I gingerly opened the freezer door and watched as the cake tumbled out and onto the floor! Each luscious chocolaty layer spilling over the next, a waterfall of fudge and whipped cream all planted in a blob next to my feet! My face turned red, but luckily the cousins broke into laughter as we stood watching and wondering what to do next. The two lady cousins had asked, on this visit to Al-Khobar (3 1/2 hours from Riyadh) that I show them how to make a cake, an American cake, shukalata (chocolate). Although it seemed there was no time or the proper ingredients I agreed and we set to work. The men had gone out for a walk and I was left with the two cousins who I did not know. They lived in a tiny apartment next door to each other on the community college campus. The husbands taught wood working to Saudi students and were provided this place to live. Of course I complimented them on their beautiful home and sat on the floor doing as they did. They were very agreeable women and embraced me, as did the rest of the family.
At first it was a rocky road with the immediate family, as he did not tell them of our marriage until our first child was 6 months old. They vowed to never accept me and were very angry, I was 2 months pregnant with an 8 month old when I traveled to Syria to make things right. I could not stand the thought of these people hating me, the same people I had secretly loved and care for, purchased gifts for, watched the younger siblings grow through faded photos, witnessed marriages and births, all the while myself being kept from view. I knew them each by name and knew their faces from the pictures I had pasted into photo albums, dreaming of the day we would meet, aunts, uncles, siblings and even cousins. He dropped me at the airport and arrived back home to receive a letter saying, “do not send this lady.”
I entered the apartment in Damascus with open arms, hugging each aunt and uncle, cousin and parents. They were all there and stood staring at this foreign lady they knew nothing of, but who appeared to eerily know each of them. I spent the next 5 weeks at my in-laws apartment in Damascus. A steady stream of guests came each day from morning until night, I recognized each one. I went to the home of every relative, sat on their couches enjoying the first wave of fruit and water followed by tea and a sweet and finally strong Arabic coffee. They smiled and nodded and I did the same, each one holding the baby and fawning over him. The day I left Syria, my father in law sat me down, “Um Osama (mother of Osama) we love you and are happy you are married to our son.” Tears filled my eyes and since that time in Damascus, it has been the same, I was given the privilege of being part of them. These two ladies were no different, opening their hearts and homes to me, a stranger to them.
We picked up pieces of cake and scooped up melted frosting, the ladies giggled, licking the fudge and giving me thumbs up! I told them we might be moving to Al-Khobar for a job and I would come another day and make a real cake. When the men came back we sat some more and discussed how the cake had fallen straight out of the freezer and onto the floor. The two husbands laughed heartily and gave me re-assuring looks! I noticed that in this home there was an abundance of laughter and joking and freedom. My assumption was that Arab ladies were meek and quiet, but but the opposite seemed to be true. The children had toys although their parents had little means, the ladies had hobbies and spoke up eagerly when irritated. It was a confusing and enlightening visit. I had always been told, “Each morning as my father leaves for his shop he asks my mother if she needs anything, and each day she answers the same, NO, she never complains, never leaves the home and never needs anything.”