Monday, July 8, 2013

The Legend of Mad Irish Dave

 The first to crack was Mad Irish Dave, running around the compound in his underwear wielding a long golden scimitar.  He slashed the office potted plants and stabbed out the bus tires, and we locked the doors and watched through the windows, pouring gallons of homebrew down the toilet as he screamed bloody murder.  When the Saudi police arrived, he was lying face down in front of the mosque, exhausted from the heat.  
 According to the Old Timers, there were two ways to leave Saudi.  One was legally with an Iqama registered exit visa sponsored by your employer.  The second was to be fired by your employer and deported.  Since we had no Iqama, Mad Irish Dave was going with option two.  He had reasons for leaving.  Everyone knew his reasons.  But in Saudi Arabia, having a good reason made it all the more possible for someone higher up to force you to follow a bad one.
 Mad Irish Dave had already done two years in Jizan teaching English for oil conglomerate ARAMCO and his stories were toe curling.  Passports confiscated upon arrival used as floor wedges to balance Saudi labor board desks.  Students interrupting lessons to lay prayer mats in the aisles to chant ‘Allah Akbar’ during class, or worse, laying assault weapons by the door and shooting them off in the streets before going home.  A lot of English teachers have wild west tales.  Mad Irish Dave was a wild west legend.  
 That’s why he left Saudi in the first place, to seek more stability. But in the Arab world, choosing stability meant selecting the lesser of two evils, and he ended up teaching in Libya instead.  This former car salesman from Cork, went from hustling Hondas and Hyundai’s to out of work Irishmen on the dole, to teaching manners and etiquette to rifle toting Saudi oil workers along the Red Sea, to tutoring pilots in Muammar Gaddafi’s Royal Air-Force the finer points of English conversation and rhetoric.  
 Dave loved life in Libya.  He was stationed in Tripoli and lived in a hotel along the beach.  Every day a maid came to clean his sheets and wash his clothes.  Every morning he awoke with a swim in the Mediterranean.  Ripe fruit.  Sandy beach.  Warm surf.  He lived this way for three years, and then came Arab Spring.  The protests.  The riots.  When Libyan forces began storming embassies, he fled, losing everything.  Looters took his computer and clothes, his cash stashed under the bed, his Nikon, his very bad neckties, and faded Irish futbol jersey.  They even stole the silverware and stationary off his desk.  When he landed by airplane in Gabon, he had nothing but a passport and the clothes on his back.
 And so, remarkably, Dave found himself living in West Africa.  He needed money and went to a language school and they put him to work teaching embassy staff the do’s and don’ts of English grammatical diplomacy in the capital of Libreville.  It was the first time in years he was around women.  Pitch black skin.  Gleaming, stunning eyes.  Christian French speaking women.  Who did not cover their faces or bodies.  Who danced on Saturday night with such delight in their hips and thighs.  Who showed their teeth when laughing and spoke with all the beauty and intelligence and passion as if the burning of the world was exactly what was needed.  It wasn’t long before Mad Irish Dave fell in love.
 Within a year the child, a daughter, was born.  It was Irish Dave’s second.  He’d fathered a son to a policewoman back home who took the boy away to marry another and Dave was determined to be in this little girl’s life.  When things soured with the woman of Gabon, Dave made the impossible choice to return to Jizan on a year contract, to earn money for the child and win back the mother.  That’s how I met him, standing in the office every day telling me of his African love child and his reasons for coming back to the desert.  
 So when the school failed to give us exit visas for the weeklong EID holiday, after promising in the contract that this would be vacation time, and so many of the fathers wanting desperately to fly home to see families, Mad Irish Dave turned "barking loon."  If the school wouldn’t send him home, he would get himself fired and deported.
 But getting fired isn’t as easy as it sounds.  He focused on class, trading in the textbook to tell sordid tales of transsexual prostitutes in Thailand and heroin junkies in Nepal.  But the male students salivated and only wanted more.    So he started making religious jokes, holding up bananas and knives and telling his students he wanted to convert to Islam by slicing off the top of the yellow fruit’s head, but this only whipped the boys into more of a fury.  “Yes, and the Jews.  Slice off their heads too.”
So he started criticizing King Abdulla, stating his policies were foolish and that he looked forward to the old man’s death so new ideas could come into the Kingdom.  But this only got him called into the Admiral’s office to be chewed out.  Things were moving too slowly.  Mad Irish Dave needed to do something, something mad!
When he was taken away in handcuffs from the compound, we thought that was it.  The only question was would they interrogate him?  Try to find secrets about other coworkers?  Were any of us in danger?   The homebrew was a great loss, fearing door to door searches, gallons were flushed down the toilet.  
We were completely shocked to see him ready for work two days later.  Released from the holding cell but not the contract, Mad Irish Dave was dressed and ready to teach, boarding the bus at 6 a.m.  Technically, he had done nothing wrong.
“I’m sorry, me lads,” he sighed, slumping down in his seat.  “Didn’t mean to put the fright of God in ye.”
Scoopes slapped his shoulder, and Flinstone mumbled something incomprehensible to himself, and the bus rolled out into the desert.  But as everyone sat in silence listening to him recount the hours spent in the holding cell, all I could think of was, may the legend of Mad Irish Dave never grow cold.

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