“You have children ma’am? “
My driver asked me on our way home.
I laughed and said no. “Lazem children. Lazem family.” His eyes on the road had a seriousness in them. “No children, mushkilah.”
This is Mohammed, my driver for the past 18 months. We usually don’t talk in the car except hellos and small talks about the weather, just the way I like it. But today, after a trip to India and having had a glimpse of what life is like for these third nation workers, I wanted to learn more about this man who gets me to work on-time everyday.
“You have children Mohammed?”
“Yes yes six! Two boys and four girls.”
“You are lucky!”
The seriousness melted into a smile. Then gradually I get the family potrait: one son in Pakistan, one son studying in Manchester, who is 23 and getting married when he finishes his studies in two years. I remember similar stories. A son or a brother, the one overseas bearing all the hopes (and investment) of a family. Now I found the reason Mohammed is still driving in Riyadh after 20 something years.
“He picked his girl. So I said okay. Whatever.” I nodded but smiled silently as he shrugged with the same look my parents have when they feel helpless about my choices.
Then I asked the forbidden question, “when will you leave Saudi?” There was a long pause, then he said something I wasn’t expecting.
“Remember the driver who replace me? White Corolla?”
“Yes. Very nice guy.”
(Mohammed had to go home for six months last year to care for his sick wife. He had a young driver take me in his place. He wanted to make absolutely sure that I was okay with the new guy before he went home.)
“That’s my son. I go home take care of things. He comes here. Later we switch…”
Now the stories have come together. The young driver who replaced Mohammed didn’t speak English very well but loved to chat. One day he showed me a picture of his brother in the UK. “He’s more smarter than me. He will become accountant.” He had a broad smile showing all his teeth, his face brimming with pride.
And underneath their simple words, I see the hopes and dreams of a family. And I know there’s many more stories like theirs. Some closer to home than others. And to me, these are the true stories of Riyadh.
“You have two very good sons.” I decided to say. And he smiles, still keeping his eyes on the road.
Then we returned to the comfort of our accustomed silence for the rest of the ride.