CHARLOTTE, November 26, 2014 – While living in Saudi Arabia in 2003, my father was scheduled for minor surgery back home. Two days before the procedure he suffered a stroke.
Even with internet access, it was difficult to get up to the minute information. First reports indicated the stroke was relatively minor and that Dad was doing all right.
I have heard stories of events in people’s lives where they instinctively know when something bad has happened to a family member. Before long, I had a strange feeling that something was terribly wrong. In my gut I sensed that my father was going to die.
While getting a cup of coffee, I ran into a Saudi colleague named Salah. He inquired about my dad and I mentioned that I thought he had taken a turn for the worst. I told Salah I’d like to go home to see Dad alive rather than attend his funeral thinking that face-to-face goodbye was a better option than the alternative.
As Salah and I were talking I received a message to call home.
It was 3:15 in the morning in the states. My wife, Jane, answered the phone.
“Your Dad died at 12:05 this morning,” she said. “He died in his sleep. It was a peaceful passing. They did all they could, but he just had too many complications.”
The conversation lasted about 20 minutes.
Now the only thing to decide was whether or not to go home. In my mind, the window of opportunity had passed. To do anything now would be a mountain of red-tape. I was halfway around the world. The time difference. The logistics. The itinerary. None of it seemed at all feasible.
When my only American co-worker, Joan Ballard, stopped by my office I gave her all the reasons why I decided to stay in Saudi. Joan insisted it could be done and that Salah could and would help me.
“In a case like this, I react. Then I figure it all out later,” said Salah frantically. “You need to go home. You need to go home now.”
“There’s no time. It’s just too complicated,” I replied.
“You got a multiple?” asked Salah.
He was referring to a multiple entry visa which allowed unlimited access to and from Saudi Arabia.
“Yes. No problem. My passport and visa are good.”
“Great. Can you go tonight?” Salah asked.
“Sure. All I need to do is pack and get to Bahrain. But there’s no way to get out of here. I need approval. I need tickets. It’s just too difficult.”
“I don’t care,” said Joan, “You need to go. You’re the youngest son aren’t you?”
“No,” I replied, “I’m the oldest.”
The words were barely out of my mouth as Salah snapped to his left to look at Joan with deep concern.
“You’re going. You have no choice. You must. In Islam, you are next in line. You cannot do this to your family,” said Salah with urgency. “Don’t worry. I will get permissions and make the arrangements.”
Throughout the day, Saudi colleagues stopped by my office to offer condolences. They all said the same thing. “This is the life,” they would say and nod their heads slowly from side to side.
The Arabic didn’t translate precisely, but I knew that they were saying “it’s all part of the cycle of life.” In Arabic English it just came out, “This is the life.”
Over the course of the day, Salah continued working the phones, bypassing all the usual protocols. Late in the afternoon he rushed into my office.
“How long will it take you to pack?” he asked. “I got reservations. You leave at 10:45 from Bahrain.”
By 5:15 I had a plane ticket in my hand. Roundtrip to the U.S. was a little over 5,000 riyals. About $1,200. Not bad considering the last minute arrangements.
Salah and Joan had pulled every Saudi string they could muster, and it worked.
My taxi arrived at my compound just in time to make a frantic dash to the airport limo service in Khobar. I hastily unloaded my bags and presented my plane ticket. Within minutes we were headed to Bahrain.
Through an incredible series of last minute arrangements I made it. Even at home it would have taken a perfect set of circumstances to make it all work. Doing it in Saudi Arabia was nothing short of phenomenal.
At 10:45 I was on the first of four legs that would take me to Abu Dhabi, Amsterdam, Newark and then home.
It was a miracle. A miracle created through the perseverance of a man whose religion is often bewildering and filled with contempt. A man whose countrymen had flown planes into buildings almost two years before, killing 3,000 people. A man motivated only by the goodness in his heart and his belief that he was the right thing to do to help a Christian.
Throughout my life I have been told there is power in prayer. It is one of the five pillars of Islam and one of its basic foundations that happens five times each day. A Saudi man named Salah had made a personal focused commitment to offer help in a time of need.
How ironic that the Arabic word salah translates into English as “prayer.”
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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