We said goodbye to the villa, I kissed Um Abdullah on each cheek and gave her my regards. We barely understood each other but she was a light for me in what had become a dark abyss. She offered her home, her phone and brought me tea and sweets on her visits. Looking back I can imagine it pained her to see nothing on top of nothing. For Arabs this would be considered a shame, something I didn’t know until years later when I watched young brides move into fully furnished apartments, new wardrobes filled with dresses, shoes and gold sets. She announced her visit one morning by having her son inform him as he left for work. He made his way back up the stairs to tell me, “make sure to shut the doors, she cannot see we have no beds or furniture” so being the dutiful woman I was, I did as I was told. Um Abdullah had to have noticed, no chairs, tables, pillows or anything that average people have in their homes, but she graciously said nothing. I waved goodbye as the huge brightly colored truck drove off down the road ending that first chapter in our life in Saudi.
The apartment was large with 3 bedrooms, a family room and a living room. It was clean and fresh, clear windows with a view to busy downtown Riyadh. This was enough, just to see the light of day, to feel like you were part of the universe once more. The bathroom in the villa had been a dirty tan, the tiles were broken, dirt stained grout held them together, the bathtub had patches of spackle or glue stuck on various spots, maybe covering holes. There wasn’t a shower curtain and cockroaches entered from the drain that’s only cover was a plastic like sieve. In the apartment things were different, one bathroom was grey with shiny tiling and a clean smooth tub. The other was pink with white tiling. A third half bath was just off the foyer. I felt a warm rush, a comfort I had not felt in years.
The summer was hot and temperatures steadily rose to 110 degrees. Days wore on as we waited for electricity to come, but days turned into weeks and eventually months. Our building was hooked up to a neighboring building to share electricity. So after an hour of morning chores I could hear the thud and chug as the a/c abruptly shut down. An air conditioner was purchased before we moved to the apartment under the proviso that it be used only on low and intermittent. In order to obtain this much needed item I agreed and followed the terms for usage. This is how our life progressed, a measured step forward with many stipulations. My baby was 6 months old and woke frequently at night so at 5 a.m. I took the opportunity to start my morning routine. I vacuumed and started a wash, hung it on the drying rack and started the afternoon meal. It was a good day when I could accomplish all of these tasks before I heard the thud of the a/c. On a not so good day, power was off and on all morning and returned for minutes only to turn back off. We were the only tenants who lived in the building at this time. Each day we waited for electricity and each day it did not come. A bright point in our life was the fact that a phone was soon to arrive. We spent our days in the new apartment looking out the large windows to see taxis and cars speeding past, workers washing cars, stray cats walking to the garbage dumpster and people coming and going. Occasionally people would walk though the empty building, but just as quickly they would leave.
A cousin and his family lived in Riyadh. We had met them once and now they were coming to visit the new apartment. We had no real furniture but hospitality being what is is in the middle east, no one can be refused. This was a custom that was hard for me to accept because random visits at 11 p.m. on a school night must be accommodated with a smile and a cup of tea. This is one place I put my foot down or at least put up a fight, anything that effected my children would rile me enough to stand my ground. My children were in bed and could not be disturbed with the noise of visitors. I was to cook a large dinner for them and started on it as early as possible. With no electricity and a stove that barely functioned, this was a difficult task that I spread out over several days time. When they arrived the woman, Um Tarik (mother of Tarik) came into the family room with her four children. It was a steady heat in the apartment but the a/c offered relief and a stream of cool air. She sat on the pads removing her coat and scarf, she smiled and approved of the new apartment. We chatted a little but understood just as much, she had no English and I struggled with my kindergarten Arabic. I left to the kitchen to check on the food and of course she was soon to follow. She flung open the door and looked disturbed as she stood holding onto the counter, I could tell she wanted something but was not sure what that was. She ran to the family room adjusting the a/c to the coldest temperature and highest fan setting. I scrambled to the room and grappled with the controls telling her no, no! I had been ordered to keep the kitchen door shut because it was a waste of cold air into the kitchen and not efficient. She lifted her arm and wildly switched the knob as if to tear it out of the wall! I shut the door to the kitchen, it was as if I was chasing a child who was out of control. First the air conditioner setting and now the door, I stood in panic not sure which way to move. She flung the door open and told me “ No Um Osama, you are too polite woman, NO!”
Cute 5th child eating a popsicle, cheery kitchen
cupboards in the new apartment.