Some emails received from my late Saudi boss's nephew, Thamer Mofarrij, have dredged up a lot of old memories.
Such as the three most useful words in Saudi Arabia: Inshallah, Bukkhra, Malesh, meaning that something will be done if God is willing; with luck by tomorrow; if it is not done, then never mind. They were also the favourites among the expatriate community!
Rudimentary Arabic phrases such as Ahlan wa Salan, hello, welcome; Sabah El Kheir, good morning; Tisbah ala kheir, good night; Ma –salamah, good bye; and Kamsah dargigah, five minutes.
And who could forget the muttawa, the religious police? They had luxuriant beards and could be seen in brown gowns wielding a stick admonishing citizens to heed the call to prayers. There were five prayer calls a day; the first at sunrise (shurooq), then midday (zhuhr), in the afternoon at about 15:00 (Asr), around 18:00 at sunset (maghrib) and evening (eshaa). The shops were closed during prayer times and customers had to wait outside for ten to fifteen minutes before resuming their shopping. I got so used to the prayer calls that I kept listening out for them long after I had left Saudi Arabia.
But what occupied most expatriates' minds was sidiki (friend), an illegal bootleg spirit distilled from grape juice. All the ingredients and equipment for brewing wine, except brewing yeast, were available in the local supermarkets. The recipe was quite straightforward: into a 25-litre jerry can was poured twelve litres (bottles) of red or white grape juice. To this were added one to two kilograms of sugar and a spoonful of brewer’s yeast. The mixture was then topped up with water to twenty litres.
A hydrometer was used to measure the specific gravity of the brew to determine when it was ready for drinking. In the absence of a hydrometer, a rather ingenious method was to cover the top of the jerry can with a condom that had a small pin hole at its tip. When fermentation was taking place, the condom would fill with carbon dioxide that would leak out very slowly. Thus the condom would be erect. As soon as fermentation stopped, the condom would wilt like a spent penis. One then waited a couple of weeks before sampling the wine.
All this is now a very long time ago! Just look at Peter O'Toole of "Lawrence of Arabia" fame, then and now. Still, they are the memories which are now the sum total of my life. I drink to that!