What’s in a word?

What’s in a word?

Tariq A. Al-Maeena

By Tariq A. Al-Maeena
A carefully selected word dropped at the right time and in the right place can often create an illusion that all is well. It can serve as a soothing drug to over-extended and frayed nerves.

I have long charged that the most abused four-letter word used by our public service officials in the press is the word “soon”. “Soon” just puts us all in this haze of feeling good that something will finally happen. But for those who have followed the news over the years, this four-letter word seems to convey anything but action.

Flipping back through the news journals of recent history will bear the truth of much of what I have to say. For example, in the early 90s of the last century it was announced that the national airline, Saudia, would “soon” be privatized and services would improve. “Soon” in this case translated into something like almost 15 years!

During the 90s, there were also other promises of “soon”. Jeddah’s airport, a blot on the landscape for travelers in and out of the city for its dilapidated and outdated facilities, would on many occasions draw the word “soon” from those who ran this facility. Perhaps the Singaporean operators of the new airport will restore our faith in the word “soon”.

Also back in the 90s an announcement from the Ministry of Social Services that all public buildings would have facilities for disabled people drew quiet applause. Ramps for wheelchairs, handrails and special toilet facilities would “soon” be introduced. There would be special parking areas reserved for the disabled, with special parking stickers for their vehicles. So many buildings and public structures have been erected since. Do they incorporate that vision?

In the early part of this new century, the Ministry of Transport announced plans that would “soon” ease traffic problems in the major cities such as Jeddah and Riyadh. Through the use of effective flyovers and a public transport and shuttle bus system, the crowding of our streets would “soon” be a thing of the past. Many flyovers have been built in the city of Jeddah since then. But have they solved the traffic problem? All I have to do is drive on Madinah Road to know how abused and grating to the ears that four-letter word has become.

Following the tragic Makkah school fire in 2002 when 15 schoolgirls died, there were assurances by various civil departments that all schools would “soon” undergo a vigorous fire safety inspection and offending schools would be shut down. It is now 2017 and we still hear of schools being shut down for such offenses. Does it indeed take 15 years to get something so vital to public welfare as this done?

Perhaps the granddaddy of them all in the use of the word “soon” by our public service officials is the promise echoed by our municipal leaders over the past 40 years or so regarding the implementation of sewage and drainage systems in the city. Since the 1980s, many a mayor or municipal leader has promised a network of wastewater systems that would ease all our troubles. Streets were dug up, drainage pipes were laid and yet the same streets keep getting dug up again, and the pipes removed and replaced. “Soon” is relative with our municipal leaders.

In recent times, taxes were going to be imposed on “white” land, large tracts of land that just sit undeveloped and unoccupied in the midst of the city. Has that happened, or will it anytime “soon”?

Granted, as more and more people get fed up with bureaucratic inefficiency, the grumbles grow louder and ministers get fired. Perhaps this will help “soon” restore its original meaning.

The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena