Monday, October 10, 2011


One of the few times I felt harassed while living in Saudi Arabia happened earlier tonight.  While it may be par for the course for some other people, this is not the way I envision living in Saudi Arabia would be.

My colleague and I were bothered by a gathering of pre-adolescent Saudis outside my home.  Normally I ignore these groups of youngsters and stay away a good distance to avoid any unpleasantness.  Today, (well, tonight, actually), however, they gathered in front of my building on some kind of bonding thing.  They could do that all they want, but I as sure wouldn't want to be around when they are there.

It just so happens there is an abandoned work site almost facing our building on the other side of the street.  These kids gather there and look for something to do - because life otherwise for them offers nothing new.  In the land of so much wealth, many of these kids end up poor.

When we first made the turn we saw almost a dozen kids gathered in front of the house, and my instinct for self-preservation - the same which makes me want to avoid crowded places - rang out a strong alarm.  Incidentally, we have no street lights on our corner and our house has a very small fluorescent lamp on our front stoop.  My colleague, who was driving, asked if we should stop and I said, keep on going.   We turned a corner and saw another car in our rear-view mirror make a stop at the house.

After we made another turn (less than two minutes) it was put-up-or-shut-up.  My colleague had to pick up his daughter from the sitter and then his wife from her place of work, and I had no more excuses to prolong the wait since it was almost Isha prayer and soon every one will either run toward the mosque or away from it.

As soon as we stopped, Murphy's Law went into overdrive as my house key conveniently trickled out from its loop with the rest of my keys and fell under the front seat.  I had to step out and keep the door ajar for me to bend down and retrieve the key.

I knew from the onset that when the door moved one of the kids was kicking it.  I tried my best to ignore the first two times, but after the third time I couldn't do it.  I turned around and saw that the smallest of the kids kicking the door. It was easy to intimidate him - he was really that small - but I feared for the safety of my colleague, his baby daughter inside the car, and the car itself, of course.  It was a good thing - the best of small things - that these young boys were afraid of bothering a man and his baby.  This gave me the time to gather my things, warn my colleague to get out of there, and scamper inside the house.

I was wondering if someone would follow me, but nobody did.

When I got into the flat, my flatmates told me their story - somebody's bag was forcibly opened, while someone was pestered into giving up his cigarettes.  Turns out they were in the car that arrived right after we made the first turn away from the house.  They took the worst of the first wave - two of them even waited in our entryway to waylay anyone coming into the house - but the kids were not emboldened enough to make the charge.  My flatmate, who owned his own car, had to drive away and wait for a half-hour before he drove back and got to park his car in front of the house.

This incident convinced me to consider alternatives to our current home.  Maybe it is a random incident - I'll be on vigil for the next few weeks just to make sure - and maybe not.  Then again, maybe the kids are not residents of our place, but instinct tells me no large group of kids would dare move into another's territory without expecting some resistance from the locals.  This has been the way of gangs from times forgotten, and will be so as long as humanity exists.

We live in a neighborhood where many policemen live, and the front wall of the property faces the "plaza" of the mosque of our area.  There are many reasons to expect some amount of security for our place.  So now this - and I'm letting this unworded accusation fly - xenophobia is in much our hearts as it is in theirs, but we are just making an honest living, and nothing more.

I'm letting things cool down a little, but I hate being insecure just as I am heading for my own home at the end of each working day.  They say there is a first time for everything, but shoot, I'd rather be absent for this one.  Two more months, and then I could inform my real estate agent that I would like to move.  Inshallah there would still be available space in safer, more accessible places in the city.

Until then, I'm on pins and needles.

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