We also met a group of Neapolitans who were working in construction as sub contractors and we had dinner with them at least once a week. The Italians badly missed their wine with dinner so I decided to start making wine. How do you make wine without grapes in an apartment? It is poetic license to call what I made ‘wine’, but it was close enough and in great demand. It was made with supermarket products. A large quantity of Swiss pasteurized grape juice, sugar and yeast. We bought a large plastic garbage can, lined it with a plastic bag, put in all the ingredients and let the mess start to ferment. In the Saudi heat the fermentation was instant, the smell was disgusting, but in less than twenty days there was a liquid resembling wine. I naively never thought for a moment that what I was doing was illegal, I was just providing my new friends with something to help wash down the pasta. But now, forty years later, watching the TV show “Locked up Abroad” I see that people were sent to Saudi prison for doing just that, making wine. Of course they turned it into a business for profit whereas I just brought a few bottles with me each time we went to dinner with the friends. Do you think the muttawa, the religious police, would make this distinction?
From my own personal experience the muttawa are mean nasty angry men who are a poor excuse for a human being. They take great pleasure out of making other people miserable walking around with a flexible bamboo cane which they use to whack you on the back or across the legs, holding down and humiliating young boys in public by chopping off their hair if they think it is too long, or what happened to one of the young men who was working for Marcello, a nice young man from Italy who went to a Saudi jail for 2 weeks because a muttawa saw him talking to a Saudi girl in public. (*)
There are two main prohibitions for the Moslems. Pork is forbidden and in all my experience I have never seen a Moslem even consider to violate this law. Alcohol is forbidden, but it is the rare Saudi, of the upper classes, who doesn’t drink. Many unfortunately drink to excess and become alcoholics and this is what happened to our good friend and benefactor, Mansour. He took a second wife, an Egyptian girl living in Cairo. Muslim law which allows up to four wives says that all must be treated equally but Mansour was badly neglecting his Saudi wife, drinking to excess, and staying away for long periods of time when he went to Egypt. His business was suffering, and since our future was tied to his, we started to get very nervous. We decided that as soon as we had enough money to pay off the remaining creditors we would ask to leave the country. Any extra money which belonged to Tresco would be forfeited, or there would be no end in sight.
This saga would have gone a bit easier for me if I had been able to do what all the other expatriates were doing, which was to use whatever free time was available to travel around the Middle East. The reality that I was virtually a prisoner in Riyadh hit me full force when Mohammed Hoshan casually asked me what we had planed for the weekend and I told him we had decided to spend it sleeping out in the desert. I had heard it was a fantastic experience. He knew that my one month Visitor Visa had expired a very long time ago and told me that I absolutely couldn’t risk leaving the City. As long as I stayed within the walls, nobody would ask a Western woman for documents, but as soon as I took a road out, very often the Police threw up arbitrary roadblocks and automatically checked everybody. So much for our romantic weekend in a tent. In retrospect I probably would have hated it. I am very attached to a comfortable bed and like to sleep in total darkness. Just the idea of getting into a sleeping bag or traveling in a camper makes me cringe, so maybe he did me a favor.
Time was passing, it was already the end of 1979 and we wanted out. Marcello’s rapport with Mansour was good, maybe too good, Mansour liked to have him around. They would sit around talking and joking in Italian for hours and when Marcello started telling him that in a short time all the legal problems would be solved and it would be time to move on, Mansour would become very evasive.
One night we were in bed and the phone rang after midnight. Marcello answered and it was one of his clients, a Colonel Hamud, who worked for MODA (Mininistry of Defence & Aviation). I had met him several times when we were negotiating the transfer of Tresco’s contract to Mansour. By coincidence his brother was the head of the Sharia Court, who by now I had seen many times when I went there with Marcello for various hearings while he was still a prisoner. The Colonel spoke English but the Judge only Arabic. They wanted to speak to me alone and they were sending their car for me in half an hour.
What the hell do two important Arab men want to speak to me about at one in the morning. Obviously I had to go. A woman in my position does not say no to men in their position when you are in their country. They were in Hamud’s house, pillows on the floor around a low table set with small classic Arab teacups. The tea (chai) is hot and extremely sweet. It is the best remedy during the day to combat the heat, since the worst thing you can do is to drink something cold when your body is so hot. Tradition has it that the servant continues to fill your cup until you shake it, but because tradition also has it that the real purpose of the meeting must be delayed until all social amenities and gossip are finished, often an hour can pass before the real conversation starts and by then you hope never to see another cup of tea. Saudi does not recognize conflict of interest and the brothers Hamud had been negotiating for over a year with an Italian construction company to form a joint venture. They were unable to conclude and wanted me to go to Italy as their official representative and either close the deal or find out specifically why it couldn’t be closed. They trusted me completely and I don’t think you can begin to imagine what a compliment this is for a woman, coming from two traditional and religious Moslim men.
Actually, when Marcello and I had been reunited, several Arab men had asked me why I had stayed in the face of all the adversity. My answer was that I couldn’t have done less. Each one told me that they had the utmost respect for me and that if I ever wanted anything, they would be pleased to help. My response was that if they really wanted to do something to help me than they should find me work, which was illegal since women are permitted to work only as nurses or teachers. Perhaps this is what prompted the trust of these two important men. In order to buy time I said I had to speak to Marcelllo, but the reality was that because I was out of Law, my Visitor Visa having expired, I knew that I could never leave the Kingdom and hope to get back in again.
I knew I had to tell them the truth so I made an appointment the next night, same time, same place. I told them I was speaking to them in their capacity as my friends, and not as the Chief Justice of the Sharia Court or as a Colonel in MODA, and I proceeded to hand over my Passport. They saw the expired Visa and went white, asking how could I have overstayed and my replying that how could I not under the circumstances. They settled down a bit after the initial shock and we talked for a long time. They gave me advice on what I should do when I was ready to apply for my exit Visa but I’ll tell you about this when I’m ready to leave Saudi.
(*)The Mutaween in Saudi Arabia are tasked with enforcing Sharia as defined by the government, specifically by the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV). The Mutaween of the CPVPV consists of "more than 3,500 officers in addition to thousands of volunteers…often accompanied by a police escort." They have the power to arrest unrelated males and females caught socializing, anyone engaged in homosexual behavior or prostitution; to enforce Islamic dress-codes, and store closures during the prayer time. They enforce Muslim dietary laws, prohibit the consumption or sale of alcoholic beverages and pork, and seize banned consumer products and media regarded as anti-Islamic (such as CDs/DVDs of various Western musical groups, television shows and film which has material contrary to Sharia law or Islam itself). Additionally, they actively prevent the practice or proselytizing of other religions within Saudi Arabia, where they are banned.
Among the things the Mutaween have been criticized or ridiculed for include, use of flogging to punish violators, banning Valentines Day gifts, arresting priests for saying Mass, and being staffed by "ex-convicts whose only job qualification was that they had memorized the Qur'an in order to reduce their sentences."
Perhaps the most serious and widely criticized incident attributed to them occurred on March 11, 2002, when they prevented schoolgirls from escaping a burning school in Mecca, because the girls were not wearing headscarves and abayas (black robes), and not accompanied by a male guardian. Fifteen girls died and 50 were injured as a result. Widespread public criticism followed, both internationally and within Saudi Arabia.
to be continued……..