Locked in

Me and the younger kids in Damascus 14 years ago!

The day finally arrived when he would leave for Al-Khobar and we would be alone in the apartment. He would return most weekends (Thursday and Friday) but we would be alone the rest of the week (Friday to Wednesday). We tried to stock up on necessities but I still felt nervous being left alone in a place where I could not drive, didn’t know anyone and was not allowed to leave the house. I pushed those thoughts aside and thought of the fun we would have and how we would soon move to a beautiful compound.

I had my usual routine of waking early, doing chores and getting the boys ready for school. I gathered the three little ones and headed down the three flights and around the corner to the school. I stood away from the gate and watched the boys walk in. I had been told to stay back and not draw attention, that this was dangerous for me to be out as a woman in Saudi.  There were many times in the villa that I was tempted to just walk out the dull brown doors and go explore, but feared for the worst since I had small children with me.  There were several times when I couldn’t take it any more and told him I could surely just run the 2 blocks to the neighborhood store. This was met with horrible tales of women disappearing and never being found, and a reminder that I would be carting  these 3 precious children along on this dangerous trek. These horrific thoughts always served the purpose of making me grateful to be safe and held me off from making any such trips.  I sat in the villa towards the end months, thinking it was ridiculous that I could not venture out , especially when I was without diapers, bread for school or any other necessity. The minutes ticked away each night waiting for his arrival and hoping he was carrying with him a bag  from the bukala (mini market) that had my list of items inside.  I sat in the blue plastic chair waiting, passing the minutes thinking how easy it would be to just walk out that door and go find these things myself, something I would secretly do on a daily basis many years later. As the minutes ticked each more slowly than the ones before, he would finally enter, empty handed.

I suppose my frustration had now built over the past 18 months to a point where I just didn’t care about these stories any more. As the days wore on and we were in need of little things I decided to approach him once more on this subject. We were now living in a busy area near downtown, not the villa in a local neighborhood.  He finally agreed but gave his final story of women who walked to the bukala (mini market) and were taken by unknown men only to be found dead in the desert days later, with the added comment that no one knew what became of their children. I waited for a few more weeks until necessity arose and decided to walk the 4 blocks to the store. I prepared the boys  and let them know I would be going and would not take long. After dropping the boys off at the school gate, I packed the kids in the double stroller and took the first step to walk down the street.  Foof who was now 3, sat in the stroller next to Abdude (Baby Abdullah) and See See, now a big 5 year old held my hand and walked next to me. As we walked I felt nervous and excited at the same time and a bit rebellious. We arrived safely to the store and purchased our much needed items. The store was larger than a mini market and had European products. It was a wonderful walk and a big bright spot in our day. I spoke with super market workers who grinned and asked the usual question, America, UK, Turkey? I always cheerfully replied that I was American and then inquired about their home country. We headed back towards the apartment chatting and having a wonderful walk, it was like a small door had been opened up to the outside world, full of new freedom and independence.  We were able to venture out and actually get things we needed. The desperation I had felt  being alone in Riyadh during the week, slowly faded. As we walked I held my abaya ros (long black coat that sits on top of your head and is draped around your body) and fixed my face cover so it did not slide off. I had the little piece of material up so I could see the route more clearly. As we approached the block where the apartment was situated, I felt a car creeping every so slowly next to us. I didn’t know anyone in Riyadh and it would not be customary for a man to pull along side a strange woman (women and men are totally separated). I glanced over to see a man in a black, flashy car, he peered over at me and smiled a side ways kind of grin. I couldn’t imagine what he wanted with me and sped up. I was a woman covered all in black, pushing a stroller with three small children, what was this about? As I walked more quickly, he kept his car slowly next to us keeping the same speed. My heart pounded and I held my abaya ros tripping on it as it trailed behind me. I felt a rush of panic and the little ones asked me why I was going so fast. I finally stopped, turned to the car looking directly at the man and hastily pulled the little piece of material over my eyes thinking that my gesture would send a signal and surprisingly it did. He drove off and never returned! I walked as quickly as I could and pushed the stroller through the gate!

