|At Hilton Resort Hotel, Mangaf. How very festive|
It's Christmas Day and I am back, fleetingly, in Sandy Town, complete with, let's say, seasonal showers. No, I confess that the truth is not in me. It's pouring with rain and marble flooring turns public places into an adventure in staying upright. I'd be safer on ice skates.
It's instructive to have a quiet listen at a few cultural doors while I'm here. Are there changes? One always expects that places will somehow shift on their axes after one has walked away from them, but in many ways, as the surfers say on Bondi Beach - same shit, different day. Traffic is manic, as always, and people console themselves by spending money, as they have done since the black gold arrived. At least I have six litres of pure US V8 under my hood when out and about, which snarls menacingly should people get too close. Or, is that my imagination too? And yet - perhaps there's been a subtle change in the light, almost unnoticeable if you live here, but as the afternoon luminance gives way to the evening, there's a subtle breath or two of change. Mixing metaphors, one senses rumblings the size of a man's hand closer to the surface than it used to be. Perhaps it's my imagination but there do seem to be rather more determinedly longer beards about, a few more ladies with heavier veils in public, perhaps. People are concerned about juveniles with weaponry in schools and public places - not surprisingly since a Lebanese dentist lost his life by being stabbed repeatedly and in broad daylight in The Avenues a few days ago. The argument started over a parking space, it would seem. Crime is up by ten percent - attributed to 'wasta'. Young men were caught firing airguns at expatriate passers-by. More people it seems are getting caught with alcohol - how despicable. Some expats are weary, their souls abraded by the relentless desert sand.
I read this today.
The Lighthouse Church in the city has a number of satellite congregations, one of which has been meeting in a villa for the last seven years. Its lease has suddenly been terminated without notice. Some are whispering amongst themselves, speculating that the hardliners in Islamic politics, clamorous and vocal as they are here, are beginning to actively target non-Muslim groups. An announcement was made the other day that a few hardliners were attempting to legislate against Christmas celebrations, much to the apparent dismay of a vocal liberal wing who had the decency to cry 'foul' loudly in the press, which by and large shared their distaste for what amounts to religious apartheid. At least the Arab Times led with a jolly headline this morning - 'Merry Christmas to all' - plus a front page image of the remarkably well-attended solemn Pontifical Mass on Christmas Eve. Despite my personal antipathy towards Romish heresies, I found myself quietly murmuring a muted huzza. I did wonder what the indigents might think about the befrocked flummery and whether they had speculated about how they might be able to get their hands on one of those rather jolly gold dishdashas. Sorry, everyone - quite unnecessary, that. Joy to the world then. Mostly.