Writing For Change

MB opines that being Cuban is about as close as it gets to being Irish!

The internet gets a rough ride, generally speaking. Even the cartoons on the internet parody the internet FGS! MB is as guilty as anyone. This week MB shared the following post:


OK. MB saw it, thought it was funny, and shared it. But it’s still poking fun at something that, generally speaking, MB enjoys immensely; namely social media, and the internet more generally.

What about YouTube? MB clicks on most nights and listens to some music or watches some photography bloggers or whatever. Enjoyable. Harmless. Positive even.

Many moons back, MB happened across a series of YouTube vids under the banner of ‘Playing for Change’. Before MB enlightens you further about PFC, MB wishes to digress and tell a short story from MB’s working days in Riyadh, capital city of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).

MB is busy typing on his MacBook one early evening in the lobby coffee shop of the small hotel that MB called home for his 2-year Riyadh sojourn. To lift the spirits, MB was playing some lively YouTube Irish jigs and reels vids at low volume, which he thought only he could hear, such was the lowly decibel output from MBs laptop speakers.

MB then noticed that the entire fleet of Indian cleaning staff suddenly appeared in very close proximity to MB. It seemed to MB that they were each sweeping the same small section of tiled floor over and over and over again. Which is exactly what they were doing MB soon realised for sure Then MB realised they all just wanted to listen to MB’s lively Irish folk music. And sweeping the floor over and over and over again was the perfect cover for their illicit behaviour. Such was their state of musical starvation.

MB used the word ‘illicit’ in the last paragraph. The reason for the ‘illicit’ word is because, at that time, music of almost any sort, was illegal in KSA, and likely to land one in the soup (or jail) if one offended wrong ears. Music was/still is considered haram (forbidden) by the more conservative Saudi Islamic Scholars because in their opinion, listening to music might lead to sinful behaviour, to put it simply. Those were also the days, only 5 or 6 years back, when the Religious Police (still operating in KSA but now with no power of arrest), enforced the closures of all businesses during the 5-times-per-day prayer time, including petrol stations, cafes and even hotel coffee shops!


As MB typed and typed and typed on his keyboard; as MB’s Irish jigs and reels played and played and played; as the four Indian clearer lads cleaned and cleaned and cleaned – into that Riyadh hotel lobby walked a tall youngish Saudi gentleman in his traditional white dish-dash, worn a little short above his sandals, red & white checked headgear which is the Saudi preference, and long unkempt beard. The short-worn dish-dash and unkempt beard immediately flagged him to MB as a conservative KSA Muslim gentleman. And as it later transpired, he also had the hearing ability of whatever has awesome hearing ability. Like a whale hearing another whale many hundreds of miles away in the deep ocean. Or a vulture hearing the cry of a dying buffalo on some African plane from a huge distance.

The wife of the Saudi gentleman, was dressed as every other Saudi lady in public places, with long black Abiya (burka), black hijab (headscarf) and black niqab (face veil with eye slits).


KSA husband and wife approached Hakim, the Egyptian male receptionist.

Hakim – what a lad! One of those guys in life who isn’t fully comfortable in his own skin and wants to ‘fit in’ to the absolute max everywhere he goes. So in KSA, ‘fitting in’, for Hakim, meant showing all the Saudi brothers that he was even more Islamic than all the brothers. He would lead prayers most evenings in the hotel lobby, and he would always ask MB to join in the process of facing Mecca and praying along with Hakim and all the brothers. MB always politely declined, thanking Hakim for the invitation nevertheless.

Non-Saudi guys like Hakim, even Arab Muslim Hakims, also live under an unspoken psychological pressure in KSA. Which is often more than just psychological. Should they offend any KSA native, the native can easily make a complaint to the Religious or to the real Police force; and before you know it, visa and job of the Hakim are canceled, and the Hakim is on a one-way flight back home, never to return.


Back to the Saudi Gentleman (SG) with the amazing ears.

After barking his Salam Alaykum to Hakim, SG proceeded to utter some strong words to said Hakim, out of earshot of MB; MB of the average ears.