I sat upstairs still shaking, my heart pounding, thinking I was foolish for ever trying to leave the apartment. I realized that once again in my little world, he had been right. I didn’t dare tell him of this trip for I knew he would be angry and there was no point. I felt a twinge of desperation and realized I was truly locked in.

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136 thoughts on “Locked in

    1. years later I went out daily and had no trouble. I think wearing a face cover as a foreigner might have been strange for people and they wondered who I was? But it really was no problem and people actually helped me!! thanks for reading!

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  1. My God Lynz, you must have had SO much love for this man, to tolerate this life, I think that it is difficult even for women born in to it. Never mind wanting the supplies from the store, I would just have wanted freedom. Again, I have a parallel story (but no-where near SO extreme, but very similar, and one in which I also had to play by a new set of rules (that I still do) These two stories could be our ‘starting point’ ……..I am going to begin to write mine down, not to post on here, as my blog is more cuisine and culture in a travelogue sort of way, but It echoes your words. My daughter is a budding producer and writer/director for the theatre, her next project is going to be based on the Book of Ruth, as Ruth was a woman living in the strange and hostile land of her husband, would you mind if I shared some of your stories with her (if se used them as a basis, you would get full credit)
    You humble me Lynz

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    1. Wow that is cool! well it wasn’t love at that time, I think more I was stuck! I had changed everything about me! So, then it was difficult to get out and I had to think of my little ones. I will write more later but I put up with quite ridiculous things!

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  2. Wow, the needs overwhelmed the fright you did what you had to, it is utterly shocking to me he would come home empty handed. Having a large family myself I can not fathom that fact Lynz! Bravo for your courageous tenacity to go forth. I m telling you I would have been like a caged animal way before this time! No one should have had to endure what you and those children have and I mean that sincerely. Our minds are a strong force to our being indeed. I am sure that women did disappear I would not doubt that in some circumstances. Their is a guardian angel over you my friend. Huge Hugs, Cheryl

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  3. Was he telling the truth about the supposed danger of being a woman alone or was this just his way of controlling you? I can’t imagine not being ale to leave my home without a male escort…and then him selfishly returning empty handed.

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    1. well years later I went out all the time and never had any trouble in fact people were nice! I am sure bad things can happen any where! I think it was control. we also hardly ever saw his family which again is isolation!

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    2. Exactly what I thought. I also thought the same about the man trailing her in the car, his way of saying yes, you better go back home where you should be. I wander perhaps if your husband had others watch your comings and goings.

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      1. Yeah. Maybe you’re right. But that one experience sure sounds scary. I guess it’s not much different than what we have to tell little kids now about not trusting strangers. Which is really devastating when a kid actually gets lost or separated from its family because even well wishers are afraid to frighten the poor kidlets.

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  4. well I read some of he other comments before starting your story so I was ready for your words this time….he really was a controlling ass…how sad that he felt he had to have control over everything in your life…is his father that way??? or is it just him…I am so proud of you going to the store on your own…and how terrifying to have that car beside you…you are a true mother bear…don’t mess with them!!! seems you were starting to learn by not telling him about this incident…good girl…starting to see without knowing yet that you are a mouse trapped in his control…. I didn’t even have to think twice…of course it was control and to tell you the possibility of the kids could be taken too…really….he obviously didn’t care, showing up with nothing…and knowing that you had been banned to the house, don’t get me started I could go on and on about what a jerk he is…….my fellow sister…your are without a doubt one of the most strongest women I have ever met…your story amazes me…again I would of been on a phone calling my mommy to come rescue me…wow…and wow again…so glad you were able to break free from his hold…can’t wait to hear more…XXXkathy

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      1. you probably heard me screaming into the computer…LOL yes I do know, live with a control freak myself….but at least I was still in the US and not on foreign soil….you are a very brave soul…you have way more courage than I do….XX kat

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  5. My tough cookie, that’s what you are. Many women would have broken under such strain and isolation. You just proved how correct the saying that you don’t know how strong you are until you have no choice but to be strong. Your resilience stood through it all. For some reason, you story makes me proud of you 😊

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  6. the contradiction of how that culture claims to perceive woman yet how they are treated baffles me. I don’t want to brush everyone with the same stroke of the brush…but I am familiar with this mindset of the “Precious pearl that must be covered” and “protected by men” yet at the same time these women are taught men are like wolves that can’t control their base desires. Where then his the logic when a woman who keeps completely covered and locked away still is not safe?? I think you have given a voice to many who can’t speak for themselves. I have said it before…you should write a memoir and look for a publisher!

