It had been four months since we arrived to Riyadh and to this villa, frustration and despair had finally collided. I sat on the toilet looking at chunks of hair scattered on the bathroom floor. Panic quickly set in as I realized the gravity of this defiant act. My hair was always even, plain and drab, but now huge chunks were missing, short, long and ragged. I regained my composure and stood looking in the mirror, trimming and cutting the bigger pieces to make some sort of order. I showered, dressed and returned to the children who were busy with homework.
When he arrived home that night he didn’t notice my short, uneven hair, or chose not to mention it at that time. Instead, he focused on my mood, which seemed off and this was never acceptable. When it came to my mind and what went on inside it, he seemed to have a secret power and nothing was left a mystery. In the early years, these inquires were short and marked by a deliberate tenderness, love and trust were the main topic of discussion. He gently touched my hand and whispered in my ear, something never done, not even behind closed doors. This love and concern was not usually evident and so I never questioned it but soaked up the little attention he was willing to give. He prodded and pushed to find out what I was thinking and why I was not willing to share my innermost dreams and ideas. When I finally cracked, two things would be the inevitable result. He would be unhappy about the unauthorized thoughts that had been whirling around inside my brain, now exposed. The second result would be anger that I had not divulged all that I was thinking, akin to lying. Either way, the interrogation would not end until all thoughts, good or bad came crashing out and were revealed. Cautionary words were then spoken about hidden agendas and things that were seen as fabrications played out in my female mind. It was important that I always disclose what I was thinking and feeling to create a sense of trust and also prove my fidelity.
I explained that this trip meant allot to the children and to me as well! I told him it was hot, no a/c and no furniture. I reeled off a list of complaints and watched guardedly as he took it all in. Much to my surprise his face was calm and even relenting. He talked about his work and how it was not what he had pictured, he was trying to save money and move some day to a compound where everything was provided. A family of this size was a huge responsibility, he had to be careful, not frivolous. I listened to his reasoning and felt my anger turn to guilt and embarrassment. He explained that his brother’s salary for many months would be equal to the cost of a new stove, couches or any one of the things on my list. I sat and thought and although I had heard this same speech many times, I felt a certain connection to it more now than ever. I dropped my complaints and felt a new surge of energy to “make do” and try harder. The following days brought several changes, talk of moving to a new place with a better location and the arrival of a t.v., cooking pot and a new blanket. He also said that the trip to my sister’s house was back on and we would leave in a matter of days.
We boarded the train and sat on bench seats in the family section. Children climbed over seats, ran through the aisle and stopped to stare until maids pulled them away and back to their place. Sand changed from tan to red and then to shrubs as we approached Al-Khobar. The big boys looked out the window at camels and tents while See See and Foof counted the remnants of old cars dumped out in the dunes of sand. Sandwiches and snacks were offered in another car, wrappers and food were left littering the seats and walkways. Finally four hours had passed and we approached the Eastern province. My brother in law met us at the station and took us back to the house in Al-Khobar.
We arrived to a large cement house, full of furniture that my sister had purchased in America and had shipped over to her rented home. The children played outside and ran around while we laughed, talked and watched t.v. He boarded the train the next day and would return to retrieve us at the end of the break. This was the future I had envisioned when I agreed to move to Saudi Arabia. Al-Khobar was more open and Western than Riyadh, women walked outside and Westerners crowded the corniche and local Safeway. My sister told me that life in Saudi needed adjustments and certainly things were never easy in the beginning. I realized she was right and the long term benefits would far out weigh any inconvenience at this point. Two glorious weeks came and went quickly as most pleasurable things do. He came back on the train to take us home and we said our goodbyes. My sister promised to visit and we made our way back to the train station.