“Getting Off the Plane in Saudi Arabia” by Saleh Asad

As I arrived at the airport, I was caught off-guard by the rudeness of fellow Saudi airport staff. The queue was a spiral of Afghani men, who seemed too comfortable in the long line, together with White British and American nationals who were getting slipped through the front of the line for no apparent reason but the obvious one. I thought to myself “This has to be a joke”. 

There is no way, “I” as a South African Indian male, who has been through apartheid, and in the clutches of segregation, come to Saudi Arabia as a Muslim, only to find out that my skin still isn’t the right shade of human. 

I was bowled over. I was irate. I knew that the fire in my belly stirred like an angry dragon, waiting to exhale a ball of fire on also brown-skinned uniformed guards.  I waited and waited. My eyes caught a line of Ethiopian women, with long colorful garments on. Their eyes looked weary and frightened. A Saudi passport controller quickly reached for a spray bottle and filled the eye socket of a droopy Ethiopian girl who was not keeping her head upright enough for the camera. This was the second time in 30 minutes that I witnessed blatant disregard for human -rights. It was no exaggeration, because being in that moment will all those men, with no one daring to say anything meant that everyone knew, that to speak was to cause unwelcome issues. 

When it was finally my turn, I made sure not to engage the Saudi that stared at me like a judgmental food critic about to devour his meat. I handed over my passport and to my already astonished and shell-shocked brain, he blatantly asked me how I am South African if I wasn’t black. I didn’t know at the time, but this would be the most asked question by Saudi people over the course of 7 years. Funnily enough, this question didn’t leave their mouths, when a white man in my company stated he was from South Africa. Maybe it was because they figured that was what White men do. They colonize places they aren’t from but it was more than that. 

The Saudi Arabian mentality was far more abstruse than that. They have been conditioned to believe that the white man was the savior of everything “this-worldly” whilst they, the inheritors of Islam were the saviors of the other life. 

The airport doors shut behind me and the reality of over 40 degrees of hot air penetrated my nostrils, as a rude Indian man directed me to his Hyundai. The car park was filled with desperate men, each vying for passengers. Passengers who didn’t know their lives of subservience would change them forever. 

Much to my disdain, I found myself in a dusty apartment with the leftover stench of a careless couple. Perhaps they left in haste. Perhaps, leaving moldy crumbs on the floor and a mattress that reeked of sweat and dust was their way of getting “Saudi” back for what they might have gone through. 

One thought on ““Getting Off the Plane in Saudi Arabia” by Saleh Asad

  1. Yes, this rings true. Unfortunately. The racism is rampant, as it is in many parts of our world. People who appear different are thought of as inferior. As a fellow human, I am sorry for what you endured.


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