10- In exchange for…..
Life in the villa was back to normal, our little trip had given us the break we needed. School was the same with big ups and downs. The teachers didn’t seem to understand or care that the boys did not know Arabic. They kept complaining about their penmanship, so the nightly lessons in their duftars (notebooks) continued no matter what I said.
Cooking was still a huge challenge with little to work with and limited ingredients. One day he came home with pads that he had ordered from a local store. You pick the material and they cover them like a set of couches. This was a huge improvement to our living space. Dust swirled around and the sky turned a red and orange as winter in Saudi continued, men walked with their scarves wrapped over their faces and children wore wool coats and ear muffs. There were no big seasonal changes except for a cooling temperature and more dust drifting through the air. The walk to the school became routine but was a daily effort to make it past the street by the school. Each day at the school pick up I inquired about their day and each time they told me of their daily challenges. All in all things were going fairly well for the circumstances that we faced.
He came home from work one day explaining that his job just wasn’t working out and he needed to quit and find something else. This would mean the beginning of a year with no income and even tighter monetary restrictions. We had a life in Seattle but followed him and now it seemed it was all for nothing. In Seattle we lived a modest life, he took the bus each day to his job downtown with the county, we had insurance and benefits that came with a good job. We lived in a small home but it had a nice backyard and ample space for a family of our size. The house didn’t have much furniture but at least there were couches and some beds that people left behind when they returned to their home country. I had many friends, Americans as well as people from all over the middle east. We had our daily routine which included home schooling, playing in the backyard,cooking and baking. My parents lived 5 hours away and I saw them every month. My mother came for business and would call me to get her from the airport for a quick meet up before her day began. Our life was far from fancy but it was comfortable, full of freedom, happiness and adventures. We went to farms to pick fruit, petting zoos, the science center and vacationed with my Mom and Dad at the beach. My parents bought land and started building a family lake home to spend the summers watching the grand kids play and grow. All of these things were distant memories like the smell of warm apple pie and Grama Elva’s cinnamon rolls. Now this all seemed like a vacant exchange that meant nothing. I had traded this life to regain the person, the father for my children that I once knew. His easy going temperment and kindly manner had changed after five years of our relationship. I still remember my shock as he walked in the door from work, he asked me why two dish soap bottles sat on the counter and I replied a typical, hmm, “don’t know”. What happened next both shocked me and changed my life forever. Words flew loudly crashing every where and brought with them a strange and undermining trend that would increase in intensity and duration through the next 30 years. His family was unhappy that he was living in the United States, he needed to move closer, he needed a better job and things would improve, maybe he would be happy. And so the trade was made, the exchange had been set.
His job ended and he stayed home which was a blessing and a hardship at the same time. More monitoring but also some freedom. He went in to the boys school to sort out problems, took me to the store when needed and looked for a new apartment downtown. We spent hours looking through villas and apartments dreaming of what might be. This was the first of hundreds of efforts to look for new housing that would come and go over 16 years. We looked at expensive apartments on the top floor of upscale buildings, new villas with gardens and pools, but alas none of these would do. At that point I still believed in the fairy tale ending that was dangled in front of me, yet an offer that was never truly meant to be taken seriously.
One day he came home and told me he found an apartment next to a boys school, a wonderful school. It was right downtown in a beautiful building. My heart raced as I envisioned this place and at that point I could not stand the confines of the villa any more. When the children finished school we would move. He took the children and I to see it, a new building with marble floors, a kitchen full of cheery white cupboards and a large clear window in each room. I stood looking out at the street, the cars, people walking and the loud sounds of the city. I felt a joy I had not felt for many years, alive and hopeful. The children ran and jumped and seemed so happy, it was a done deal, we would move.
It was June and Riyadh was 105 degrees or more most days. It is the kind of heat that is dull and draining, never ending. He found some workers out on the street and asked how much to put our belongings onto a truck. We were to move after a week. We didn’t have much to move or pack so we just did what we could to be ready. I thought of all of the things we would do and see and it was uplifting to just be able to see out the window. He said the rent was free until they brought electricity which would most likely take a few days. I agreed in my desperation to leave this villa and the school, to have light and a view of the world and in reality the decision had already been made. I had no idea that these days would turn into months struggling with hours of no a/c, no lights and no way to cook on the swap meet stove.
new apartment building Pads (couches) and end table
oldest son doing his homework