Very little resolves to normal for me over here.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Normal sometimes equalizes with boring.  Sometimes, though, Normal embraces in a comfortable way.

Last evening, I had to go to Carrefoure, the French equivalent of Wal-Mart, in order to get some really cheap plastic shelving for holding some of the books I am using to study Arabic and a couple of professional certifications.  I buy things for which I figure I can receive the utilitarian value in relatively short order – things which I can give away or walk away from with little worry about leaving it behind.  I also buy things I figure I can sell quickly and receive some mitigation on the original price.  But, shelving falls into the cheap realm.  I’ll just leave it behind, and the folks who come in to clean the apartment will take it for their own use; or, I’ll give it to a frugal-minded expat who comes in behind me.

In any case, I found myself at the mall last evening.   I decided to eat something up in the food court prior to going to the store.  A weekend night, no dishes, no mess, and something I didn’t cook.  I’d been having hints of a craving for spaghetti, so I decided to give the Sbarro’s in the food court a shot. 

At the malls, there are two sections of seating.  There is open seating, in plain view, and this is where singles, which equates to male with no wife or teenaged daughter with you, is supposed to sit.  Then, there is the family section, which is massive in comparison to the single section – behind opaque barriers intended to shield women from the rude attentions of single males – frosted glass in the case of this mall.

I took my spaghetti, garlic bread, and 7-Up and found a table within the single section.  I chose a table with a good view of the people as they entered the food court.  Not to my surprise, I found the spaghetti sauce pretty blah, more like tomato sauce than a seasoned and simmered pasta sauce.  But, the garlic bread was good, and I ate and sipped my drink and watched the people traipse by, self-absorbed within their own world – just as if I was back home – only the costumes changed.

The mall, in Riyadh, is a social center.  Most of the year, it is too hot to do things outside.  At night, sometimes, folks will go somewhere and sit in the sand and drink coffee and gab, but not all the people and not all the time.  Evenings at the mall provide a time for the whole family to get together and do something.  This is especially true on weekends. 

Almost every mall has some form of family entertainment available.  This mall (Granada Center), for example, hosts a rollercoaster and other fun games for children, just off the food court.  Makes conversation difficult.  But, I am usually alone there; so, that doesn’t matter.  Kids are loud by nature, and parents are loud in return.  Teens are loud because they want to make their presence known; so, again, the noise level doesn’t matter.

Thursday night is like Saturday night in the States, and the place is jammed.  Hundreds pack the food court area.  Mostly Saudi families on the weekend, there is still a fair representation of Western couples and their kids, also.  Plenty of single guys, too; though, being a happily married man, I sometimes bristle at that term being applied to me.  In fact, if I look over there, three Western guys of indeterminate national origin are walking in together, looking for their own dinner.

Behind them, there’s a Saudi family coming, three small children in tow.  The kids are laughing and running amok, playing some form of tag with each other.  A young Saudi guy enters, followed closely by a gaggle of young women, obviously slight in build despite formless abayas, the veils scarcely hiding their playful interaction with each other as they follow closely to their escort – probably a cousin or brother – chosen to ensure their safety and to keep them out of trouble.

I hear wailing behind me.  Young kid, unhappy with some turn of events, I wait for them to circle to within vision before I glance at them.  A British couple (their accents give it away) are herding two young boys (about 4 or 5), and a girl of 7 or 8 bawling quite loudly, trailing behind and stomping her feet in anger and frustration.  Mom finally turns to her and tells her to dry it up.  Doesn’t do much good, and they stop at the McDonald’s kiosk, probably for the sake of the two boys.

On my way out, two beautiful little girls, maybe 3, coming running in from my right – joyful smiles curling their lips, yelling, “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”  A man of South Asian origin (Indian or Pakistani or Sri Lankan) stops and smiles ever so slightly while he waits for the two girls to slam into him, hug his legs, and run off again.

In my car, after acquiring the shelving, these scenes are playing out in my mind.  Even 8,000 miles away from home, I find them pleasant, comforting – normal.


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