Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Going To Riyadh

Funky Lobsters in KSAFunky Lobsters in KSA
Before arriving in Do Buy about twelve years ago, I spent one miserable year in Riyadh, Saudiland. I seriously regret not keeping any kind of a diary of this time. It was certainly a year that I will never forget, but I cannot actually place the events into any realistic order. Here’s what happened…

I was happily working away as an Interior Designer in England, when the entire country was besieged by a recession. Clients stopped commissioning new projects, half of the registered architects in the UK became unemployed and the company that I worked for went bust.

I struggled on for a bit doing what freelance work I could get. It wasn’t nearly enough to sustain our obligations. A former colleague of mine (let’s call him Charlie, he worked in Kuwait for about 10 years) called me and said he’d heard of an opportunity in Riyadh, was I up for it? Well, I had no Middle East experience and really didn’t know what to make of it, but times were hard so I followed through. I submitted my CV, and about a week later I had a phone call from the owner of the company in Riyadh. For the sake of brevity we’ll call him Ali Bongo (his real name is Ali Bongo Bin Bongo Al Bongo). He asked me a few questions and told me to go to a certain architect in London for a bit of an interview. It turns out this company had done some work for Ali Bongo, and he trusted them to evaluate that all my senses were working, that I had the requisite number of limbs, and, most importantly (I found out later), that I was a paleface. The architect explained that his seeing me was not to be taken as any kind of endorsement of Bongo, and his company would not be held responsible for anything that happened.

A week later I got a fax from Riyadh offering me the job. I had to go to London again (we lived near Manchester at the time) to apply for a visa from the Saudi Embassy. I already had my visa number (by fax from Bongo), but they were not remotely interested – the only thing that worked for them was the shit in the weekly diplomatic bag.

The diplomatic bag with my visa in it took about two weeks to arrive. Two days after that, my passport bearing a Saudi visa of some sort plopped through the letterbox. The deal was, it was a one-year, bachelor-status contract. I was less than happy at the prospect. I would be leaving BetterArf and Offspring, who was only five at the time. But I had no alternative. I called Bongo’s office to arrange a flight, and shortly thereafter I was on it.