Well this is an interesting sensation. I’m parked at a shopping mall in the centre of Tabuk and I’m waiting for the doctor. He came in on the recent flight and he wanted to go to the mall. I didn’t have anything I needed to do so I took him. But first he picked up his supplies. Twelve signatures and a huge amount of paper, and I’m sitting with a huge supply of strong opiates in the back of the car. All the stuff you need in case of an accident. Morphine. Ketamine. Tramadol… Some others. He’s a doctor. But if the police randomly searched my car right now without him in it, I would have some serious explaining to do. And then I’d probably get flogged or something. I dunno if they still do it in public, but I guess if they do I’ve got the chance to go viral. “British guy squeals like a piggy.” If I grab a few handfuls of whatever is in that bag it might delay the pain for a few days at least…
I got myself into helping accreditation today. That’s another hilarious clusterfuck as so many people in the local area have extremely similar names. There’s still a strong family name tradition of taking the place where you’re from, and there’s a devout tradition of taking the name of the prophet. It makes it very tricky to know who has come in and who hasn’t, and add to that the wild variant possibility in the translated spelling of Arabic to Roman and you’re looking at a whole load of worry.
I reckon the doctor will emerge soon so I’m gonna drive round the front and check.
Ahhh Doctor Jesus. It seems I’ve made a friend. He took me out on the Saudi equivalent of that bender that the celebrity takes his driver on in Vegas. No gambling or strip joints. It starts with chicken. Fried chicken. THIS ISN’T ANY FRIED CHICKEN THIS IS AL BAEZ. The queue is round the block three times. They’ve had to make one of those snakes like you have in passport control to fit all the traffic. The desert wasteland has been organised with bollards. At the end there are four outlets like toll booths. We got the chicken and we shoved it into our faces. Just what the doctor ordered. A cultural touchstone.
Then two more airport pickups and then once more Jesus appeared as if from nowhere. The two people who have been asking me to do random things at unusual hours jumped into my car with him in the reception of Hotel Mena after a pick-up, and suddenly I was taking three friendly people on a hunt for tea around the late night streets of Tabuk – and that strange fist of loneliness in my chest unclenched, and the car filled with laughter and suggestions for the things I should do while I’m still here, and the local delights I should sample. There’s a whole list now. But for tonight I have had Mumtaz tea and COMPANY. Even if just for a short while.
That’s all I was missing really – and these guys are easy friends to me. They say it takes time to find your people. They’re honest and slightly geeky humans. One of them was artlessly trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube in the back of the car. I felt welcome and I felt part of a group. I need that sometimes. Other people make us happy. Yay.
I’ve always known that the best way of seeing an unfamiliar place is in the company of those who know it. These good fun humans took me on a little jaunt tonight and now I’m waiting for my final airport pick-up with a smile on my face. Sure, I won’t sleep much tonight… 2am down, 6am up. Enough sleep though. I had a long one last night. Tomorrow night I’ll be gummy headed by this time. Hopefully I’ll be fast asleep by then though frankly… Unless somebody suddenly announces that there’s a party in the desert… There won’t be. Everybody is gonna be smashed tomorrow. Me first among them. Coffee will be my friend.