Without Chief or Tribe: An Excerpt from Nathan Deuel's Friday Was the Bomb
I was having lunch at the swan near Hyde Park and some son of a bitch took my bag with all my documents, the email began. It was June of 2009 and I was sitting at a desk in Riyadh. Assuming this was spam, I was about to press delete, when something made me reconsider.
Outside, it was summer in Saudi Arabia, where temperatures could exceed one hundred and thirty degrees. My wife Kelly and I had lived in the country for nearly a year. We’d spent much of our lives in foreign countries or in strange corners of North America. We’d met in Cambodia, spent years in Southeast Asia, got to know Russia and the former Soviet Union, and I proposed to her on a commercial fishing boat in Alaska. This time, however, the Middle East in general seemed a little beyond my talent set. Maybe it was the heat making me feel weak? By this time of year everyone was spending entire days indoors, emerging only to drive air-conditioned cars, in which metal could be so hot it might burn your skin. Streets buckled, the wind howled in from the desert, and meanwhile booze was still illegal, women were forbidden from consorting with men they weren’t related to, and it was hard to imagine why anyone would ever choose to settle here. Considering all this, we—the swashbuckling couple who had never shied away from doing something insane—were about to bring a new baby into the world.
Earlier that spring, my wife had consulted with our doctor, who was open to natural birth. Pressed, she admitted that even at this, the best hospital in the country, we couldn’t know in advance which doctor we might get for the actual event. Most doctors, we feared, would just wheel in the knives and proceed to surgery. In Saudi Arabia, women could have up to eight babies, and the rich ones understandably came to view childbirth with as much ceremony as a hair appointment and scheduled caesareans weeks in advance. After these procedures, the nurse would arrive, take the baby to the nursery, and when it was time to leave, a nanny fed the child and carried her to the car. Honestly, I didn’t think that sounded too bad. And Kelly might have agreed, too, had we not met that Swiss doula at a camel race outside town. While we watched the beasts galumph around a desert oval, the beatifically maternal Swiss woman advocated for a natural birth with as little to do with medicine or surgery as possible. Over the next few days, driving around Riyadh’s wind-blown terrain, we talked and I suppose both became convinced—enamored, really, by the challenge of it. After all, it seemed ironic—in an otherwise throwback culture, which was leery of modern progress, which loved all things pure and holy—that they might consider a natural birth odd and subversive. Kelly heard about a doctor who could help. We drove to his clinic with a stack of cash nearly half an inch thick. The money—five thousand dollars—was a guarantee he’d come any time, day or night, no matter what.
“Don’t worry,” he said after we’d paid. “I’ll be there when you need me.”