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  7. It’s pretty hard for a liberated Western woman to imagine how you (a liberated Western woman) managed to contain yourself cooped up like a bird in a cage …. it’s not so difficult to imagine the fear of being stalked by a car since we have all seen it portrayed in movies (in different circumstances but fear is fear in all languages). What I am most impressed with is the way that you dealt with all of this without upsetting your children.

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    1. Thank you! At that time I had 5 little cute babies and another one on the way! So, I guess the instinct to just make the best and continue on was at play! Although now it sounds ridiculous to allow this being locked in!

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      1. I don’t think ridiculous but it is certainly incomprehensible. The fact is that the maternal instinct is the strongest in nature and you did what you needed to protect those babies. It is quite fascinating reading your story …. keep it coming 🙂

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  8. oh God how did you managed to live such a life for so long? I am a muslim and I dare not even think of living permanently in such a place as saudia. Contrary to what people think, living in Pakistan is living like in heaven 🙂

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  9. I’m glad I came through to visit. Frankly I didn’t want to put ‘Like’ on the post. I’m horrified when a man ( especially an Arab) marries a woman from a different culture- he’s supposedly seen them and loved them in this culture yet when he goes home forces her to change from the woman she was. It’s bad enough Arab women are so limited in what they’re allowed to do but it’s awful to force that on a Western woman who drives, shops, meets friends all without her husbands permission because she’s a woman in her own right.
    When/if woman escapes this restrictive culture it often ends up a tug of war for the children.
    It really is time the repression ended and equal rights were granted to bring these countries into the right century.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

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  10. Oh wow, Lyn. This painted a picture that had me there with you every angst-filled step of the way. My heart ached for your isolation and loneliness and state of being as a beautiful songbird trapped in a cage. 😦 I’m so sorry you had to live like that. I’m thrilled you are now free to fly, sing, and just be.

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      1. And it is probably difficult to write about it Lynn. You were very wise when you told me ‘it never leaves unless we face it.’ I hope by sharing your thoughts and feelings that you can face it and let it go. ? Best wishes for this journey, Lynn. May it help you to know that you have found a very supportive network of people here, including me 😊 *hugs*

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    1. Thanks for reading and for caring! It as if it never happened but the evidence is still with me and my beautiful children! To know you care means so much and I feel it was real!! I guess that is why I am writing, it was denied for so long!! thanks!

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  11. I have been in Jeddah for a week and it was not that scary actually (hubby’s business trip). Though I have a driver to drive me around but when I get out of the car I acted just like any normal expats does in an “Open Country”. I have asked for some directions without any problem. My hair is not covered up as you are allowed if you are not a Muslim in some places like Jeddah. My abaya is actually beautiful and can compare to a Kimono the difference is abaya is black and kimono is any lively colour you want to wear. Lots of foreigner in the location we were in and I have seen expats with blonde hair just walking going to their compound with some grocery bags probably from across the shopping center. I have seen so many foreigners shopping in the malls and no bodyguard.
    Sorry to say but perhaps it depends on the location and the people surrounding you?.

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    1. I honestly don’t know! I look back and now at age 53 I think ???? what the heck but at the time I felt I was doing what I was supposed to and I was told so much I was spoiled, rich and privileged so I really felt I needed to be more flexible and basically I was stuck!

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          1. Sounds like he was raised in a VERY different culture than the US (obviously lol). And his culture treats women the way you were treated. I know you had no choice but to accept things as they were because you were stuck, but still, had it been me, I probably would have tried to walk back home and swim the ocean. Haha! just kidding. It makes me so thankful I wasn’t born in that culture. Sounds like it has been a very good thing for you to separate from him and start your blog and your life of freedom.

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