Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Twas the Night Before EID When All Hell Broke Loose

 The last straw came the week before EID, the annual Muslim feast that celebrates the completion of the HAJ pilgrimage to Mecca.   The school issued a statement that Iqamas would be processed and travel visas would follow.  We were going to be allowed a week off to visit the ones we loved most.
 It was complete elation.  Everyone was rejoicing and making immediate plans.  Scoopes to Tokyo to see his Japanese girl.  Flintstone to Ann Arbor to visit an ailing father.   Wee Scott to meet his wife and children in Istanbul.  Bangkok Phil to… well, the brothels of Chiang Mai.  
 There was nothing I wanted more than to fly back to Taiwan and see my girls, but I couldn’t bring myself to make travel plans.  Instead I waited.  Despite the overwhelming urge to follow, I had to be careful.
 Other teachers thought I was nuts.  They made extravagant plans.  Left extensive itineraries on their computer screens in the office.   Boasted about it on the bus.  This website had the best deals and that airline the best service.  It was complete vacation mentality.  Then suddenly the bubble burst.  Three days before the holiday, the school announced the Iqamas would not come.  All travel plans were a bust.
“But you said…,” Scoopes was flabbergasted.
“I spent four thousand dollars on tickets,” Wee Scott cried.
Flintstone had enough, demanding Martin appear out of his office.  Banging on his door threatening, “I’m going to strangle that little maggot.”
 The bus ride home was somber, but the very next day word came that Iqamas were in and that we would be allowed to leave.  You should have seen these guys laughing and sighing and carrying on as if they knew it was a lark all along. 
I just sat back in my chair and said nothing.  Waiting.  Then that evening in the staff meeting I stood up.   I said to Martin that there is nothing he or this company has done that is trustworthy.  That he had no credibility with us as professionals and people any more.  That I wanted an assurance right now, that if the EID visas DO NOT in fact come, that the company will pay us an entire month’s salary for the week we are missing with our families.  That we needed to be compensated for this loss. 
There was silence.  Then Martin said, “Let’s see what happens.”
I told him, “I know what is going to happen.  You’ve lied to us before.  You’re lying now.”
 Sure enough, on the night before the EID holiday started, when everyone was waiting for those beautiful visa pages to be stamped in their passports, the school called a meeting. 
 Speculation was rampant.    What was the news?  Was it a holiday bonus?  Surely the company felt so poorly for treating its employees with such disregard there would be some kind of payoff.  An extra week for time well served?
Mad Irish Dave was the most vocal, strutting around the office in his little Irish necktie, telling everyone how he was going to visit his 6 month old daughter in Gabon.  How he hadn’t seen her in four months and the mother was livid.  In fact, the very tale of how this Irish car salesman from Cork had come to the Middle East in the first place and ended up with a 6 month old daughter in Gabon was wild enough, but now his absence in their life was becoming ridiculous.
Mad Irish Dave used to scold me, “Brian, you’re being too negative.  What these lads need is a little ray of hope.”
I would nod my head and say he was right, but that I wasn’t a fool.
 The meeting came at 5:30 on the last day of the week.  Martin kept it brief.  Iqamas would not be issued.  
 The suffocation was deafening.  A complete cry of disbelief uttered.  Guys were out thousands of dollars.  But all I could do was watch Dave slump down in his chair and stare at the floor.  I liked him.  He was a good teacher, even though our conversations were heated, he didn’t deserve what happened to him.  
What else could I say?  I’d taken so much heat from the other teachers, telling me to calm down, telling me that I was wrong for being so vocal at meetings, spouting off to me about how if the Iqamas didn’t come they were going to give Martin and the rest of them a piece of their mind.  Now it was here and what?  We were officially on vacation in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia without any way of leaving.  Truly, it was the beginning of the end.

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