It just struck me this morning that I've never talked about Insha'Allah - pronounced and hereafter written, inshallah. I can't believe how I've left this word out of the general picture of life in Riyadh for all this time, as it is used daily in the Arab world and affects our lives in many ways.
Inshallah means "God willing" and is used frequently by Arabs in different ways - sometimes to convey good wishes: "Get well soon inshallah", but sometimes as a get-out: "Your pizza will be there in 10 minutes, inshallah". To a Muslim everything that happens in the world is God's will, so you can understand how the word gets dropped into almost every sentence.
Here are some recent examples of us being on the receiving end of the Inshallah Factor:-
When we came over to Riyadh in January Elliot brought his beloved mobile phone with him, but of course it wouldn't work with his local number because the handset was "locked" to T-Mobile. I mentioned this to Ali - the Embassy's banking representative when I was going through the process of getting cash out to pay for the car, and he said, "No problem brother. Just give it to me and I'll get a friend of mine to unlock it". "Great," I said. "How long will it take?" "Next week inshallah." came the reply. That was eight months ago. I have now given up trying to chase him up for it and the other day went to the mobile phone souk and bought Elliot a secondhand phone the same model as the one Ali has, apparently, lost.
Karen takes the three rubies she bought in Bangkok to the gold souq to have them made into a pair of earrings an a matching pendant. The jeweller shows us some nice designs and we agree on a price. "How long will it take?" I ask. "They will be ready this time next week, inshallah" he says with a yellow-toothed smile. We go back exactly one week later having unsuccessfully tried the jeweller's mobile several times to inform him that we are coming. When we get to the shop we are told they're not ready yet. "Trouble at the workshop. I call you tomorrow evening inshallah". We finally got the new jewellery yesterday (Sunday). Karen's thrilled with it.
We decide to blow up one of Elliot's photos to poster size and hang it in "the west wing" - the servant's quarters of the house that the children use as a games room. I take the memory card to Samir Photo Lab in the Faisaliah Centre, where they say "No problem, of course we can do 70x100cm enlargement.". "When will it be ready?" "Tomorrow evening inshallah". You can guess the rest. I've got a lot of stories like this.
An expat friend coined the phrase "Inshallah driving" the other day to describe the deathwish style in which many Saudis throw themselves and their families around in their cars. Two regular sights on Riyadh's roads are the Saudi Young Gun: lone driver about 16 years old in full thobe and shameel (Arab headdress) driving along with left foot up on the dashboard, mobile phone in one hand, cigarette in the other, and a Starbucks coffee AND the steering wheel between their knees. I kid you not. The other common sight is the 4x4 with a family of twelve inside, with small children clambering unseatbelted about the cavernous interior as Dad swerves in and out and invents a new lane any time he gets bored with those the authorities have marked out.
Maybe this is the seed of a new book: Around The World In Eighty Catchphrases, in which I list every major city and the catchphrase for which it is famous:
1. Bangkok - "Same same, but different"
2. Riyadh - "Insha'Allah"
There, I'm almost halfway down page 1 already! Any more suggestions?
Playing cards with the lads tonight while Karen hosts the monthly Girlies Book Club meeting. Could be my lucky night, inshallah.