Whilst Saudi is a closed country, Expats have the luxury of living life pretty near to normal; like back home, long as it is within the compound walls. Parties are rife, dating, socialising; life is pretty good when you have sun 24/7.
I was blessed, that whilst I didn’t live within a Western compound I did work in one and that gave me the freedoms that a lot of people who lived in the city didn’t have the luxury of having.
Many Expats came into the country, with limited information (like I did back in 1990 at 20 years old). But what most people hear outside its totally different to what happens within the country.
One example was a time I was dating Phil from South Africa, he was a Project Manager who worked in Riyadh; he would fly in for a few months and oversee the project he was currently working on. Phil always remarked how he hated being in Riyadh as he was scared to go out in public in case he looked at a woman and was arrested. I told him not to be so stupid and how next time he was flying home, drop into Jeddah and I would show him the life that Expats lived. It so happened when he flew into Jeddah it was my birthday and we were having a party inside a compound. It was with my American, Pilipino, Indian and British friends, and it was to be a fun night of Karaoke, good conversation, and food. We picked Phil up and gained entry for him into the compound ( security is very strict as you will have read in my previous blogs) Phil was amazed to see people mixing uncovered, music playing , people smoking and drinking, he couldn’t believe his eyes. Laughingly I told him see, you shouldn’t believe all the rubbish you hear and I handed him a drink. This was the locally made Siddiqi; which is liquor made from fermented sugar water, sold on the black market. It is usually sold uncut at a percentage of 90% -120% proof, when purchased you cut it with water (1 part S id to 2 parts water )to make it drinkable, but it tastes like paint stripper.
My first adventure with Siddiqi was when I use to visit my friend Miriam who was a beautiful Indonesian girl married to a Brit Eddy. Every Wednesday we would catch up over a few Siddiki’s and Coke. Until the time came for them to leave the Kingdom and I requested Eddy get me a few bottles as I didn’t know where to purchase such stuff. Little did I realise the bottles Eddy game me where pure and uncut and as it was New Year I was feeling very low and down, thinking of my situation; how I would never escape Saudi, see my parents or friends and family again, so I decided to have a few glasses straight. By the third glass I passed out and didn’t wake till the following evening. When I enquired to Eddy what the hell had he given me – he said “Oh your supposed to cut it first!!” now he told me. I was always more careful after that.
Anyhow back to the original story of poor Phil and his first adventure with Siddiki, we spent the evening, laughing, drinking, dancing and having a brilliant night, when Phil mentioned he would love to see the compound, so I took him to the roof top; as most buildings in Saudi are flat , and can be used like patio areas. We looked out at the expanse of the compound; a beautiful night sky with a bright moon, giving light to the dark silhouettes of the palm trees and the many pools. It was a lovely evening with the crickets chirping and seeing the lizards scuttling by our feet. What a lovely Birthday it had been, until suddenly I realised Phil didn’t look to good. What was wrong? I suddenly realised Phil was totally drunk so much it was hard for him to stand. Totally not realising Phil hadn’t drunk for ages, and certainly not the toxic Siddiki and the fresh air, made its effect. Phil was due to go to the airport in an hour to go back to South Africa, how on earth could he?? If he was found drunk he would be put into Jail, lashed, lose his job, be banned from Saudi for life and loose his end of contract benefits. I pleaded with him not to go but reschedule his flight, but he couldn’t. We spent the next hour forcing him to drink lots of water and I stayed on the cell phone with him whilst he made the journey to the airport. How he made it through the airport I will never know. The gods were certainly on his side that night