This past weekend we were invited by the Vice President to attend a boat outing and a late lunch at an upscale compound near Half Moon Bay. He’s been reaching out to the Western teachers in an attempt to get to know us better. It sounded like a nice enough time, but as will all things here in the Kingdom, ideas differ from reality.
It was intended to be a relaxing leisurely outing that would give us time to get to know one another, and it was made perfectly clear to everyone that it wasn’t a compulsory event. As such, it was a bit of a poor showing by the western staff members who were invited because for as demanding and needy as they are with the VP, they hardly if ever actually take the time to see him face to face. Granted, he is a bit of a knob head and has a tendency to forget names, but he isn’t that bad of guy to sit around and have casual conversations with. In our many meetings with him the Brit and I have learned quite a bit about his personal life, what he likes, what his pet peeves are, and how to get him to agree with what we think (or want him to think). We were planning on using the opportunity to move some of our personal initiatives along, but in a sudden turn of events the VP sent the Brit to Bangkok and we had to rethink our strategy. It didn’t help that the morning of the soiree half the people who were going backed out, and it wound up being just a core group of teachers and the administrators.
The day started off on the wrong foot when the driver taking a few of the teachers in a van and leading the VP in his car got lost, but I salvaged it the best I could by locating them and showing them the rest of the way. It never really got any better, and I spent the rest of the day keeping the VP happy while everyone else pestered him about petty issues at work. He enjoyed watching some of the women teachers, especially Girl, lay around in their casual beach wear (it was a private boat preregistered with the Coast Guard, so we were left alone), and yes, he is a bit of a skeevy old married man who never gets to look at women. He also enjoyed learning how to fish. His family is Bedouin and he doesn’t know how to swim, let alone anything else that has to do with water. Most of all he liked how much we brownnosed and went out of our way to laugh at his jokes and comment on his stories, something a lot of people in this world are very oblivious to. Thankfully the time went quickly, and after a short dinner we ended the day an hour early so he could relax and pray at the airport before his ‘long flight’ (45mins) back to Riyadh.
The downside was that all the while we sat awkwardly on a boat, the Paki, Frisbee and a bunch of their work friends were having a barbeque at the pool on our Compound. For them, it was a great afternoon despite the dust that rolled in, but we caught the tail end of it and most people were heading home to get ready for the party at the American Consulate. It wasn't all that bad though, and I was particularly excited because we were able to get on the list this time. Best of all, its American soil so they can serve real booze.
I can, and do, go to Bahrain every couple of weekends, and alcohol is served openly there, so being able to drink real booze really isn’t that big of a deal (though it happens to be a nice break from moonshine and homemade wine). What’s really exciting was the opportunity to meet other people living in the same conditions in a social situation that can basically be described as a small town wedding reception. It’s a little less than perfect, but everyone has a purpose in being there and nobody goes out of their way to put on a show or impress anybody. Everybody’s there to relax and have a good time. It lacks the military members that frequent the bars in Bahrain, who aren’t exactly my type of crowd, and, most importantly, there aren’t gangs of prostitutes harassing anyone (really everyone) with light skin.
It’s also a bit of an adventure just to get there. You need to be put on a guest list, provide your passport number and agree to have your record screened, and weave your way through a labyrinth of security. Electronics of any kind are not allowed past the first gate (with the exception of watches with are thoroughly inspected), which is inconvenient but creates a rather pleasant distraction free environment. There are several more gates and metal detectors to pass through, then a bus picks you up and drives you to the other side of the property to the large shed they use as a bar. Everywhere you look, especially just inside the shadows of nearby buildings, there are heavily armed guards. If they catch you looking at them they quickly disappear, and if you casually try to get near them plain clothed guards mingling around the party will intercept you and try to engage you in conversation. I tried this several times, and after I persisted that I ‘thought I say something over there’ the soldier who was trying to distract me offered to buy me a beer. Apparently they think they’re being sneaky with this routine, but it is effective. I just thought it was funny, and got a free drink. The next morning was a bit rough.
Sitting around the pool with Girl and the Paki nursing my hangover, a few other people invited us to join a barbeque at a ‘luxury villa’ at Half Moon Bay. I accepted and Frisbee tagged along. It ended up being a rundown shack with high walls, a dirty beach with lots of stray cats, and a collapsing dock that served as a seating area. The people who showed up were the same crowd of less than pleasant Aramcons from my misadventure in the desert a few weeks ago. The wind picked up once we got there, making it very dusty and uncomfortably cool. Turns out it wasn’t really a barbeque; no one really wanted to cook anything, and the villa owners were only willing to provide us with water and potato chips (at twice the usual price). It was probably the worst way I could imagine wasting a day hungover. We left shortly after we got there.
Overall my weekend wasn’t a total bust. I actually got to enjoy it, unlike when I first arrived, and I’ve been able to continually meet new people (some of whom I actually like). In some ways it’s frustrating to put a lot of effort into going out and doing things only to be disappointed, but in others it’s fun to do new and exciting things that you otherwise normally wouldn’t do. Sometimes reality sucks, but not to worry, just wait a while. Things are bound to change.