Sunday, August 10, 2008

Portrait #45: Saudi?

He wore a white suit and aviator sunglasses. He was short and round and part-bald, and he carried a pack of cigarettes in his pocket. He surrendered the front seat of the taxi to me, the woman, but assumed that I and the other passenger would join him in paying extra so he wouldn't have to squeeze into the backseat. He spoke only English with me and Arabic with the Arabs and somehow through his bilingual status managed to take control of the business of sharing a taxi across the border. I hope I didn't disappoint him too much when I started speaking directly to the driver, in Arabic.

When I asked him where he's from, he told me he is Saudi, but later on in the drive it came out that's he's from here. But he lived in Saudi for a while and he and his family obtained citizenship there. He worked with government and non-profit organisations doing environment projects for many years, but he took early retirement to come home with his family, especially his daughters who are studying at university. In his retirement, he has a "Luxurious Homes" business in which he buys out flats in Amman and Damascus and remodels them to high standards then rents them out to foreign women with means. In our shared taxi he was on his way back home from Amman, where it's his second wife who runs the business.

His niece is studying psychology and I had some interesting ideas about networking and job opportunities for her in the Middle East, but he kept saying that he didn't have any connections and didn't know of any jobs. I kept suggesting connections and jobs and he kept saying that he didn't know any. I began to understand why we had that miscommunication later on in our taxi ride when he started trying to convert me to Islam, explaining how Islam within its first 100 years of existence spread from the Atlantic Ocean in Morocco, to the Pacific Ocean in China! He asked me if I know who Muhammad was, and seemed surprised I'd heard of the founder of Islam. A bit later he began explaining to me that local taxis try to take advantage of people new to town and so I should consider taking a bus home (even though there is no bus route from where we were dropped off to my home). I reminded him that I've lived here on and off for 7 years now, and he respected that but soon forgot again when he began explaining to me how the taxi system works.

He was very friendly, discussing local development work, and then offering me a discount on one of his luxury homes if I was interested. But then he failed to give me his contact information. He very much seemed at home in Damascus but he sported his Saudi passport with pride, nonchalantly handing it to the official while leaning back in his seat and puffing on his cigarette, endowing me with a lecture on the glories of Islam.

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