Saturday, October 08, 2005

Meet the Team

Fiesty Librans in KSAFeisty Librans in KSA
I was introduced to my colleagues, and pretty quickly spotted that I was the only paleface in the office. I was told that there was another one, an American, but he was working on a site about 100 kms away and only came into the office on Thursdays. Hmmm. The staff were Egyptian, Indian, Pakistani, and one Jordanian (let’s call him Ramez) who was a spy for the boss and who tried to make my life as hellish as possible.

Bongo’s company was originally involved in civil engineering. He had bolted on a couple of architects, and had recently won a couple of interior design contracts with the stipulation that the designer be British (c’est moi). On my second day I was introduced to Dr Client, who was the Minister of SomethingorOther and actually a very smart cookie.

Ali Bongo owned the company, and his personal office was almost as big as the main production area that contained about 16 architects, engineers and draughtsmen. Quite right too. How else would anyone know who was in charge? Second in command was the General Manager and Chief Architect, let’s call him B’astard, and it turned out that he had been the bane of Charlie’s life in Kuwait. I mentioned to him that we had a mutual acquaintance, and he just sniffed.

My first weekend arrived (Thursday afternoon and all day Friday), and I was wondering what I was going to do. Foolishly, I asked Ramez what one did on a weekend in Riyadh. Like a shot he promised to pick me up early on Thursday evening and show me the sights, maybe have dinner, drink some wine and go to a nightclub. I was fairly certain that these last two activities would not be happening, and I was right. We ended up mooching around the big shopping mall in Olaya district (I think it’s called the Akariya Center, but I could be wrong). I was horrified. Actually I was bored rigid, but Ramez seemed to be getting some kind of a buzz out of it. He obviously had x-ray vision because he was ogling (presumably young) ladies in their abayas and I don’t know the name of bag over the head, and, I don’t know, maybe he had a good imagination.

Exhausted by the thrills of the mall, we went to a restaurant. Ramez drove us in his fairly new car and this didn’t seem at all remarkable to me at the time. It was only a few months later when some of the Indians started trusting me that they told me he’d been given the car by Bongo as a reward for a particularly outstanding bit of spying he’d done.

The restaurant was nothing special – kebabs done on an outdoor barbie, rice, fresh squeezed juice from any fruit you could imagine, hummus, tabbouleh, moutabal. I had my first shot at eating Arabic-style, using the right hand to scoop stuff up. I had been led to believe that the left hand was considered unclean. But guess what? I’m left-handed. Trying to use the right hand was just a complete disaster, two years olds can eat more tidily than that!