A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to …

the phone store. I was with three other teachers that day, and all four of us needed something: a SIM card, internet access, something for our school-issued Nokia phones or sketchy internet access.

Earlier that day, three of us had tried to purchase SIM cards from the MOBILY phone store, but were turned away due to our low levels of testosterone. So, we decided to try the STC phone store near our compound. We waited outside of the compound for the school driver, and one of our favorite drivers, R., cheerfully picked us up and transported us to our destination. En route, R. warned us that it was almost prayer time.

Prayer time in Riyadh means a few things. This particular pause in time happens five times a day. I don’t count the first prayer time, because that time happens before dawn, usually between 4:30-5:00 a.m. I know this for sure. The call to prayer has jolted me awake more than once, particularly since I live one block from the neighborhood mosque.

When the call comes, everything, and I mean everything, shuts down. And everything stays shut down for 20-30 minutes. Many Muslims go to the mosque or a designated prayer room with a prayer rug to do their religious duty.

We arrived at the STC store just before prayer time, but they had already closed. Fortunately for us, the coffee shop next door had not. The four of us filed into the empty and very comfortable looking shop, and strolled up to the counter to order drinks. I ordered a strawberry smoothie, which looked very yummy. But, it tasted like strawberries – dipped twice – in sugar. So, I sipped it very, very slowly. Everyone else seemed to be enjoying their coffee drinks. The counter-person (a guy) then decided that he needed to pray, so he turned down the lights, left the shop, and locked us in. We sat in the semi-darkness and talked mostly about nothing. I complained about the sugary drink and, before we knew it, prayer time was over and shopkeeper was back.

His return gave me an opportunity to ask for some more ice in my drink. The drink desperately needed to be diluted. He agreed by nodding his head and then saying, “Okay, more ice, then go.” Excuse me? “More ice, then go, go.” I stood there like a deer in headlights, not sure that I had heard the word “go.” One of my companions whispered to me: “This is a men-only coffee shop.” Oh, okay. I finally got it. So with my newly iced drink, my companions and I gathered up our abayas and very quietly crept out of the shop.

At least he didn’t say “get out.” But I don’t think he knew the words “get out.” Lucky for us.

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The Strip Mall with THAT Coffee Shop

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