Jeddah skyline Saudi Arabia
Illustrative file image: Residential and commercial properties sit on the city skyline beside a highway in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Image Credit: Bloomberg

One of the annoying aspects of living in a city is that there is always some form of construction or road work going on. You wake up one morning and find a beehive of activity on that vacant lot next to your home. Dumpsters delivering bars of iron or loads of sand and cement could be heard roaring through the quiet neighbourhood shattering the soothing calm of early morning and delivering their goods amid the din of this activity.

Soon, as you make your way out of your door, you notice the spillage of construction material thrown haphazardly from the sidewalk onto the street in front of your house. Often enough, simply navigating through the narrow road clearing between this obstruction becomes a dexterous affair.

And by the time your return home, this narrow artery of the street is choked even more, as additional supplies are dumped off during the day. By now, the site workers have managed to partition a fair section of the street for their work area, paying no regard or heed to motorists who have to traverse the neighbourhood. Added to it the clanging of metal rods and beams, and the constant pounding of wood frames, and you certainly have cause to be alarmed.

When Ramadan came along this year, I was an unfortunate victim of such an aggression. It was not the physical annoyance and obstruction that got to me but the mental jangling of nerves that finally was the proverbial last straw. Just a few weeks before Ramadan, the site was taken over by a team of workers and the street rapidly strewn with building material.

When Ramadan came, the work was split into two teams working two different shifts. One shift of workers started at six in the morning for eight hours and the other at eight in the evening for the same number of hours. That left very little time in the day where there was no construction work being done. Add to it the strain of working from home and distorted sleeping patterns during this holy month, and you soon get an idea of where my nerves were headed.

It was bearable for the first couple of days, but then started to grate the nerves. Each bit of pounding or clanging from across the road seemed to send a defiant message to frayed nerve endings deprived of blissful and uninterrupted sleep. It was by the third day that I had had enough. I was trying to grab some much-needed sleep in between the night and morning shift, when once again my slumber was disturbed by thunderous pounding and banging of iron against steel.

I woke up with a start and a steely resolve to do something about it. Marching across the street I demanded to see the foreman on site. One of the workers replied that the foreman usually showed up after midday prayers. “Then would you please stop this pounding for now until I have had a chance to speak to him,” I requested.

The worker looked me over in my pyjamas and dishevelled state, and replied that he could not comply with my request as he had a commitment to deadlines. It was then that I went more than slightly berserk. Marching over to each and every worker on the site I loudly demanded to see their work permits (Iqama cards), and once produced, I held them tightly in my fist. There were a few other workers, apparently without Iqamas who managed to slither away very quickly and silently.

I then instructed all those workers that my next act was going to level a formal complaint against each and every one of them with the concerned authorities for disturbance of the peace. I was not aware of such existing city ordinances but I had had it. “And another thing,” I told the worker who I had first spoken to. “When your foreman shows up, tell him I want this street cleared of all wayward debris!”

Well, sure enough late that evening after iftar, the foreman and the site owner showed up. The site owner apologised for any unwarranted disturbance and hoped we could solve things amicably. He was a doctor and hoped to finish his house within a few weeks and move in. “You a doc?” I asked rather testily. And in what field I wanted to know, assuming him to be some tedious college professor.

A neurosurgeon, he replied. “Well then, you must be aware of the effect of sleep deprivation on the human brain, don’t you?” I demanded. ‘Yes,’ he soothingly assured me, adding that he would direct the foreman to set up a schedule so as not to bother the neighbourhood during their sleeping hours. After all, he himself was going to be a neighbour soon and did not want to make his entrance to our community one of an unwanted being.

With his personal assurances on hand, and a handshake I went to get some much-needed sleep. Such civic disturbance is not alien to Jeddah or Saudi Arabia. I have witnessed it in other cities of the Gulf as well. There ought to be some stringent laws to protect the interests of residents against noise violations everywhere!

— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena