Thursday, November 25, 2004

Little surprises

Tonight I was chatting with some colleagues over curry after work, as usual on Thursday evenings, and one of them pulled out something he'd brought to show his students today. It was his driver's licence from twenty years ago, when he was living and working in Saudi Arabia.

After we'd finished laughing at his hair I asked him if the driving test was hard.

"Oh, no," he said. "You just had to give a pint of blood."

"And...?" I asked.

"And nothing," he said. "That was it. Give a pint of blood and you got a licence."

We thought about it. It made sense, in a mad sort of way. Get your licence, have an accident, and be refilled with your own blood.

I asked what it was like, living there.

"Oh, it was great!" he said, enthusiastically. "Wonderful entertainment, you know. You get invited out to public beheadings every Friday night."

After we realised he wasn't making this up, he told us, more soberly, that he'd never attended one, but his Saudi friends used to sometimes push him to go, because if a foreigner went he'd be pushed to the front, and they could tail along and get a better view. He said one of his colleagues went and had nightmares for six months afterwards.

He also said that you could fill your car for about ten cents, but unfortunately water was more like ten dollars a gallon. And whisky was about one hundred dollars a bottle. One day, he said, when a certain embassy was having a piano delivered, the crate bounced a bit too much on the docks as it was being unloaded and started to leak whisky, almost causing a Diplomatic Incident.

After working there for three years he'd saved enough to go back to England and buy a house, but he said he wouldn't do it again. The principal of the school where he worked is still there, though.

Funny how every Thursday evening I learn a little more about my colleagues. We work together every week but barely have time to talk. An hour or two over curry, though, and little surprises keep popping up. I've worked with this guy for seven or eight years and never knew he'd lived in Saudi Arabia.