The outside world
Average Saudi neighborhood
As the long, hot summer drug on, the kids continued playing, making houses out of the couch pads. This is a tradition they would pass on to each younger sibling and continue until we left Saudi. The brown rough blanket we brought with us to the villa became a curtain, walls, maybe even a river. The cardboard box that Grama lovingly packed and sent, still sat in the corner. I guess it was a reminder that we were not alone and someone was thinking of us. My thoughts were focused on the year to come, in particular, school. I felt a sick pit in my stomach when my mind wandered to the previous year. I felt that it must have been the worst school in all of Riyadh, a school with inexperienced teachers and administration. Surely any other school in Riyadh would be much different, this is what I told myself.
The weather continued to be hot, 115 degrees, but it felt much hotter. The heat increased with each passing day and was unrelenting. Unlike the heat I had experienced as a child when hot summer days faded into cool evenings and we all sat on the lawn swing in the back yard. The heat was bearable as we ran through the sprinkler and swam at the neighborhood pool. But this was a different kind of heat and sitting in the apartment day after day made it feel stagnant and dry. It was irritating not having regular electricity and the comfort of air conditioning, boredom started to wear on me. The English channel turned on at 4 p.m. but had a limited selection of shows, many were older programs and all were heavily censored, often times only a few minutes remained for viewing. My attitude started slipping and I felt a twinge of despair until I started spending many hours looking out of the large windows. I noticed workers who walked with their buckets and rags, hailing people as they passed to offer them a quick car wash, this put things into perspective. They usually had a two year contract to work in Saudi, they left behind family, possibly a wife and children. They were the backbone of Saudi society, maids and drivers, and other “workers” who held the fabric of life together. In later years they became true friends who helped me on many occasions, shuttling me around to look at housing and carrying my newborn babies through the grocery insisting that I should be at home in bed. My thoughts drifted back to school although I tried to push this away until it actually arrived and there was no more room for denial.
I was sure that things would continually improve for our family and he would indeed find his “dream” job, In the mean time I offered my support and encouragement. He brought home requests from new friends for books that needed editing, desserts for office functions as well as reports for odd jobs he had managed to land. I spent hours working on these tasks although I had no expertise in these fields as well as no desk or table, no proper stove or utensils. I did this in the hopes that the man I once knew who had entranced me with his kindly manner, and promises of abiding love, would come back if only for a fleeting moment.This would be enough to carry me through the passing days and nights. I nursed the baby on my lap, held my little Foof and hugged See See as I wrote pages of reports, edited books and whipped up batches of hundreds of pastries. I felt I could not do much for him but offer my support. I comforted myself with thoughts of how it all began and where it would inevitably once begin again.
I passed my days taking care of the children and making friends with a few new ladies who had moved into the building. Electricity was to come any day and this time it was really going to happen. It had been 4 months without real electricity which had been a test but many people in this world live with much less. We also received a phone which opened up a whole new world. I met many American, British and Canadian ladies married to Arab men. They were living in Riyadh and coping with the school system and life in a foreign country. Potlucks and picnics were held at a school parking lot where we all sat on blankets, laughing as we watched the children run and play. The phone meant I had regular contact with my parents and sister as well as these new friends. They called to invite me to meetings, luncheons and coffee mornings but it was difficult to attend any of these events when there was no way to drive. Taxis were off limits until years later when my daughter, a grown up See See, and I snuck to get essentials while he worked away all week at a camp. These ladies were a life line for me and literally meant hope in the darkness. I invited them for a coffee at the apartment where we spent hours talking and listening to tips about living in the Kingdom. As I cleaned up and straightened the apartment he arrived home. He asked about my day and offered what appeared to be enthusiasm for this day off from tedious chores. He told me that I should most definitely get out of the apartment more often and relax. He went to his room and changed into his pajamas as is customary in the Arab world. When he returned he sat with me just like old times, he joked and spoke warmly, asking me about the ladies and their visit. I eagerly told him about the stories, ideas and tips that were shared. Again another glimpse into the past and the man I had once known.
The next Thursday (beginning of the weekend) night rolled around, we packed the cookies we had made, the old brown blanket, diaper bag, and juice. The kids were excited to see the children from the week before. In Arabic school they had not been accepted but at this parking lot there were children much like them. American mothers and Arab fathers, it was a place to belong. This week my spirits were lifted in anticipation of seeing these ladies who were much like me and who faced the same struggles. We sat waiting for several hours bags by the door until it seemed evident he was not coming home and we were not going. We all fell asleep on our cozy pad beds watching tiny censored snippets of old sitcom reruns. When he arrived there were no words, or any apologies but this was the way our life would play out for years to come.