I was an American diplomat posted to Islamabad, Pakistan. One night I left the embassy quite late as after a conference call with Washington (due to the time difference, Washington was typically just opening up for business as Pakistan was closing down.) As I got in my car and began to drive home, I realized I was starving. I knew that, because it was so late, my cook had already retired for the evening. Off in the distance I saw the bright lights of the Canadian embassy like a welcoming beacon and I remembered that it was International Night at the Canadian embassy’s club. (International Night was like an open house for all diplomats in Islamabad to come to the Canadian club for an evening of hospitality.) With a smile on my face, I pulled into the parking lot of the club anticipating a good burger.
Now, I’ve never really enjoyed going into a place by myself and eating alone, but in this case my hunger was so strong it overcame any qualms I had. Fortunately though, as I entered the club, I was immediately hailed by a group of diplomats whom I knew from Qatar, United Arab Emirates, China, Philippines and Saudi Arabia sitting at a large table. I gladly joined them, taking the remaining empty chair between the Saudi Defense Attaché and another Arab-looking individual whom I did not know.
After the Saudi Defense attaché and I exchanged greetings he kindly introduced me to Abdullah, who also represented the Saudi embassy. Abdullah and I did the usual round of questions such as “How long have you been here?,” “What are your duties?,” “Where else have you served?,” and of course, “How do you like Pakistan?” We had an animated conversation and it did not escape my notice that Abdullah also bore a strong resemblance to the actor George Clooney.
All the while we were chatting I was eating delicious French fries as only the Canadian Club can make them and satisfying the dull ache of my hunger. However, it was not until I had finished all the French fries that it dawned on me that not only had I not even placed an order yet, but that I had been eating from Abdullah’s plate the entire time we were talking. When I realized my faux pas I blushed furiously and remarked to him that I owed him a dinner. He smiled while shaking his head and told me I did not owe him dinner but asked if I realized what it meant to take food from the plate of a Saudi? “You have made no faux pas but according to my custom, since you have eaten food from my plate I am now responsible for you for life.”
Little did I know how prophetic those words would turn out to be for the two of us. Although I would not have envisioned myself marrying a man from Saudi Arabia, that fateful evening was the beginning of a long and drawn out courtship spanning over several countries. I was transferred from Pakistan to India. Abdullah, after a brief assignment to reopen the Saudi Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, was transferred to Washington, D.C. Several years later we decided to marry. I resigned from the diplomatic corps and began a new journey as the diplomatic spouse of a “foreign” diplomat in my own country.
In 2006 Abdullah finished his posting with the Saudi Embassy in Washington and we returned to his home country of Saudi Arabia. Another new chapter in life began for us in the land of shifting sands and desert diamonds.
A rare and aggressive leukemia took Abdullah’s life in February 2010 after a long and drawn-out battle. Abdullah and I had seven years together as a married couple that were filled with joy, love and adventure. I wish we had had more time on this earth as a married couple but we made enough special memories to last several lifetimes.
As I get settled now in Huntersville, I have no doubt Abdullah would have enjoyed living here too.
I can envision him becoming a great fan of NASCAR. He may have been a career diplomat comfortable with complex challenges but deep down he was just a simple and gentle man who enjoyed people and life to the fullest.
Carol Fleming lives in Huntersville with her two cats, and you can read more of her thoughts at www.americanbedu.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.