Wait. How would you spend the time knowing that you were only weeks away from completely turning your life upside down? And it’s not like I could feign ignorance and be in denial of the changes that were headed my way or had come about already. This was my decision – and only my decision. I didn’t seek answers or help from anybody when I signed on the dotted line and promised the next two years of my future to some company out in Saudi Arabia. If this was to be a mistake, then it was my mistake and my mistake alone. And I could live with that.
I finally told my soccer team in mid-February, about a month after I had agreed to take the job. Although I had been keeping a blog for over a year, none of them knew about it, and therefore didn’t know that I was contemplating leaving them. After a particularly tough game against our nearest rivals (we won 2-1 despite spending most of the second half short-handed [indoor soccer has many similar rules to ice hockey]), I decided the camaraderie on display in the pub afterwards was the perfect setting for this move. The stunned silence said it all. Many of these guys I had played soccer with for over 5 years, and there were very solid bonds of friendship. I had seen them have kids (thankfully I wasn’t there when they were making them), had seen some go through divorces, had acted as a designated driver to most of them, and on a couple of occasions even turned down their wives when they thought I was “the sexiest man in the whole damn room.” I have a motto, “Bros before Hos.” Learn it and live it my friends.
Over the next couple of weeks they would all give me their opinion on the impending move. Some were jealous that they weren’t in a position to do such a thing, some offered jobs to keep me in the city, and some were just sad to see me go. It was decided for me that we would win Provincials (which we had just qualified for) and send me off like a champion.
To further hasten my arrival in Saudi Arabia, while I was waiting on the last letter from my former employer, it was decided that I had done enough to have my Saudi visa issued into my passport. When the new letter came I would just have it notarized and forward it on. Reluctantly I put my brand new passport into a courier bag and sent it away to the UK recruitment company who was in charge of getting me to Saudi. This process could take days, or weeks, depending on the “mood” of the people working (something I have learned over the last 7+ years in the Middle East to be a common trait).
On March 10 we had a farewell for me, in which I wrote my own speech for my older sister to give. Despite knowing that this was the last time I might see some of these people for a long time (at that time I didn’t think I would ever return to Edmonton to live) the mood was pretty upbeat. I had to stop some of the soccer boys from telling the meaning of my nickname “The Park Ranger”, and was a little perturbed when my ex-fiance showed up. But, at the end of the day, seeing everyone smiling and laughing was a good send off.
By the time the next weekend rolled around, the weekend of provincials, I still hadn’t heard the status of my visa. We headed out to Calgary, our last road trip as a team. Our 16 man squad, the perfect amount to play (3 full units of 5 plus a keeper) had been crippled by injuries and work commitments and we had 12 people making the trip, not ideal when you had 3 games in 2 days (including 2 games the opening Saturday). We had decided that if results went our way on the Saturday and we had a chance of playing for the gold medal we would spend Saturday night as a team at a restaurant and not get drunk. We won our first game 6-2, and the score flattered the other team. We were tied at 2 in our second game, enough to see us qualify for the gold medal game when the other team scored with a minute left to send us to the bronze medal game the next day.
That night was a gong show. I vaguely remember starting the evening player poker in the hotel, and then walking back into the room at 4 am, some guys still playing poker, some guys still AWOL, and others still hunched over the toilet. We had gone out to a bar, and as the night rolled on, we went our separate ways at various times during the night.
Even though our game was at 10 am, we were in a state come kick-off. Two players threw up immediately before the game, others were having trouble seeing in single vision. But we all felt awful in one way or another. To make it worse, we were playing a team from back home, our closest rivals and a team we hated. Our 2 previous games against them had ended 2-1 for us. But we were hung over or still drunk. They hadn’t gone out the night before as we were the one team they really wanted to beat.
I scored early, and got injured in the process as the defender decided to take out the knee of my planted leg. Having so few players I had to soldier on. They tied it up just before half time and had us hanging on for dear life. Every one of us was throwing our bodies in front of everything we could. We scored again early in the second half, and then with a couple of minutes to go, we added a third after every player on the field for us touched the ball at least once and we tore them apart.
We split 2 cases of beer in the lounge before heading for home to begin the real celebrations. It was a Sunday night, we all worked the next day, but I got home at 3 am (the benefits of having a local who will stay open a little longer for you). If that was to be my last game played with these guys; it was a fitting way to go out.
The end of March arrived and I took the remaining items in my house to my parents’ house to begin my “bunking in” process. Now, I wouldn’t be spending only a couple of days with them as planned, but there was every reason to believe that I would be gone in a couple of weeks. I had my clothes and stuff I was taking to Saudi in 2 suitcases and was living out of them, the rest of my stuff I called keepers in boxes in the spare bedroom. I took on a job in the plumbing warehouse I worked part-time at when I was in college. It was just manual labour but they knew I was leaving soon and welcomed the experienced help. One week turned to two, two weeks turned to three, and then before I knew it the end of April rolled around and I received an email from the recruitment company in the UK. If I thought my impending move had hit a snag before… I had just hit the mother lode.
The email stated, in no shortage of words, that my passport, with a newly acquired Saudi visa, had disappeared somewhere. They had waited a couple of weeks to try and locate it (the busy mailrooms of the British Post can be a haven for losing letters and envelopes) but since it hadn’t turned up they thought it best to tell me. Their theory, and I don’t buy it for one second, was that someone saw the envelope marked Harley Medical and thought there were drugs inside the package and kept it. When they realized it wasn’t, instead of returning it and risking being caught, they just threw it away. Maybe I have less faith in mankind but I thought someone had stolen the passport and was using it to get unsavory people into foreign countries.
The next day, I applied for a new passport and waited… yet again.