Hakim then looked in the directing of the typing MB.

“Mr Mike, Mr Mike, the music, the music” shouted excited and agitated Hakim.

MB raised his head, took in the scene in an instant and ceased his typing of yet another awesome blog post. The situation read to MB as follows:

SG had heard MB’s awesome Irish jigs and reels. But neither SG nor Mrs. SG were too inclined to do a Riverdance on the lobby floor-tiles. SG’s face and eyes were a tad contorted in obvious anger at walking into a Saudi hotel lobby to discover sinful Irish folk music playing within his earshot, or playing at all.

MB could not really tell what Mrs. SG thought of MB’s musical choice, her face obviously hidden from view. But for a flicker of an instant, MB could have sworn he saw her designer shoe-clad toes start to rise, as if to tap along to the lively music. But MB can not really swear to that, as the apparent toe-tap may just have been a mirage, right there in the Riyadh hotel lobby. MB will never really know. Sadly.


Back to Hakim.

“Waz up Hakim?”, shouted MB loudly in reply across the lobby, immediately bringing some breezy light Irish humour to the tense religious-cultural international stand-off that existed at that particular moment.

“Mr. Mike, Mr. Mike, the music, the music, please, please, please Mr. Mike” shouted pious Hakim, in a voice that by now resembled a desperate high-pitched screech.

“Oh the music Hakim……..ok………ok……….no problem……..no problem…….you only have to ask”, replied the ever-gracious MB, as he immediately pumped up the volume to the absolute MAXIMUM, allowing everyone in the lobby, coffee shop and further afield even out on the public street, to enjoy the lively Irish beat. Not!

“Mr. Mike, Mr. Mike, turn it down, turn it off, please, please, please” screamed desperate Hakim, by now on the verge of a crying fit.

“Sorry, I thought you asked me to turn it up” – replied MB, he too now shouting, in attempt to be heard over the very loud music emanating from the nearby MB laptop.

“Can you please clarify for MB if you want it turned up or turned down???”, continued the mischievous MB.

“Down, down, down, down, down” – screamed apoplectic Hakim.

“Oh down………Ok………down……….down is ok for MB”, replied smiling MB.

And MB duly turned down the music. And moments later, turned it off.

The hurricane had passed.

A strange and weird quiet descended on the Riyadh Hotel Lobby.

Hakim babbled multitudinous apologies to SG. To no avail. SG stood deliberately in front of Mrs. SG, lest she catch a glance to the T-Shirted MB with his roguish manner; which is probably exactly what Mrs. SG had on her mind at that very moment. SG, in all probability, was also probably asking his God how his country could allow such non-believer-sinners into KSA?

Not a bad question really!

In very recent times, 5 or 6 years after the MB hotel lobby international incident, music concerts are taking place in KSA, albeit separate concerts for women and men, as far as MB is aware.

MB can therefore pat himself on the back for the small part he played in the KSA musical revolution. MB still smiles at the thought of Hakim and SG on that fateful evening, and MB doing his level best not to laugh out loud at the hilarity and craziness of the entire event. Little did MB know on that night of the part that he, Hakim and SG (plus Mrs. SG!) were playing in the very early days of a huge social and musical revolution.

Viva lá revolucion!

Which brings MB to the Cubans.

One of the things MB likes to do of an evening is to chillax with a glass of cool white wine after the daily toil in the hot desert, and sit and watch/listen to some YouTube videos. One video series that MB came across about 18 months back was a series under the banner ‘Playing For Change’. ‘Playing For Change’ is a non-profit that tries to link people all over the world through music. Followers can click here to learn some more.

The ‘Playing for Change’ videos are musical masterpieces in the opinion of MB, not to mention the noble intention behind them. One of MB’s favourites is of 75+ Cuban musicians in many different disparate locations all combining to play ‘Guantanamera’.

Stunning stuff. Uplifting. Super feel-good. About music. About life generally. About the internet.

Viva l’internet!

Now just for a moment, pretend you are in a hotel lobby in KSA.

Switch to full screen.

And pump up the volume!









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