After living for six months in Mohammad’s apartment – a 1980s unit in central Riyadh with tall ceilings, dark windows, roaches and fluorescent lights – I could no longer dodge his repeated invitations to visit his farm. And so, on a recent Thursday afternoon, my wife Kelly and I loaded up our rented Toyota and headed north.
As we drove further into the desert, I looked hungrily for Exit Four, the only usable clue I had divined from my Saudi landlord’s excited over-the-phone directions. Aware that I had no idea how far north we needed to go, I fought off a mounting feeling of dread by telling Kelly what I knew of our host.
I’d come to know Mohammad gradually, first as we negotiated the rental price, then on an appliance-purchasing trip, then over Pepsi one night at his family’s istriha. He was born, he told me, in 1963, one of 12 sons of an upper-class family. He’d attended junior high in Los Angeles while his father was studying in America. After graduating from a Saudi high school, he began working for Sabic, the sprawling Saudi petroleum and plastics company. He started in the warehouse, rose steadily through the ranks, and eventually was sent by the company to study at Boston University. Upon his return, he did well enough that he could retire in his 40s and move his wife and children from their dark apartment (where I now live) into a Riyadh mini-mansion. Last year, tired of the conservative capital, he bought a farm in the desert.
After an hour of driving, I found Exit Four and looped up and over a bridge that spanned the expressway. One of those Toyota pickups with red racing stripes was speeding toward us, kicking up great clouds of sand. My phone rang, and I picked it up.
“Is it you?” Mohammad purred. Read the rest of this entry »