I left work today to go order some new eyeglasses. My route took me through a checkpoint staffed by soldiers. For Westerners, these are mostly perfunctory…slow the car down…get waved on through. In 33 months in Saudi Arabia, I have NEVER been stopped at a checkpoint – until today – well, except for my speeding ticket, and that doesn’t count.
As I approached the checkpoint, I noticed the soldier staring at me oddly. I had not done anything wrong, that I knew. But, I could tell by his manner, he was about to stop me. Sure enough, he held his hand out and down, the palm toward me.
I slowed to a halt and lowered the window. He stepped up an smiled slightly.
Soldier: “kayfahal.” How are you?
Me: “kwaize.” Good.
Soldier: “humdallah?” Thank God?
Me: “nam.” Yes. The soldier’s response is the normal response from any Muslim, and he was prompting me. It’s a response I will remember from now on and use in situations like this…or with the muttawa.
Soldier: “some other words in Arabic that I don’t understand…passport.”
Me: “Ah.” I reach over into my bag, and pull out my wallet – from which I extract my alien resident’s card.
Soldier: “Ahhhhh.” He takes the Iqama and reads it, then looks back to me. “jeems?”
This stopped me a bit, where the rudimentary Arabic did not. jeems is the way Arabic speakers pronounce James, which is my first name. I am used to that. But, the Christian bit…it took me a moment to realize whether he was asking if my middle name was Christian, or if I was a Christian. It very quickly dawned on me that he meant the latter.
In that situation, there are only two allowable answers. Yes or Muslim. Since everyone’s religion is written on their Iqama, there was really only one allowable answer (regardless the true answer).
Soldier: Hands the Iqama back to me. “Okay. Good luck.”
And, then he passed me on down the road.
Since then, I am thinking my goatee may have caught his eye. Not that men don’t wear goatees here. But, I’ve allowed mine to become quite long, which is quite odd for Westerners. So, I am thinking he didn’t really know what to make of it.
One more new experience. At least I had the right stinkin’ papers.