Invisible

Life moved forward and the anticipation of my parent’s visit carried us through the days and weeks that passed. See See and Foof continued to attend American school, making  friends, playing at recess and learning to read in English. Their brothers trudged off to Saudi school making the best of the situation. He continued to pursue an alternate position at the office and hopped on the Sheik’s jet for quick trips to Jeddah, returning at times within hours. My little “bakery”  provided compound residents with pastries and sweets. Plates of warm cookies and chicken pot pie were delivered to neighbors and returned with spicy Curries and Beriyani. Residents walked the loop chatting about the upcoming holidays and their plans to head home for this festive season. Friends came and went entering the compound and settling in, only to move shortly after. The streets of Riyadh transformed and somehow looked oddly different, men wrapped scarves around their faces shielding them from the choking dust, children donned long wool coats and ear muffs. Temperatures had dropped to 70 degrees and desert life had been thrown into a deep freeze.  Hues of red and orange enveloped the city, the horizon looked ominous yet beautiful. Inside the compound walls life remained the same, residents thought little of the dropping temperatures and continued to swim, play tennis and walk the loop in their shorts and summer clothing.

The life I hoped to provide for my children was slowly coming to be a reality and carefree days spent playing and running around the park became normal. The first two years of life in Riyadh with no furniture, intermittent electricity and little outside communication, were now behind us. The little girls were in school and adjusting to being away each day, the boys had grasped the Arabic language and I was running a bakery. We had now entered the world of the the Western elite living in Saudi. Residents launched complaints about the patches of brown in the grassy field, the shopping bus destinations were not varied enough and restaurant dinner deliveries were late. I smiled and laughed with ladies who passed by my porch, answering questions about cooking and baking when asked. I popped over to houses, babies in tow, to give brief cooking lessons and then ran home quickly to tend to my duties. As each day passed things seemed to improve in our lives and a feeling of security came over me, something that had been lacking for quite some time.

Just outside my window the workers stood in their green jump suits, trimming bushes and tending to exotic flowers that were not normally seen in Saudi. When the heat, dust and weather were relentless they sat on porches and under trees to take a break. The streets were always tidy and no sign of trash or dirt was to be seen. Abude, then 3 years old, occupied himself watching them trim and clip, offering his input and advice and explaining how one day he would be a gardener. He chattered endlessly with his friends about Mohammad, his buddy. He was mesmerized by their uniforms and tools and although they had a language barrier, words seemed unnecessary.  I had watched from the apartment window just 2 years before, where I myself struggled to keep cool and survive under difficult conditions, but now as I stood in this luxury villa, a twinge of unease over took me.  I watched Mohammad as he made his way to the curb, it looked as though he had a mitten or glove on his hand and his face looked peaked.  Abude ran inside and informed me that Mohammad was sick and to bring a glass of water and some food. Although we didn’t speak the same language, no words were needed. His hand was wrapped as if to keep it in tact, but traces of blood streaked his arm. He had cut his finger almost severing it while clipping plants, the clinic had bandaged it and sent him back out. I spent the next few days monitoring him,  bringing food, water and medicine. A helpless feeling gripped me and I had no explanation for Abude.  I learned that these workers, the backbone of our compound and Saudi society, moved among us silently and were indeed invisible.

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162 thoughts on “Invisible

      1. That’s so unfortunate, sorry to hear. But it sounds like you extended whatever kindness you could, so at least that’s something. That was nice of you to care for the gardener after he got hurt!

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      1. Yes I don’t honestly know. I did things, served food to maids and gave tips or just stopped to chat and some people told me ugh what are you doing? One lady dared to tell me they only like bread!!! The driver for the grocery store, carried my newborns and told me, go home and rest you should not be out at the store! haha he was a friend and seemed more concerned than he did! So, they are people and special!

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  1. You have always been a nurturer… back in the villa compound you not only took care of your family, but reached out to neighbors offering sweet treats and cooking lessons, as well as helping those in desperate need like the gardener, Mohammed. Today, you’ve created a blog community that you nurture with delicious recipes/cooking lessons, kind words and generous support! xo

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  2. It’s the same in the UAE, these guys work so hard and are given such little consideration. They work so hard and they are there to do whatever jobs they can to earn money to send home to their families, but the locals never see them as real people, they are seen as expendable and replaceable at their whim 😦

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    1. Yes it is heartbreaking! I wondered if it was the same! In the end I could not take it and had to hold myself back from screaming at a saudi checker who was rude to my friend, the grocery bagger, he was indian!He called him a dog and I just felt my blood pressure rise, I tossed my stuff up and he knew I was mad, I slapped my card down to pay and he asked the bagger what was wrong, so I told him! I was so mad! so rude to a sweet soul!

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      1. Good for you!!!
        At a hotel in Abu Dhabi years ago a young Philippino waitress had been pushed so hard and worked so many shifts back to back she was absolutely exhausted and broken; she threw herself out of a high window and killed herself. The hotel manager didn’t even acknowledge it, let alone pay her any respects, he just demanded a replacement 😦

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      2. I know, it’s awful, we hate seeing it when we visit. We are polite to everyone and thank them gratefully for anything they do for us – these are human beings! Gracious, hard working people who don’t deserve to be treated so thoughtlessly x

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  3. It’s a terrible reality that around the world this feudal attitude still pervades. I was here on Monday for my first ‘Martin Luther King Day’ and I commented to my daughters on skype that it is about time the world actually lived the ethos that he preached. I fear I won’t live to see the day. The invisible workers, those that the rich and powerful (often not actually either that rich or that powerful) just ignore, pretend they aren’t there, turn the other cheek in entirely the wrong way. I’m glad that at least you had your eyes open and refused to accept that a human being is every worthless. Another wonderful engrossing read for which I thank you 🙂

