I have a friend who works in the film industry. I’ve always envied him because he is an incredibly talented cameraman who has worked on several high-end television and movie productions. I once asked him about the glamorous entertainment industry he worked in; about all the expensive toys and the famous people that surrounded him on a daily basis. He then knocked my feet out from under me when he paused briefly and remarked with a tired expression on his face: “You know the bigger the projects get, the more chaos you have…”

Having now worked in the Middle East for a few months on projects for a Saudi-based multinational I can only agree. 

The Middle East is anything but a choice travel destination and knowing you are flying into a simmering war zone kinda kills the thrills of business class travel. The A380 is a treat though...it has a bar in the back, I kid you not! Arriving at a Middle Eastern airport with professional camera gear is about the same as showing up with a bag full of automatic weapons. The government paperwork you carry (which you’ll only have by the second trip anyway and which will be very much expired by then) seems to make little or no impression on the customs officials as they pick through your stuff. Google Maps shows that Iraq and Syria is just north of your location and sunny Iran to the east. It is hot and dusty outside and you sweat your day away uncomfortably in a jacket and tie. You weave through traffic early every morning in a huge American SUV at dangerously high speeds with a Pakistani driver who barely speaks English behind the wheel. The man takes great pride in his work and wants to know if the car smells nice inside.The food is good but you have little time and opportunity to eat. You suspect your room’s air conditioner is making you ill. During the day you’re constantly shooting quick and nasty bursts of video, hoping you have okayish sound (any sound really!), editing it hurriedly in a little backroom and then rushing to a boardroom with your laptop where expressionless Arab execs view it. Save, backup, repeat; tonight at the hotel after dinner it all needs to go on Dropbox before you go to bed. And you know you can only go to bed after all your gear is charged and packed for the next day. You’ll be getting up at 5am tomorrow. Mujeeb and his big black GMC will be waiting at the hotel lobby at 6am to load your gear. The little custard Danishes they have at breakfast are awesome.

You also discover that the average Saudi is actually a very warm and friendly person. Just someone who wears different clothes than you do and prays to God in a different way. Over lunch he shows you pictures of his kids on his iPhone and tells you he enjoys fishing at the coast. "I have three boys and I hope my wife and I will have a girl next. Inshallah". They end every sentence with Inshallah - if God wills it.

You’re supposed to make money but you’re also spending money as quickly as you make it on overly expensive business visas and travel cases for your gear. You bump heads with people over expenses and scope creeping. And you’re still pissed about that damn business jacket you had to go and buy for this job that you’ll never wear for anything else again. One quick trip to the ATM in Riyadh surprised you with a R1600 withdrawal slip...you only needed some cash to security wrap your bags at the airport! 

You finally sleep all the way back on the airplane, too tired for the swanky gourmet dinner that the Emirates hostess offers you, and you arrive back in South Africa with a cold.

The next day a friend asks if you had a chance to ride a camel. 

It’s not always as glamorous as it sounds. It is not necessarily an amazing experience, perhaps just an experience. It is just business and earning a living and doing things that help you pay the bills.