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Riyadh 1993

Events of the night before slowly drifted back, the crunch of dead cockroaches under foot, leaving the airport and walking into a rush of hot blustery air and driving aimlessly through the same neighborhood numerous times.  Each and every street looked the same, an open garbage dumpster positioned in a vacant lot, empty pop cans, plastic bags and remnants of shwarma sandwiches all lay strewn in piles that scattered the street.  Ferule cats snuck in and out of the make shift landfill, eyes glowing in the dark, skulking stealthy, looking more like predators than harmless felines. Workers stood rag and bucket in hand, dressed in ratty pants and shirts, scarves draped around their nose and mouth to filter out the dust and sand that swirled endlessly. They waved, flagging down cars in hopes of making a few riyals. Saudi boys kicked footballs, stirring up dust, their thobes ( long garment worn by Saudi men) hiked up and tucked haphazardly into their surwals (pants underneath a thobe) making it easier to maneuver during a routine game.

It appeared that each and every block was interchangeable and he had no more knowledge of this area than we did. A long line of cement walls with metal gates that enclosed tan colored villas looked to be one unit. He swerved in and out of traffic, looping around and back again to the same neighborhoods, stopping to peer momentarily at the vehicles lined up near the curb. An exasperated look crossed his face and sighs of irritation gave way to words uttered under his breath. After several attempts he finally smiled and said “Abu Abudllah’s truck”(downstairs neighbor and owner of the villa).  He parked the vehicle and exited to open the large rusty gate that stood in front of yet another row of impenetrable walls enclosing block like cement homes.

The van that had been borrowed from a Saudi friend was fully equipped with a/c, luxury seats and a small television.  He pulled out into the street and then backed into the parking area. An empty carport stood before us, hundreds of dead cockroaches lay on their backs, evidence of a recent fumigation in preparation for our arrival. One lone palm tree waved in the intermittent breeze struggling to grow among the concrete of this enclosure. I smiled and sucked down a wave of panic, thinking to myself that surely this was not the place we would call home. After all, I had paid my dues, had been the perfect and dutiful wife for ten years, living with bits and pieces of old furniture that Saudis left behind when returning home, had converted to a new religion and followed it to the letter. I turned away from my old life, singing jazz, pictures and friends. I told my parents that no gifts were allowed for holidays and did not resist when he announced a chosen name for each and every newborn.  It was a slow current that drifted away from autonomy and veered toward total lack of control. But this move to Saudi was the ultimate sacrifice and I was sure this time things would be different.

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