Sunday, October 09, 2005

Meet the Bongos

Farcical Lifestyle in KSAFarcical Lifestyle in KSA
In the early months I tried to be nice to Mr Bongo and to get him to understand that the quality of my work was directly proportionate to how happy I was. But he was not a guy that I could get close to – he did all the standard boss-worker stuff like having midget chairs for visitors in front of his desk, ignoring me for the first few minutes when I entered his office, etc.

Sometimes he would wander around cubicle-land to see what folks were up to. One time I was designing something by hand, working on tracing paper placed over a grid. We do this so that we can draw freehand lines that are fairly straight, and also get a sense of the scale of the thing we are working on. Bongo looked at this grid and said ‘that’s a cross!’ So what, I thought, it’s only a work tool. And actually there are multiple crosses in the grid, why are you getting so worked up about it?

That was my first clue that I was dealing with a madman. But he loved to show off his new toy (me) to any Saudi guest or client who came into the office. ‘Genuine English!’ he would say. One day Dr Client came in, and we were talking about the design of his new house. He said he wanted a staircase similar to the one in Bongo’s house. Which kinda put Bongo on the spot because he certainly did not want us poor mortals to a) know where he lived and b) see how he lived. But he was trapped and invited me for dinner the next night.

Bongo said the dinner would be a bit formal, and I never did work out what he meant by that. But what I took it to mean was that I should wear a suit and a tie. Big mistake – we sat outside by Bongo’s pool for two hours before eating – I was somewhat warm, I can tell you. There were a few of his cousins, some kids, and Bongo’s granddad. All male. There was endless small talk, and then everyone rushed into the dining room at about 10.30. I was starving – I normally have my evening meal around 8pm, and had not eaten a thing before I came out.

The food was delicious – what we ignorant westerners call a ‘mutton grab’. But when I saw this whole roast sheep on a mountain of rice with its head placed on top I really thought that this was going to be my ‘eat the sheep’s eyeballs’ moment. However I was spared that because Granddad grabbed them, saying ‘they’re the best bit!’. (Only joking). But still no women! Were there any? Where did these kids come from? What was going on?

Fortunately this was not the first time I’d attempted to eat like an Arab, so I used a fork. Granddad thought this cutlery lark was most entertaining and told me that while I didn’t know whether the cutlery was clean or not, he certainly knew where his hands had been. And then all the food was gone and everyone buggered off or went to bed. And I completely forgot to look at the staircase so I had to go back the next day.