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  4. Interesting to read. I remember my first year teaching in Abu Dhabi how I attracted so much attention with my blonde hair and blue eyes that screamed American. I would think, think, and rethink every outfit before I went out. Is my skirt long enough; what about my sleeves; do I appear too friendly? What really shocked me were two things: some of my fellow teachers at the schools wore abayas to fit in, and when I went to Dubai and was walking the malls….it seemed some people were very disrespectful by the lack of clothing worn in the malls. It shocked me. My principal seemed fine with my long pants, long sleeves and I had no intention of wearing an abaya over my conservative teacher clothes to fit in. If I were in Saudi, though I would expect to wear one. Good story. Thanks for sharing.

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      1. I am barely doing it! I feel like a failure! I went and had to read these sub notes, then work with a different child each hour, find places in the school, didnt know what was going on! I think I am old for this routine or no confidence. It is hard each day not knowing and having to figure this all out. I worked with special ed which was good but stressful! So, I am trying! I wish I could stay home and make money haha! I will do more next week hopefully!

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      2. Oh, I understand. I subbed for two years getting my MA in English. I decided to look upon it as an adventure. I enjoyed the ESE classes because I usually had an aide. So much depends on the area and the staff. Don’t give up. You have a lot to offer. I am sure some of those teachers and kids would be fascinated by your background in Saudi. Mike also subbed a couple of days a week in 2014 when our store was slow. The kids liked him but he had a funny little spat with a teacher once and she reported it…she had no sense of humor! The kids really liked him though and often came to our store specifically because they remembered him. Don’t give up!

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      3. We have some rough areas in Tampa. I was a temp teacher for a year at a very rough schools or several rough schools. Now I finally have my professional certificate which I completed before leaving to teach in Abu Dhabi but I really like being an adjunct at the University level. It is always good to have. I really like children though. Sometimes when I get bored with the little extra time from not having the store, I think of returning to sub part time but in the end, I am glad Mike is feeling ok, and I have enough papers to correct! And new platforms (computer) to learn. I did enjoy working with 1st and 2nd graders.

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      4. He is doing ok. The rest is doing him well. Both of us have been on a roller coaster for the past four years. We would still be on it if the tumors hadn’t been discovered and by now, he would have been in trouble. He is still going to the VA and they are keeping close watch over him. At least he is away from stress. Thanks for asking!

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      5. Lynz…I wanted to let you know that the area around our store was not the safest. Yesterday, at the 4800 block…we were on the 4200 block…well, on the 4800 block, there were 2 robberies at 9 a.m.(1) and the other in the afternoon. This was the kind of thing and atmosphere we were alerted to for our store. It was affordable but it was a very stressful area.

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      6. yes, I may write my next blog about different areas just so I can convince myself that I was not “alerted” without reason. I have lived in some volatile areas but having a cupcakerie in this part of town brought me to high alert…I may write a funny blog about some of the things for the next one.

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    1. Those invisible workers were also present in Abu Dhabi. I felt for them and the staff at the hotel apt I stayed in. They shared with me parts of their life. In a country of much wealth, it was startling to see poverty …the apt. buildings where they lived 10 in one room with clothing hanging out of the windows. On the other hand, some of the teachers walking alone were bothered by some of the workers touching them and surrounding them physically. So , one had also to be careful.

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  5. Your are a writer indeed. Your words take me on a journey and your story unfolds without flaw. Your willingness to help others is honorable and an example we all should live by. Thanks Lynn, I am enjoying reading about your life – truly amazing! xx

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    1. It is sad and horrible. I offered a maid a nice meal at my house, gave her tea, served her, followed it up with dessert, I was told by a lady, she is a maid WHAT are you doing??? She doesn’t like that kind of food!!!! bread and water bread and water!!!

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  6. Wow. I sat here thinking that we do that here. How many homeless, veterans or workers we come across in our days are invisible. We know the work they do or did but we never really “see” them.

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  7. A very moving post, Lynn. It’s so true, even (or maybe especially?) living here in the west, we often don’t think of those invisible people whom we rely on, who keep things running for us. This post shows great empathy. I felt your struggle with being relieved about your own improving situation, and yet torn at the difficult circumstances of others. Thanks for sharing another installment. I’ve missed your stories! 🙂

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  8. you are such a compassionate, wonderful woman, no matter what the situation, you are the light….no matter what the outcome for you personally, you always put others first…amazing they just bandaged him up and sent him back to work..he was lucky that day to have you and your kids there for him….xxkat.

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    1. I think as long as these workers are running the country (doing all labor) it wont change. They have tried to saudiize where certain jobs have to be for saudis which kind of helped a tiny bit, not much. Lets say this they are not garbage men, street sweepers etc. so they dont understand!!

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      1. It’s a strange world, it is weird men and women separate totally even in restaurants, single sections for men alone, no women allowed! But then there are these men every where. It feels weird to have people around you on your porch, back yard, sweeping and working.haha

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  9. I continue to be amazed at how much you accomplished each day, while taking care of your family. It is wonderful how you found time to care for that poor man. At least he had compassion from you…

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    1. When mom went back 2 years after we left, a driver, Abner told her oh say hi to madam(they insist on calling you that!) lynn, I miss her, he took a picture with mom! It warmed my heart! To be honest they were the most interested in being my friends out of anyone! The kids and I did not fit into arab society and not western society over there so we were always outsiders! xxx

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