Each night a grease stained paper bag could be seen tucked under his arm as he opened the door and woke us from our lethargic almost dormant state of being. A long piece of plastic ( sufra)was torn at perforations and placed to shape an eating area on the rough black carpet. The contents of the bag were poured onto a tray, rice with chicken on the side. Two large water bottles were placed on the sufra and passed around when the meal was nearly done. Guidelines had not changed; the rules were still in place, no arguing or hurried eating, limit talking, keep hands clean and above all no complaining.
Rice and chicken from a neighborhood restaurant became the staple diet until he announced that he would purchase a stove so real cooking could commence. The house buzzed with anticipation and talk of the food that undoubtedly would follow, cookies, cakes and pasta. When his day off arrived he made his way to Butha (area where people can buy used goods like a swap meet on weekends) and returned with an electric stove. Two workers dressed in shabby faded coveralls maneuvered up three flights of stairs until at last they delivered this new addition to the villa.
He worked to secure the appliance in its place, making necessary adjustments to put it in working order. He stood and smiled motioning for my approval, pointing to the old yellow stove, dirt and grime, chipped off paint, wobbly and uneven. His eyes narrowed as he scanned my face looking for any sign of disapproval. “Forty dollars and its electric” his words hung overhead too heavy to be absorbed. He spoke of having friends over and the meals that would be prepared on the newly purchased appliance.
A sick and familiar feeling and the realization that nothing had actually changed became my focus. The hope that this move to Saudi would make him happy and somehow things would return to normalcy. I pulled my thoughts together and remembered life was a test not meant to be neglected or lived in frivolous luxury.
A pan of water bubbled on the burner; pasta was thrown in and cooked, drained and served with butter and salt. Stirring became treacherous and with each touch of the metal spoon, tiny zaps shocked my hand. Two burners were operational, the inside of the oven spewed out smoke and grit. I smiled and stirred quickly trying to avoid these blips, not knowing what was wrong or daring to inquire.
A dismal expression crossed his face as he stared down at noodles, salt and butter. The usual words were spoken that signaled dissatisfaction “what is in this?” I had learned that responses should be short, respectful and exact. He was disappointed that I was not acting like a woman who loved to create pastries and homemade dishes, what was wrong with me, noodles with salt and butter? Why, no one would imagine I was a lady who loved to experiment with baking and cooking, host dinner parties and prepare special dishes for ailing friends. I explained that the inside of the stove did not work properly and when I stirred food on the stove top it seemed something was shocking me. This was met with a long hard look and words that would prove to epitomize my life from that point forward, “Well, USE a wooden spoon then!”