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Fazda

Part 6 of my Saudi adventure..

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End in sight

When one is having a breakdown for whatever reason, several things seem to happen to time and almost have a direct influence on the way you perceive others, and more than likely, they way that they perceive you.

TIME became a very slow progression from one minute to the next. Hours felt like days and days felt like weeks, and the people who came in and out of my life appeared to be doing so in an agonisingly slow pace. Waiting to teach a lesson and sitting in the temporary “English” staff room was similar to sitting at an airport waiting for a connecting flight. Hours of boredom, whilst people floated around me, as if we were all swimming under water.

The bus would pick us up from the hotel, and drop us off at school just before 7 every morning. It became too hot to teach much after noon, so classes ground to a halt sometime around 12, depending on the time of the lunchtime prayers. The driver would then pick us up, subject us to yet another terrifying trip through the Riyadh mayhem that they call traffic, and drop us off at the hotel in time for a late “take away” lunch, which usually consisted of a Kentucky or Nando’s deep fried chicken. I seemed to tag myself on to the other teachers, and I would drift around until they disappeared to their rooms, and I could then slink off to my room and find escape in some fitful sleep.

Evening prayers always shattered whatever dream I might be having, and I would lie on my bed, watching the shadows change outside, and pray that I was going to just wake up from this nightmare and find myself safely back home in South Africa.

At this stage, something else started happening as well, as Loueldie noticed my unhappiness, she decided that I was simply being pathetic and caving in to my wish to go home. As far as she was concerned, I needed a damned good talking to, and needed to knuckle down and sort my head out, and NOT influence the other teachers with my negativity. At first it was not too bad, but it very soon escalated into all out warfare between the two of us, and as far as she was concerned, you were either in my camp or her camp. No shades of grey.

This was obviously unpleasant for all concerned, as she did not have red hair and freckles for nothing. If I wanted to be unhappy, she would make damned sure that I had good reason to be unhappy...end of story!

In doing this, what she did manage to do was isolate me even further from everyone, and I could not wait for the sun to go down, so that I could slip out of the hotel, and roam Riyadh’s streets looking for internet cafes where I could simply sit down at a computer and attempt to make contact with the outside world. I arranged one on one chats via computer with my niece in South Africa and my sister in California. It was during these chats that they both became increasingly alarmed as my “chats” became more and more garbled and rambling as each day went past. Eventually, Susan, my sister, phoned the hotel so that she could actually talk to me and see what I sounded like when not clacking away at a computer keyboard. Apparently, what she heard did nothing to calm matters and everything to set off alarm bells in everybody’s heads. Talking to me was like communicating with a babbling idiot and all that I wanted was to make my way home and find some peace of mind again.

Within a couple of days of Susan’s first phone call, I was summoned to the “office” at school, and asked what my problem was.............my “lawyer” from America had been on the phone and had made it very clear to them that I was not happy. Susan was a lawyer in the States, and had very cleverly used that angle to try and get some sense into my employers and try and impress upon them how unhappy I was. The meeting was not a pleasant one, as it then became very evident that the school had no intention at all of letting me off the hook.

The same evening, I had a call at the hotel, from the employment agency in Sandton, wanting to know what the problem was. Foolishly, I told one of the other teachers what was going on, and within a few minutes, Loueldie was on the phone to South Africa, telling them to simply ignore me, and that she would personally sort things out with me. I have never found out why she was so hell bent on keeping me there, but I do know that thanks to her, life was to become increasingly difficult for me over the next couple of weeks, as one side tugged against the other, in a ridiculous tug of war to keep me in Saudi Arabia and not bring disrepute on to the name of the school or the employment agency.

Of course, the more Loueldie battled with me, the more I became determined to get out, and my nightly “chats” on the internet were gathering momentum, as I not only rounded up support from family, but also friends in South Africa, who then started to work directly with the Employment Agency in Sandton. At last, we were getting somewhere and a summons to the office once again saw the beginning of a chink of light in what seemed a very long and dark tunnel at the time.

Weekends in Saudi start on a Wednesday night and last until Saturday morning, so dealing with banks and travel agents, as they deal with the “outside world” can be rather frustrating, as the chance of everything happening on a Monday or a Tuesday when all sides are at work at the same time is very slim. Two weeks of hit and miss between the two countries, finally ended in me being summoned to the office once again, this time on a Sunday morning where I was informed that my lawyer had negotiated a deal whereby I could buy myself out of my contract and fly back home at my expense, with only one condition...the ticket back to South Africa had to be bought that day, and I had to arrive at school on the Monday, complete with ticket and fully packed to go.

The initial relief soon turned to horror as I visited the first travel agent and discovered that tickets cannot simply be bought on a Sunday, and confirmed for a Monday flight, when one is landlocked in the middle of Saudi Arabia.

The ticket was also to be paid in cash up front – an amount of R16 000 – that I could not get from Standard Bank in Sandton, as it was now mid afternoon on a Sunday, and firmly closed. An attempt to put it on my Visa card was not even an option when the Travel Agent found out that the SA banks were closed and they could not confirm that I actually had that amount of money in my card.

The hours slipped by into evening as I literally ran around the city trying to organise my flight...all to no avail.

As I saw my life line slowly slipping away, I was approached by the Indian manager of the hotel, and he asked if he could help in any way. As with all good Indians, he had “connections” who did not necessarily operate during normal business hours, and it soon became evident that he could, in fact get me a ticket, provided I could come up with the cash. A whip around amongst the teachers who were still talking to me produced R 4000 and a flurry of promissory notes from me...still R 12 000 short, however.

Moments like these somehow produce angels just as all hope is beginning to grow dim.

I was scrambling through my diary, looking for anything/anybody who might be able to help, when the business card belonging to the doctor who had sat next to me at the hotel dinner all those weeks before, fluttered on to the carpet. I picked it up, about to toss it back into my diary, when I realised that this might be the one person who could help me.

I am sure that the last thing Dr Jan du Plessis expected was a phone call from me that Sunday night. Thank God, he was home, and answered the call within a couple of rings. There was no way of sugar coating the question, so I just dived straight in, told him my tale of woe and asked him if there was any way he could get his hands on R 12 000 for me.

Jan is an incredible person, and there was barely a moment’s hesitation before he said that he simply had to see what he had in his safe, and that he was pretty sure he could help me. He asked if he could phone back in a while. The wait must have been something in the region of ten minutes, but it seemed like hours before the phone rang again. Jan, not only had the money, but he had enough for the whole trip, so I could return the R 4000 that I had borrowed already and borrow one lump sum from him. His driver would be arriving at the hotel with the money within the hour!

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