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  • It is illegal to produce, possess, sell or consume alcohol in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and because of that fact, it is everywhere.

    My family lived in the Kingdom when I was a child. As expat Americans it was our duty to uphold certain culture ties to our homeland; in my father's case that meant brewing beer and wine in large quantities.

    Our pantry was my father's alcoholic workshop. There were always large plastic bags bubbling away in the dark and trashcans full of foamy liquids stinking up the house. Dad wasn't alone in his little hobby. Most of the American and European men felt it was their inalienable right to concoct the devil's brew. My father's problem was that he usually ran out of beer before his next batch was done. In this situation, "close enough" was "good enough".

    Production time was a family affair. Dad would dip the beer out of the trashcans and carefully funnel it into large brown bottles. My little sister would take these bottles to the kitchen table where I had the job of using the "capper" to attach the bottle-tops to each one and then place them into wooden cases. Once all the beer had been bottled, the cases went back into the pantry. Bottled beer required that the pantry door remain closed at all times. This was a necessary precaution as Dad's beer was often still fermenting inside the capped bottles and the science of fermentation has a funny way of becoming explosive in a contained environment. Many of our peaceful Arabian nights were shattered by the sound of a shotgun blast only to realize that yet another of Dad's beers was now plastered against the pantry walls.

    Besides the home-brew, you could buy any kind of high-end alcohol on the black market if you had the money. As my father was a fallen catholic from Kansas and not an extended member of the Saudi Royal Family, he had to go with the local hooch aka "My Friend" - Sadiki - the Arabian White Lightning.

    The Sadiki Dad purchased came in Avian water bottles. It was clear, 180 proof, and could take all your cares away and strip the oil off your carport. Dad usually kept a bottle or two in the fridge. My sister and I knew not to drink the bottled water because it wasn't; our drinking water was in the water cooler.

    Large quantities of alcohol make one very generous. My parents were all about sharing their bounty and they did this through parties. My sister and I weren't thrilled with these evenings as the events tended to carry on into the wee hours of the morning. It was not uncommon for us to hear the hoots and hollers of drunken expatriate adults as "Ike and Tine Turner Live at the Apollo" blasted from the stereo at 3:30am.

    A morning after one such shindig, my sister and I were stumbling around the kitchen trying to find something to eat. Our parents were still asleep, or perhaps they had just gone to bed, and so we attempted to fend for ourselves. I filled two bowls with stale cornflakes and topped them off with greyish-white instant milk. The powdered milk was pretty much undrinkable but it was all we had and not too awful on cereal. My sister was thirsty so she grabbed a cup and went over to the water cooler.

    She stopped and turned to me, "Hey, the water is red."

    I looked at the cooler and saw she was right. On the stove next to the water cooler were several empty wine vats.

    "Dad must have put wine in the water cooler."

    "Why would he do something like that?"

    "I dunno. Maybe he was trying to be funny. Just drink some tap water. It won't kill you."

    "No way. That water's gross and it tastes like a swimming pool."

    My tired and thirsty sister put her cup down and walked over to the refrigerator. She reached in and pulled out a half-full Avian bottle. She tipped it back and took several deep gulps and then her eyes got very wide and she started to hop up and down and cry. From her tears came a violent upheaval of 180 proof vomit.

    I tucked my sister and her Raggedy Ann doll back into bed and assured her that she would survive, then I walked down to my parent's room at the end of the hall. I knocked on the door. I thought I heard something akin to a growl, so I knocked again.

    My mother's groggy voice pleaded from behind the door, "... sleeping late today. Go back to bed... please."

    "Mom. DeEdra is sick and I think she's drunk too."


    "She drank some of that stuff in the fridge by mistake then threw up on the kitchen floor. She's pretty sick. I think you should get up now."

    I was about to knock again when the door opened and my very hung-over and sleep-deprived mother emerged and stumbled past me toward my sister's room. I looked into my parent's dark bedroom for other signs of life. My father was laying on his stomach with a pillow over his head.


    No movement.


    Still nothing.

    I closed the door and went back to the kitchen to find a mop.
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