3- The new school
Life on the compound started winding it’s way into reality as school approached. Our summer of swimming, sitting at the play ground and living in luxury was slowly grinding down as we all thought of the school year to come. That old sick feeling kept cropping up but I managed to shove it back another day until it had actually arrived. All of the questions that I could not answer kept coming to my weary mind, but having no solution meant trying to have a fun and relaxing summer for the kids. I had a strong resolve this new year and vowed I would not accept any more excuses or half truths about school conditions. The constant inquiries that I had insisted on, only returned the same predictable response, “We do not hit the students it is illegal“. Unraveling the real truth would take years and only become clear when I could actually enter a school. I had complained numerous times through him, but after we finally had a working phone in the apartment I dared to call the school. I rambled away in my kindergarten Arabic and found a sympathetic ear in a secretary who spoke English. I could not contain my anger and asked him if this was the religion, no it was not! If this was the treatment that was prescribed for children, no it was not. My lecture and harsh words did little to help until the day I refused to send them back to school. A letter listing my grievances was dropped off at the school gate, explaining my sons would not return until the conditions were met. The school principal and supervisors were not sure how to react to this but agreed, things would be different. This did buy us a couple of months at the end of the school year and no more problems occurred for that small time period.
When I lived in Seattle I had befriended a Syrian lady who was married to a Saudi. All these years later we met again in Al-Khobar. She was a lovely lady with impeccable manners and a taste for the finer things in life. She was truly shocked when I spoke of the problems we had encountered at the schools. She told me about a school in Dhaharan that was very nice and treated students well. My first sign that things might be different was the refreshing dress code for this school, a pair of jeans and white polo shirt. At first I thought this was a joke. At the previous school it was mandatory to wear a thobe (long white gown worn by men and boys). In addition to all of the other issues the boys were not used to such attire and it was difficult for them to manage. I knew we were making the choice to send our children to this school system, so I did not expect them to adapt to my culture, but I had hoped for fair treatment as well as a measure of flexibility with small children.
The boys came home from the first day of school full of excitement and details about their day. They said that the teacher announced to the whole class that hitting was not allowed, that the teacher could not hit students, he could inform the principal, he could also not hit a student, but the principal would tell the parents if the child was naughty and that was up to the parents to chose appropriate discipline for any poor behavior at school. The children were given points for doing well and having good behavior, certain students would attend special field trips to reward their hard work and excellence. I was shocked at the organization, discipline and teaching techniques in this new school. In the other two schools, hitting, screaming as well as humiliation and name calling were the commonly used disciplinary measures and these tactics were also used on well behaved children as a deterrent to using bad behavior. This new school seemed to be very Westernized and the boys had already made friends with other children.
Our life in Saudi seemed to be looking up, a lovely compound and a fantastic new school. I was busy of course with three little ones at home, now pregnant with my 6th child, but life was easy and full of comfort. All of the old worries seemed a distant memory to me and I knew we were on track for the future I had envisioned. This easy life would surely make him happy and ease his burden making him return to the original man I had met. He came up with more rules while living in this compound, but that was fine, it was a small trade off. The rules seemed to change on a daily basis, the table could not have two legs on the carpet and two legs off, the couch could not be touching the wall, a small pan could not be placed on a big burner for cooking, there were spices that were on the “no use” list, cookbooks were retrieved and pages of dishes that were not satisfactory received a huge XXX and hand written notes scrawled over pages saying “DO NOT MAKE! NOT GOOD”. The rules seemed to change quite frequently and as soon as I would master them and feel I was on top of things, they were no longer enforced and heartily scoffed at. But, no matter, no one is perfect and peace in the home was all that I truly wanted.
When things seemed difficult and I started to survey the situation looking for answers, memories flooded back of true and everlasting love. Moments were sprinkled with kindness like the dew that glistens on the grass, gentle hugs and sweet reminders of a love that was endearing and abiding. Enthralled with young love and feelings of desire, it all flooded back for days only to return to a dead end for coming months. My pregnancy was not difficult, but tiring and morning sickness after 5 pregnancies had now taken on a new twist. I carried a towel with me everywhere, as I could not swallow my own spit. I had gone through this each time but it increased in severity. I dared not speak of this or complain as I had heard so many times that I was lucky and privileged. Life held many blessings and all I had to do was peek at the men hanging laundry as we rolled out of the compound on the air conditioned shopping bus.