Tales of the Middle East, Part I
(or how I corrupted
“Mr. Mark, can we go see ‘The Show?’”
In the mid-90s I was tasked with training the overseas agents of the global shipping firm of which I was employed.
This assignment brought me to the
Participants flew in from across the region, including
The training got off to a bad start because the customs agents had seized the training video that was buried deep inside my checked luggage. Even in the relatively liberal
As per custom, the first night I hosted a dinner for the entire assembled group. After an enjoyable meal, I began to hear rumblings about some after-dinner activities. Finally one of the Saudis approached me and deferentially asked: “Mr. Mark, can we go see ‘The Show?’”
Being the polite American host, and mindful of international relations, I quickly acceded, although not knowing what to. Soon we were at the top of one of the few office towers in
The long causeway joining the Saudi Arabian mainland and
But my bigger concern was the building anticipation amongst my guests of “The Show” and how to maintain some level of professional decorum in what I expected might become a compromising situation. Anxiously awaiting the curtain, the group looked both eager and reticent at the spectacle to come. I didn’t think this would be a routine night out in
Lights dimmed, smoke swirled around the curtain. A soft, slinky jazz music began to play. Spotlights focused, and out stepped the star of the show.
The group’s eyes widened, their jaws dropped, and they sucked in every moment. . . Me? I couldn’t believe what I was seeing:
A stocky, middle-aged Russian woman with a butch haircut and expressionless face, loosely wrapped in a light-colored fabric that only left her hands, upper neck, and a small section of the top of her feet bare, legs firmly planted, slowly waving her arms in a see-saw motion to the music. Sheer ecstasy.
Thirty minutes later the siren was gone and the show was over. My group fumbled for cigarettes and quickly lit up in the afterglow. And luckily no one wrapped their cars around the
You see I learned that night that excess is an unquenchable thirst, but deprivation is just as unsatisfying as well. The world is supposedly getting smaller and smaller and more interconnected, but our collective cultural norms might not ever find significant points of convergence. And that's a reality that weighs on our expectations for peace and harmony.
There’s a lightyear of distance between the poles of Vegas and