Monday, 4 July 2011

A long way from Amsterdam


Shutters had just gone down in the Riyadh Gallery Mall and our shopping was over for the moment.  Time to find a place to sit, eat and wait out prayer time.

The Imam’s voice, calling the faithful, resonated into every corner. Impossible to shut out, and no point in even trying to have a conversation. I checked my watch: half an hour to go. Inshallah.

To our left a woman stopped to pray. She was facing away from us, but as she bowed and knelt, I caught a glimpse of lips moving silently. She was obviously facing Mecca, but what got me was how she worked this out with such apparent aplomb – one minute vertical with shopping bags, the next horizontal on the floor. 

Only a week ago I’d been in Amsterdam.

In the Van Gogh Museum my husband and I had sat in a café overlooking a green park, watching a group of girls and boys play with a soccer ball. A dog barked and attempted to hijack the ball before being dragged away by its owner. People lying on the grass round about joined in whenever the ball came in their direction. Few rules, but much fun.

My thoughts of Amsterdam vanished as our food arrived. The ciabatta, with rocket, smoked salmon and mozzarella was yummy but the almond toffee cake I had ordered less successful. Trying to cut it was like slicing through the Rock of Gibraltar. I gave up.

Beside us a Saudi couple had decorously covered their food with a napkin and were waiting for prayers to be over before eating.  Others, like us, just got on with eating. Carpe diem.

I sipped my espresso macchiato. The woman over yonder was still praying and waiting patiently beside her stood a young girl, presumably her daughter.  She must have been about 14.

I looked at her in her abaya and then thought of the young Amsterdam soccer players.

Only a five-hour flight away but such a world of difference.

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