A message

As I rounded the second stair well my abaya ros (long silky black cloak that sits on your head) caught under my shoe and ripped. I knew it could fly off in a second and everything else with it but I did not care. The face cover I had purchased was cheap and only had a slit for the eyes to peer out, covered by a little piece of material that could be put up or down, much like a curtain. It shifted and covered my left eye making a scratchy back and forth pattern between my two eyes. None of these details mattered much as I hobbled up the cement stairs, 9 month old on my hip, holding my two year old Foof  and watching See See. She was now 4 so she walked and ran along side me holding onto my abaya. She whined and questioned me as to why we were running and who this man was who was chasing us. I told her to hold on tightly and continue with me. I looked every few seconds to make sure she was still attached to my coat. I could hear the harrass (doorman and maintenance man) through his nervous giggles trying to reason with the crazed man. He kept repeating in his broken english, “no sir no sir madam lives here sir”  but it was quite clear nothing would stop him and his advances. I had no idea who he was or what was happening, the only thing I  knew as I continued with this juggling act was that I had to keep us all from falling over my abaya  and down the stair well.

It had all started as I approached the door to our building and rifled through my diaper bag for the key to the outer door.The harras approached me and at that time it all began, a man like any other man, nothing to stand out, no mask or obvious marking that would inspire fear, an ordinary man. I could see out of my face cover that he was walking towards the door, nothing to be alarmed about until I heard the clicking of his shoes turn into a faster pace. As I looked for the key he stepped in front of me aggressively, blocking my entrance to the building. At first his words were barely audible as if he were whispering, but when I did not answer they grew louder until he was screaming. He stepped closer with each word he spoke until he had moved away from the door. I took this chance to push every button on the intercom. My children stood behind me except for my baby who turned his head and clung harder to my abaya. I pushed the buttons frantically, my Lebanese neighbor answered and buzzed me into the building.

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basic face cover that I wore         decorative face covering found in the souk

I started up the three flights of stairs and felt relieved that this man was locked out of the building. As I made it up to the first landing I heard his footsteps and those of the harrass. He was a man in his thirties, able bodied with no children to carry. The only thing that kept him from catching up to us was the well meaning harrass who kept repeating his words regarding my place of residence. I tripped and hung onto a small railing near the stairs feeling much like I was climbing a mountain gripping at rocks and plants along the path. The man stepped in front of me several times and I repeated the same words the harrass had spoken so many times, “What do you want ,I live here!!” The man now spoke in English and told me “Leave my wife alone go away do not come back!!” As I stood at the top of the third floor quite a mess, but safely to my destination, the advances stopped cold and he headed back down the stairs. I found the key, hands trembling and stuck it in the lock. We entered the apartment and fell into a heap in front of the door. A relief came over me, I ripped off my abaya and face cover and comforted the kids who were quite shaken up.

We sat for a few minutes and then it occurred to me that this rampage might just be the beginning. I ran to the kitchen to use the phone ( a recent improvement to the apartment).  I dialed him to a friend’s number, something I would not normally do.  I told him what had happened and that he needed to come home. I held back tears and tried to speak in a calm and monotone voice as I knew anything else would be taken as hysteria. He didn’t seem alarmed and questioned me about the man, he then let out a hearty laugh. He informed me that this was the man he had met in the building and had spoken of recently. He had strongly suggested that I go and visit a new neighbor downstairs, a newlywed from Syria. She was lonely and it was my duty to welcome her. I  made a carrot cake and made my way to her door.  I rang and heard movement behind the door but no answer so I returned the next day with the same routine. It was evident at this time, her husband was the crazed man! I was highly agitated that a good deed and a difficult one for me was met with this response. He explained to me that this man must have thought I was an unwelcome intruder and that it was customary to send a message before a first time visit.

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58 thoughts on “A message

  1. Oh my word! I would have been running up the stairs too. You were so brave to move there without being fluent in the language. I’ve been in foreign countries where I speak very basic or little of the language. It’s scary and frustrating.

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  2. Is this for real? Omg such a horror especially with kids. Did you wear abaya too often back in middle east? I never did coming from Pakistan, we were liberal in that sense so kudos to you for accepting it all n all

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  3. I am sorry the more I hear about this culture the more difficult I find it is to understand!! Poor you and the littlies you must of been scared out of your mind… then for ‘him’ to laugh!! why did he not fill you in on the so called etiquette !

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    1. The neighbor man thought I was a beggar bothering his wife. I had many beggars come to my door. So he was angry and went on the attack! no you dont have to cover your face but my neighbor in the villa had advised me to do so. I only did it for a year!

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  4. Scary, especially with your children in tow! So much to learn and understand about the culture and men’s and women’s roles. Did you know about some of the customs before moving to Saudi Arabia? My mother visited Egypt with a man she was dating when I was young. One of the things she brought back for us was a galabiya, we used them to sleep in.

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  5. A very dramatic and tense episode, Lyn. I could feel your fear and rising panic as this man got closer and closer. How well you coped in the long abaya ros and with three little ones is commendable. If only someone had explained about the need for a note before the first visit, all this may have been avoided. Thank you for sharing this incident.

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  6. What a scary event.
    While reading this I can’t help but wonder why did you agree in the first place to go to a place where you have to hide your face and body and have no right?
    I understand women who grew up like this and have no choice, but I really try and can’t understand this coming from a woman who grew up in a free society.
    I’m sorry if it sounds condescending, it’s really not my intention. I just really want to understand the path that can lead to such an action…

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    1. It is a process that no one can understand unless living it! You do what you can to live and make the best for your children. Life any where has ups and downs even here. So it isn’t about where you live at all. I have many lovely and wonderful arab friends who are amazing people. It is about people good and bad in every society.

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      1. I understand it’s a process, and hard to explain…
        It’s not about being Arabs at all – I would ask the same question if you would choose to end up in an altra-orthodox Hassidic neighborhood… Though even they don’t’ go as far as demanding women to cover their face and not to drive.
        I too have muslim friends and co-workers, but they are all secular so we have more in common.
        In any case, I’m really glad this kind life is over for you… 🙂

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      2. At that time I needed to go where the kids father was to have a life and a family and I dont regret it at all. Being a woman with little children you do what you can to have support for the family. It was overall a great experience and would not trade it

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  7. Once again another fascinating read! I am so intrigued with your life in Saudi. I do not know how you did it with out some serious PTSD! What is especially interesting is how “he” controlled and mentally manipulated. The last entry about the box of gifts from your mom was just chilling and scary. I am so happy to know how this story ends and that you are safe and with all of your children because with every installment I shutter think you actually lived this. I am so happy that your spirit is able to talk about this. It must be cathartic.

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  8. You draw us into this episode with skill, allowing us to feel your fear and the frustration of not being heard. The fob off again. The implied feeling that you should just understand all these new rules by osmosis. When you are fully occupied with a growing family and living in an entirely alien culture. Phooey to him, cheers and cheers to you.

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      1. The wedding was perfect … I could not have imagined I would be so emotional! I will post about it in the coming days as I am now almost back down to earth!!

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  9. Again..had me on the edge….you were very brave….certainly a scary moment…. Don’t blame you for not trying that again…you are awesome….. Wow and wow again… Love reading your story…. Kathy

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  10. Oh my goodness, I think I was holding my breath the whole time reading your post… must have been so scary for you and your children.
    Sammy x

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