Saturday, August 3, 2013

21 Jizan Street

 It started with random compliance checks.  Hassan’s face appearing in the little door window with his clipboard making notes.  Were teachers standing at the white board instead of sitting?  Were students on the correct book page matching the syllabus?  Were uniforms properly tucked into pants and workbooks neatly laced? 

But it quickly morphed into something else?  The Admiral warned us this would happen:  Saudis spying on foreign teachers in the classroom.
 They would never outwardly identify themselves but there were signs, these secret policemen posing as students.  They would be older, eyes heavier, shoulders droopier, as if weighted down with the burden of catching another man breaking sharia law.  They were loners, uninterested in skipping class or smoking in the hallways, arms crossed and withdrawn, refusing to participate in silly English games or spoken exercises, their body language would give them away.  
 Every class had one.  The Admiral admitting that the school worked directly with Saudi Royal Forces and that these trained soldiers were positioned as students to keep us safe.  This land had been Yemen two decades ago and rebel forces, including Al-Qaeda, were rumored to be in the area.  
 We were instructed not to make direct contact with these men.  If discovered, to let them operate unnoticed.  Basically, to continue teaching as if nothing unusual was happening. But I couldn’t help wondering who it was.
 In down moments, my eyes would scan the class faces eliminating men one by one.  This one too goofy.  This one too immature.  This one a liar.  This one here for the right reasons.  This one still in diapers.  Twenty-five students in my classroom and one by one I checked them all off my list.  Watching.  Listening.  
 Saaed improved too much, it can’t be him.  Raaed is too eager, fighting others to be heard.  Abdu Aziz is too lazy, head downward on the desk asleep.  Awed is not trustworthy, always sneaking off to smoke in the lavatory and pull the circuit breakers to disrupt class.  Then again…
It might be Baasam, asking me about marriage and telling me he needs to make the sex.  Or it might be Mohammed Abdul, always wanting to know where I live, the name of our compound, and where I go on weekends.  Possibly it was Ibrihim, who sat every day in the back row with arms crossed staring at me.  His eyes moving back and forth slowly like the ticking of a long hallway clock.  But one by one I eliminated them all.  Until finally, there was Ahmed.   The moment I realized Ahmed was the class spy, I almost burst out laughing.  

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