Life on the compound remained the same, ladies walked the loop, smiling and waving as they passed. They crowded onto the shopping bus and attended weekly coffee mornings at the clubhouse. Men walked by in their button up shirts and ties as they made their way to the opposite end of the compound and office. Workers from the mini market delivered large jugs of water and groceries in shopping carts, as children rode their bikes freely on the very same loop. The brightly colored flowers, shrubs and green grass were trimmed to perfection. Ladies sunbathed at the pool while their children played at the park only a few feet away. Life was quite unusual and at the same time very average. He drove his car up the street each day and through the gates to the office. I jumped into the van with my boys at 6 a.m., carrying my 4 little ones along as we made our way 30 minutes to the school. We sped on the freeway past houses, souks, camels and tents that randomly spotted the desert, until we reached the school. The boys said a reluctant goodbye, and as always I assured them that my thoughts would be with them all day. When I arrived back home my real day began, loads of laundry, scrubbing bathrooms and cooking the homemade meals that would send love and comfort wafting through the air when the boys came home. Ladies sat on their porches and also walked past my home, and soon a quick nod and wave turned into ten minutes spent discussing the many compound dramas that were always present. As I made acquaintances and let out a tiny part of the extroverted, chatty, gum chewing Lynn that still existed, people started asking me to come along. I always laughed and told them that I was busy, and did not want to drag crying little ones to different destinations. As I watched them walk away smiling and heading for their day to anywhere, secretly I wished I could be part of their world…
I felt like the cat in the hat, juggling a fish bowl on my head while holding a baby on my hip, stirring frosting, meringues in the oven, a crying Abude calling from inside of the closet, unable to find his way out. I stirred, mixed and whisked, searched the counters for a clean spoon to taste a new concoction and sat Soos in her swing. `Baby girl was now 7 months old and very verbal about her time spent on my hip while I tended to “bakery” duties. I took a moment to sit and nurse her while things baked, simmered and cooled. My British neighbor’s husband fancied my Frosty mocha torte and she wanted carrot cake for their weekly Sunday meeting. The list grew longer with each day, at first it was just a nudge and request to provide a little snack for tea, and then the orders came barreling in. I hesitated at first but it was something I liked doing and it was part of living on a thriving compound. After a few weeks of life on the compound, women met at weekly coffee mornings and ideas started brewing. A shopping bus took ladies to and from different destinations in Riyadh twice a day, but there was still that feeling of isolation and boredom. Western products and services were limited and hard to come by, such as printing, child care, music lessons and western baked goods. Compound life became a world of it’s own and tiny enterprises cropped up in the least expected places. I already made dozens of pastries for the “sheik” each week and had “dessert” nights where I experimented on my new friends. So, when my neighbor across the street informed me that I should be the one to have a “bakery” in our little world, it didn’t seem that odd. It was quite a task, adding more chaos to my life but also a great deal of adventure and exposure to the outside world. There were days when spoons, pots, pans and spatulas were stacked in the sink while cakes cooled on the counters waiting for a quick glaze. Other days were quite ordinary and nothing beyond my usual routine occurred. My little “bakery” was not a money maker, as western products were quite expensive and I needed cookie sheets, cake pans, disposable boxes, trays and other western implements. He was ok with the idea as long as my duties to him, the children and household were in no way affected. This was the rule since the beginning and was still in place. If I could keep the house and all that went with it in perfect order, then it was fine to engage in outside activities. I still provided him with the 5-6 dozen pastries 3 times a week for his dinners at the “sheiks” house and tried my best to uphold all of my duties.
I continued baking for people on the compound throughout that year. I was able to meet new friends, be involved in holiday events and trade recipes. Although it brought chaos into my life it also afforded me the opportunity to be involved in the real world. I never refused his requests to bake for the office, cook for his friends or deliver sweets on his behalf. I knew that this would secure my right to continue doing what made my life more interesting. So, when he asked me to “whip” something up for his Saudi boss, whose wife had just delivered a baby, I happily complied. I made her American cheesecake standard and plain, as requested. I would need to hand deliver it along with a few kind words and a quick cup of tea. As I prepared for my visit, I faced a a small glitch, shoes. I had only one pair, the plain canvas kind that were easily under $5 and had been brought 3 years before in the boxes. I looked at the navy blue shoes, holes now covered the top, sides and bottom. The soles hung loosely and flopped as I took each step. The cheesecake balanced on my arm and Soos hung on my hip. He came to the door and stood looking at me and my bare feet, then with his foot he gently slid his best pair of work shoes over and nodded that I should wear them. I slipped them on and trudged out the door, forgetting, much to my relief, that I would be removing them before entering her home.