It was November, temperatures were now in the mid 70’s and I was in my 5th month of pregnancy. Things were going well for the boys at the new school. The teachers and administrators kept their word and no corporal punishment was used on the students. They went on numerous field trips to soda and chocolate factories in the area. The boys made friends and for the first time felt as if they fit in to this environment. See See (Saleeha ) was due to start first grade at the neighborhood school. She was excited to be a “big” girl and begin this journey. It ended rather abruptly on the first day of school when her teacher informed her that her name was not Saleeha, but SALIHA (the proper version of the my daughter’s name) and that she (Saleeha) was, “not a good girl and not her friend!” I had not yet left the school and found See See holding her ripped up name tag as she ran down the hall calling my name. So, school would wait for another year. As we pulled away from the large cement building a sinking feeling settled within me, a fear that this would be the start of issues to come in the girl’s school system.
Gloria, Guadalupe and I continued to walk through the compound, take the shopping bus and sit at the park. Life on the little compound was mundane and steady for the most part until little issues arose here and there. When leaving the confines of the compound women must wear an abaya (long black silky coat) especially if entering more traditional areas of the city. One day we made a trip to the local vegetable souk. Rows of vendors displaying their fruit and vegetables and people bargaining for large bags of produce. A particular woman who hated living in Saudi spent her time at the souk loudly arguing with the people selling fruit. The vegetable souk is generally not a common place for women to go, men do the shopping at such places in Saudi. This woman argued, bargained and made a scene at every stall until she finally opened her abaya for all the men to see, under which she was scantily clad in her string bikini. As we hastily grabbed our bags and made our way to the bus she screamed and hollered at the unsuspecting workers, most of whom were from Bangladesh and India. We loaded onto the bus and the driver sped off, only to have her flash her middle finger to most on coming traffic. She laughed and bragged for days to come of her escapades at the vegetable souk. It provided us with a peek into behaviors that would later become more common in expat, compound living.
He continued to spend the week days in Riyadh and then returned home for the weekends. The children clambered and jumped, hugging and kissing him after days without seeing “Baba”(father). We sat for a couple of hours catching up on the week and all of the events that had passed. He told of the new, larger compound being built in Riyadh. It had a mini market, recreation center, parks, swimming pools and everything a person could hope for. We would be moving into this new home after school finished for the boys. He liked his new position, the supervisor and location, things were going well for him in Riyadh! As the children ran off to play he inquired about Saleeha’s school and how it had gone. I hesitated to break the news of the events at the school. He shook his head and reminded me that I had made a home too loving and warm for any child to leave. He then stood to leave for a night out with friends he had not seen all week.
I spoke to mom and dad on the compound phone once a week and this time they informed me that they would be coming to Al-Khobar for three weeks. This news sent waves of joy and excitement through our house for the month to come. A visit from Grama and Grampa would be a welcome change and a much needed breath of fresh air. We had not seen them for 18 months and it was a brief week at my sister’s house after living in Riyadh for 6 months. The children spoke of riding the bus to Rashid mall, walking on the Corniche along the sea and swimming in the compound pool with Grama and Grampa. They could hardly contain their excitement over the impending visit. I cleaned and cooked and although I was ready to enter my 6th month I felt light and free as I bounded up the three flights of stairs working to get things ready. They would share time between our house and my sister’s home in Dhahran. When he heard the news of the upcoming visit he shared fond memories of Mom and Dad, who had signed his paper work which meant taking responsibility for him, let him live in their home and in general given full support for his new life as an American. When he shared his thoughts of them, it brought me back in time to days of scented letters and promises made to wait endlessly, a true and abiding love. He followed this with a stern reminder, that while they were most welcome, things in our household must remain the same, no alterations. As I sat in the marble foyer on a cushioned settee gazing out the large picture window to my new compound life, a long forgotten image kept creeping in. I could see him in the back yard of our Seattle home, he stood over the burning barrel he loved so much, he glanced in at me through the window as he tossed our monogrammed, leather wedding album in to the blazing inferno.