Monday, October 10, 2005

Prayer Time

Frazzled Larrikin in KSAFrazzled Larrikin in KSA
I began to venture out of the building I lived in a little bit. Almost immediately next door was quite a large supermarket. It had a decent range of stuff that was more than adequate for my simple needs – except for the total lack of bacon and other pork products, of course. I was in there one afternoon when the call to prayer started blasting out over the PA system. The shutters came down at the front of the shop and the lights started to go out. I found a member of staff to find out what on earth was going on and he said ‘it’s prayer time, sir, please wait’. Bloody hell, I’d only gone in for a loaf of bread and some cheese and was held prisoner inside the shop for half an hour!

In Saudi Arabia, the entire country grinds to a halt five times a day for prayers. The call to prayer is broadcast on the radio, through malls, and live in all its tuneless variety from the minarets of mosques. And everything stops. You can be in the middle of a business meeting, and people will rush off to pray.

It was something I never really got used to. Bongo’s office used the hallway outside the elevator as its prayer room. One day I was returning to the office after a meeting outside and I took the lift to the second floor. The lift doors opened. Fifteen of my colleagues were prostrating themselves before me. I had no idea what to do, but my legs wouldn’t move and after what seemed like a very long time the lift doors closed and I returned to the ground floor. A bit later the ‘imam’ came to yell at me. I asked him what I was supposed to do, and he said don’t enter the office during prayer time. I thought of explaining that I had work to do and deadlines to meet, and the lift didn’t have windows, but it didn’t seem to be such a good idea.