Jeffrey Black | Middle East Diaries


Compounded: Riyadh, 13th January 2008
January 13, 2008, 1:33 pm
Filed under: Saudi Arabia

The first thing is the cold. Pilot on the Swissair flight incredulously informs the passengers that it is 4 degrees on the ground, with cloud and possibly rain. When we arrive, it is indeed cold. The bored, kissing, soldiers are wearing their issue olive-green combat jackets, some with a fey little cotton scarf, and are looking perplexed by the weather. A large cascading fountain lodged in the arrivals hall announces ones arrival in a country without any natural bodies of water, either standing or in motion.

Mohammed, round, Somali, driving a Crown Victoria conveys me to the compound, tells me about his little girl on the way. She is 4 days old – Maryam. He will sleep in a separate room from his wife now for 40 days.

The compound, apparently owned by Waleed Ibn Talal, is a bit like a barracks. The first security measure is the location. It is in the middle of nowhere. South of the city. Then come the blast blocks in front of the gates. Then the freezing African gatekeeper. Then more blast blocks. Then a man in a mirrored blast-proof pillbox takes away my passport, to be redeemed upon departure. And then we are into Sylvania, landscaped and manicured and pleasantly wooded. Complete with bowling alley, cafes, cinema, swimming pool and mind-numbing existential boredom. Everything is covered in a thin layer of inevitable dust. Some British lads were in the cafeteria, swearing about their girlfriends, waiting for Godot.

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