The High Ground Of Jubail
Ahmed was a wonderful student of English.
He was a Saudi, but I doubt there is a teacher
of English whose love of teaching wouldn’t
have been kicked into a higher energy orbit
just by sitting next to him. I saw him at
his home on the navy base in Jubail. Jubail
meansa small mountain, but it all looked like
flat desert to me. Still, Jubail was an
ancient landmark, I think mentioned
in the Koran, that sailors use to navigate
by in the Arabian sea.
I was supposed to teach him and his older
brother, but the older brother got radicalized
by the modern Arab world and soon left.
One afternoon a Filipino house boy came in
and handed me something that looked like
a mini TV and a small instruction pamphlet
in English. “My father,” [a Commodore] “wants
you to teach me.” Ahmed said.
It was the first GPS I ever saw. I began reading
and I kept saying. “Wow.”
“What? What?” Ahmed kept saying.
Finally, I said. “We’ve got to go outside.
We have to acquire three satellites.” I said.
Outside we peered at the small screen until one
dot appeared and then another. We pointed
at the blue sky: There! There! We screamed
while the Filipino understanding nothing stayed
ten paces back to insure the American teacher
did not harm his charge.
We ran up the empty beach and back: A Khawaja
in shirt and tie followed a small boy in a white thobe.
We did big crazy eights and double backs
while the Filipino house boy – a man in himself
in this forties – became more confused. And every
time we stopped we peered at the small screen
and there was a thermometer’s red line showing
where we had been.
Ahmed must be in his thirties by now. I wonder
what he’s doing? For me this single afternoon
on an empty beach in the Eastern Province of
Saudi Arabia was the high point of fifteen years
I spent in the country. Swear to God.
Khawaja is the Arabic name for foreigner. Thobe is the long white dress worn by Saudi men.