Don’t listen to mama
School came to a close and the lazy days of summer gently crept in. Life on the compound slowed down as most residents packed their bags and made their way home for break. The British family next door did not care for life in Saudi, and so the revolving door began. Workers delivered boxes that would later be carted onto large trucks and hauled away. Teary goodbyes were uttered, children hugged and laughed until a driver came to collect them and deposit them at the airport. Staying in Saudi each summer, first in the villa and then in the apartment, had not been easy. With no furniture and at times no electricity, the relentless hot days drug on, making the arrival of Arabic school seem like a welcome visitor. Compound life had changed all of that and summer meant leisurely days at the pool, riding bikes on the deserted loop and running on the expansive grass near our home. Thoughts of the coming academic year were easily pushed aside to be addressed at another time.
The loop where people walked, biked and played was now abandoned and all signs of life were absent. Swimming at the pool, playing games, building large pad houses and sliding down the stairs had now commenced. When the desert sun dipped behind the compound walls and finally gave in to night, we sat at home watching the forbidden satellite t.v. Deemed inappropriate, the television channels had been disconnected upon arrival to the compound almost a year before. Boredom had now quickly set in and my oldest son was determined to solve the mystery. After asking compound technicians and looking at the cables, he spotted a tiny piece of paper lodged between the connector prongs which had disrupted the signal. This new addition to summer was a welcome relief, watching news and current events that had unfolded in the past year, cartoons and crafting programs. He was shocked to see the t.v. back on, but gave only an admonishing glance that was silently known and accepted. The t.v. was to be turned off before he appeared at the front door and even children’s shows marked G were very suspect and kept to a minimum.
The summer months drifted past and the children became intrigued with making pinatas and paper mache projects which would continue well into their adult life. A sort of summer camp had formed and taken shape in an accidental manner. The morning meal was served and then it was time for swimming lessons at the pool. I stood in my black abaya and scarf, baby Soos attached to my hip, calling out orders and making motions with my arms and legs until the two older boys were able to swim proficiently. We headed home at noon where happy meals were dreamed up out of favorite foods, followed by t.v. programming and art projects. It was a carefree summer where the children and I took delight in the simple things that life now afforded us.
The summer months wore down and I could no longer avoid the issue of getting my daughters into Arabic school. I called for transportation and made my way to the large girls school that stood a block behind the boys facility. I carted the girls and little ones and sat in the office filling out paper work. The feeling that we were once again somehow invisible and at the same time an anomaly, took hold. The principal was not available and the secretary had little grasp on the English language and so I decided to return the next day. I needed to make my position clear on corporal punishment and find a teacher that would be patient with my girls. I put the papers in and returned to the compound, secretly wishing that the girls could continue at American school. The children chattered about our trip to the school and about the Arab ladies that did not speak English. See See and Foof then asked him why they could not return to the American school, after all they were American. I sat, holding my breath, dreading the inevitable response that usually followed. Their father grimaced when he heard these words and loudly pronounced as he regularly did, “Do not not not listen to mama” and he added in “ you are not American”