‘Bout Got Arrested

An older African-American man sat in one of the cozy, comfy chairs in the Writers’ Nook between aisles of bargain-priced books, his head deep in an AARP magazine. He wore a flannel plaid shirt, a jacket in non-matching plaid, and a black cap with white letters that said US AIR FORCE, RETIRED. Jim Jackson and I were arranging chairs and settling in for our monthly writers’ reading night at Barnes and Noble. Because the man’s cap was a billboard designed to elicit questions and conversations about his military service, I couldn’t help myself.

“So, you are retired from the U. S. Air Force.” [Duh.]

“Yes, ma’am, I spent 20 years in the service.”

“Where were you stationed?” The second it left my lips, I knew I’d backed myself into a corner and was in for a lengthy story. Then I added my own.

“I taught school two blocks from Carswell Air Force Base. Those B52’s took off and thundered right over my building, just above the rooftop. They rattled every window, shook the walls, and stopped me in mid-sentence. They were deafening.”

“I was there in 1972,” he said.

“Me, too!” Just out of college in my first job. “I loved to stand in front of the big window in the teachers’ workroom mimeographing papers and watch those F111’s fly against that big, blue Texas sky.”

“Ah, yes, we used those in Libya. We sent Libya a big message and have never heard from them again.” He laughed. That was in 1986 after Libya kept stirring up skirmishes over gulf waters they incorrectly claimed and then bombed a disco in West Berlin. Ronald Reagan asserted the 12 nautical mile limit to territorial waters recognized by the international community and ordered a strike to send a message about international terrorism.

The man’s next comment was sort of chilling.

“I lived in Saudi Arabia for seventeen and a half years, and I’ve talked to YOU more in the last few minutes than I did to any and all women over there during all that time.”

“Oh my, really? Against the culture there?”

“If you had come to Saudi Arabia to visit a son, for example, and I saw you at the mall and spoke, whistles would’ve blown and the police would’ve surrounded me. ‘Sir, is this your wife?’ they’d have asked. When I said no, they would have hauled me off to jail.”

“Good grief!”

“Yes, and if you appeared to be enjoying the conversation, they’d have taken you, too.”

Lynn Wilson walked up at that point and gave the usual greeting. “How are you?”

“I’m about to be arrested,” I said.

We all laughed and the man re-stated his story. He also said that Saudi Arabia has everything we have here in America — Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Lexus cars, and the likes. But women in Saudi Arabia do not drive. They wear an abaya over their clothing in public — a long black robe covering the collar bone, ankles, and wrists. They also wear a hijab, a headscarf. Saudi women are required to cover their hair. And marriages are still arranged. They’re so advanced in many ways, yet their culture treats the female gender in a way we would consider backwards.

I wondered how one lives in that culture for seventeen and a half years and does not become affected…

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One Comment on “‘Bout Got Arrested”

  1. John Burgess says:

    If you’re interested in Saudi Arabia, its culture and attempts at reform, you might want to visit Crossroads Arabia. I write about the country based on my having lived and worked there (1981-83, 2001-03) and my return visits after leaving the US Foreign Service. I don’t apologize for the Saudis–they can do that for themselves–but do write about things that don’t seem to make it into the major US media reporting.


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