should probably get some sleep. It's 9pm now and tomorrow at 1pm, we do the only thing that Riyadh is awesome for - shopping. Well, grocery shopping, to be exact.

The reason I decided to write even though I didn't feel like it is because I need to write about the weird disconnect I am going through at this moment. I have not been here for months, yet right now I feel like I've been here forever. When I got off the plane, it was like I was floating. I was physically light-headed and feeling heavy, but now on my bed in my small room, I feel like my body is 20 feet off of the soft blankets. I'm not really here, but I am here, so there is nothing that I can do about it.

When I got onto the street and waited for the drivers to come and pick us up, I was barely affected by the bright lights and the heat. Riyadh, I must say, is full of both of those things. I turned to my left and saw a mosque illuminated by constructed lights all around its dome and minarets. I remembered this blog, and thought it would be grat to take a picture. Sadly, there are a few things I have to be worried about:

1. Taking pictures in Riyadh's public places is a no-no.
2. My parents freak out whenever they see me take a picture of anything, anywhere.
3. My only camera is my phone, and I cannot turn off the obnoxious "CLICK CLICK" noise it makes whenever I snap a picture.

Therefore, to take a picture, I had to hold my phone as if I was checking my text messages, press the camera button inconspicuously, and make a yawning noise while that horrible "CLICK!!!" goes off. My yawn didn't cover it, so my parents' heads snapped around to look at me. I shrugged at them, and coolly said "Huh, text messages!" My Dad made a comment about the phone service provider and promptly forgot. I gave a sigh of relief. I knew I couldn't try to take yet another picture, so I prayed that this first one did the trick. Sadly, it isn't great. At least it is something.


Whenever I travel, there is usually a sense of release when all the flights are over and done with; when I am done collecting my baggage, and when I have finally arrived at the destination where I will be sleeping. This time, it's like I never left Saudi in the first place. I am extremely numb except for the burning in my head caused by the dryness of the air. It is irritating, that dry sensation, but it is only a reaction to my physical surroundings.

When I got inside the villa, I just wanted to eat and I knew I'd have food ready for me when I got back. This is thanks to a man who I have learned to call my friend. I am not sure yet, whether or not it is alright to post his real name, so I will have to stay vague for at least a few days. Deciding on whether or not to use a person's name in a blog is very difficult, especially in a country where privacy is not a privilege, but a way of life. My friend is from Bangladesh, and he works for the housing complex we live in (from what I understand). He treats me like a daughter while working as a housekeeper on the side. From my father's lips (paraphrased, of course) : my friend does not get enough money for his work, so he and other men like him are forced to do things like housecleaning, ironing, and driving so as to have enough money to send to their families. Some of these men and women, hailing from Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, etc. have it worse than anyone else I know. I have a lot to say about their situation, but tonight I will write about my friend who works for us.

He came to our house as soon as he knew we had arrived in our taxis. He had food ready for me, including my favourite fried whole tilapia (a rather large fish) and rice. I say it was ready for me because I know that he is aware of my love for that food. My parents don't eat it nearly as much as I do! As I said: he treats me like a daughter, but he isn't an ignorant kind of Dad. He's loving, and enjoys spoiling his children. Anything I ask for, he will get it for me (or try, at least).

My friend has been working in Riyadh for over 25 years, and still he barely makes enough money to get by. When he came to our house, I stood at the doorway to the kitchen and watched him as he explained to my parents all the repairs he had done on our kitchen counters since they had left. He and his wife were the house-sitters and they took care of everything. Our house was spotless when we got back. He says that he is always happy to help us, and always happy to do what he can for us. This is why when I looked at him tonight, as he spoke to my parents, I felt like I was slapped in the face.

My friend, who is extremely loyal to me and to my family, looked so tired. Ever since I have known him, for around 4 years now, he has always had bags under his eyes, seemingly weighing the rest of him down. His eyes have since lost their light, which was faint to begin with. I hate saying this, but he did not look well tonight. When he finally noticed I was there, I smiled and acted the way I usually do - like I was only gone for a weekend, or that I was just popping in to say hello and leave, like an ungrateful person. I know that is what it looks like to other people. The truth, however, is not reflected in my face most of the time. The truth: I do not like seeing him so tired. I do not like seeing anyone so tired, but him even more so. He is my friend and no friend of mine has any business looking so drained and exhausted.

But how is he really my friend? I call him that, and I type that now, but sometimes I wonder how I could dare call him my friend. The truth is, I am really ashamed sometimes. He goes through a lot of hardships every day - he is worked very hard by his employers, is living in a small apartment alone with his wife who is quite unwell, and is far away from his family in Bangladesh. He is not a happy person. But so what? He can still be my friend, right?

He is my friend. I actually know that. He is generous and kind towards me, and he certainly acts friendly towards me and my parents. The real question is this: am I really his friend? I don't think so. I am angered by saying this, making this the first real emotion I can write about tonight. I am not his friend. I want to be his friend, but what kind of a friend can I be, when I am so distant to this country my friend lives in and this house he takes care of? How can I let a friend clean my room and make my bed? I am ashamed that I have someone making my bed when it is my own bed and I could do it myself.

If I am his friend, I am not a very good one at all. I couldn't even ask him today how he was feeling, because I felt upset just looking at him. I know tomorrow or the day after, when I see him again, I'll talk to him and find out why he looks as down as he does, but what can I do about it? I am a helpless, hopeless friend.

Maybe my intentions do count. In Islam, everything is about your intentions and the purity of your intentions. Whatever I feel about Islam in the end, this idea is something I can appreciate. I know that if I had all the money in the world, I'd give a lot of it to this friend I am talking about. If I had the means to do so, I would take him and his wife back to Bangladesh and help them help their communities and families. I know what I would like to do, but I know that I cannot do it. Does that not count for something? I hope it does.

I am extremely disconnected to the fact that I am here in Riyadh. However, I am not disconnected to my friend. When I was in the US, I still cared about him and wondered if he was okay the whole time. What can I really do about the fact that he is taking care of our house? I understand that the salary my Dad gives him is actually helping him out. I don't want my friend to be seen as a charity - no, my friend deserves his pride and I want to give him that.

Even if I feel like I am not even in this world right now, I think it is seeing my friend that made a bit of a difference. Being subject to him in his depressed state brought me back just a little to the reality - I am really, really here, in Riyadh, a place where people can make fun for themselves, but also where misery exists in a form that I have not yet seen anywhere else.

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