Sunday, January 08, 2006

Happiness in Saudi Arabia

I had a happy childhood,and for many years thereafter, I always longed to be a child again. After all, I did not have to work, all of my needs were provided;I did not have to pay rent or worry about finding a mate. Up until puberty,I lived a life of absolute contentment. I had no sexual urge and all the troubles resulting thereof, and I was simply happy to read my books, travel to new places, or just be alive, walking around the city, admiring architecture,and devoting the rest of my time to hobbies- collecting butterflies, playing with my pet hamster, doodling on a piece of paper or going out with my friends. It was a blissful time which I thought would never come back to me again. Little did I know that it would come back but with a weird twist- in the shape of the desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In 1997 I lost my job, a relationship and also suffered severe economic setbacks resulting from unwise investments. Me debts were $27,000 and mounting. A day actually came when, after I had made payments to yet another creditor, I discovered that I had no money left to buy food. This was when I got on the Internet and started doing some serious job searching. A company in Saudi Arabia advertised for a position. I applied and got a call from the recruiter. Within two months I was on the next plane to Riyadh with mixed emotions going through my head. What was I to expect there? Were they going to await me at the airport with daggers and sabres screaming "Death to the Infidels!". You know, the usual stereotypes.

Well, it turned out that the place was actually quite good. We were housed on a military base, all our needs were met- we did not have to pay for rooms or utilities, and food was free. They provided us with clothes and cars, and free gas. The work load was very light- if we had to work 5 hours each day, it was considered a hard day. On some days I did not have to do any work at all, just sit around the office and chat with my friends. After work, we went out in groups, some guys went to the US embassy for parties there, some watched satellite TV, which, again, was free. Some borrowed books from the base library - actually they simply took them with no stubs, no registration; and then, after they were done reading them, they returned them. There were no women around, the weather was nice- it was February, and the air was fresh. In addition to that, there were very few people around, and lots of open spaces.

The absence of women had many good points. I was no longer "on the make" all the time but could chill out and do my own thing. I did not have to worry about looking good. If I did not shave for one day or did not wear nice clothes, it was OK- who would care? I was not thinking about dates and was not planning to have any- hence, the economization of time and money resulting from it was significant- if before, every day I was thinking about where the next date was coming from, this time I was no longer worried about it- I was now looking towards a next walk in the desert to observe the stars, the dunes and other new phenomena.

I also started going into the sandy wastelands around the base and studying local insects and small animals, just like I did when I was a child. I once caught a hedgehog and brought it to the base, and we all had fun with it, especially the Filipinos who had not seen such an animal before. I started taking Tagalog classes with the Filipino guys paying them 10 Saudi Riyals an hour- about $2.60 cents. I am now fluent in teh language, by the way.

Every day was predictable and was very similar to the day before. My life acquired the same rhythmic quality that it had when I was a child. I lived for the present, in the present, enjoying the simplicity of every day.I started noticing the beauty of naturearound me, started listening to the wind, admiring themoon and watching sunsets. The Western people on base were very friendly and we did not have to compete against each other since each one of us had a separate contract and his own duty. The Saudis on base were also quite friendly and very welcoming. Most were big jokers, and always in a good mood. Surprisingly thus, the feeling of happiness that left me at age 13-14, with the advent of puberty, came back full force.

I could now understand how monks could live happy lives, cut off from the opposite sex and the temptations of society. They could obviously see great benefit in living their simple and predictable existences free from constant demands of the flesh. Being in Saudi was similar to being such a monk. And it was just as well.

As months and years rolled by, I paid off all of my debts, was transferred to Jeddah, learned diving, and, if I wanted to date, I was able to do so during my long vacations which took place every five months. If I average my conquests over the years, I did not do so badly- in fact I did even better than back home.

After 4.5 years in Saudi I was a changed man, in good humor, with a sizable bank account and with a good, warm feeling towards mankind. However, things changed with the wars and the coming unto the scene of many terrorists who were targeting the thousands of Westerners residing in the Kingdom. So, I left. Now, when I look back, I recall those years as happy ones. As happy as the years of my childhood. I can now rightfully say that I had a second childhood in Saudi Arabia, without the accompanying senility, of course.

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