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9-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.