After a delightful Iftar this Ramadan with family, my wife and I drove by and parked on a semi-deserted strip of the Jeddah Corniche. There aren’t many such strips left here that afford a visitor an unspoilt view of the Red Sea. Mindless construction and unscrupulous architecture of the past have transformed what once was indeed a joy to the senses into a litter of unsightly concrete blocks and twisted steel. Oh well.
With the weather still being pleasant, we decided to venture out of the vehicle for a walk. The cool breeze mixed in with the spray of salty water was indeed pleasant and refreshing. The swell of waves as they came crashing down on the breakers was soothing to the ears. It was tranquillity at its simplest.
Suddenly, from the corner of my eye, I noticed something scurrying between the large rocks acting as breakers against the shoreline. It was there momentarily but then disappeared in a flash between the crevices. I wasn’t sure of what I had seen and was not about to alarm my other half who was content on basking in that pleasant atmosphere. A few steps down and I noticed another flurry of movement. This time around, I was on silent alert, but yet in the dark could not swear whether it was a cat or a rat.
Gently guiding my other half to one of the benches that dot these few remaining strips, we sat down facing the Red Sea. Only this time I was on full alert, and was oblivious to what my partner was talking about, but kept nodding my head from time to time in agreement. My mind and my eyes were on a covert mission. I just had to find out who or what these creatures of the night were.
Aha, there went one, and it was a rat. Big enough to be mistaken for a not fully matured cat, but a rat nonetheless. Beady-eyed and dark, it rapidly made its way over to a piece of pizza thrown on the rocks no doubt by one of our model citizens. By this time, my partner had figured out that I was elsewhere, and following my head movements, saw the rat snatch the piece of pizza between its sharp jaws and scurry away.
Well, women being what they are, she wanted no further part of the Corniche and insisted that we terminate this outing immediately. Terror must have been behind her reasoning. We retreated to the safety and sanctity of our vehicle, whereupon she treated me to a lengthy dissection on the hygienic habits of our model citizens who practically litter the Corniche with fast foods and other tit-bits, while trash cans remain empty a few feet away.
That was a quick end to what could have been a pleasant outing. On the drive back, I realised that that section of the Corniche was not the only place one ran into rats. For you see, rats come in many shapes and forms. These vermin are often disguised and cast about in differing appearances. There are those rodents who pay no respect to the rules of a queue for example, and who barge in right to the head of the line, while you patiently wait your turn.
Then there are those others disguised as civil bureaucrats who take immense pleasure in delaying whatever it is you are trying to come to grips with. In spite of the fact that much of our civil service work has been automated and can be achieved online, there still exists a need for humans. And some take pleasure in your frustrations, as they conveniently brush off your urgent dealings with a flash of their beady eyes. The only time the spirit of urgency hits them is when it is time for them to go home. They have done their foul deed for the day.
Or how about those vermin wandering around in Souks and staring down the womenfolk, or making things uncomfortable in general for all the other patrons. Or the rats lurking behind shop counters who refuse to take a defective product back, or not allow you to exchange it for something else usable.
And let’s not forget those road warrior vermin. They have to make a point of driving you off the road with their errant skills behind the wheel. And if they fail to do that, they would be sure to let you know in some other kindly manner. Perhaps a seismic blast to your eardrums.
Oh yes, look long and hard enough and you will see rats or their droppings everywhere. And what alarms me about all of this is that the cockroaches are not far behind. Now if we can only come up with the antidote.
— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena