Foof at the American school
As things stayed the same living on the large Riyadh compound, they also changed in different ways. Friends became a normal part of life, sharing plates of food, recipes and cooking lessons. He still drove up to the front of the compound and worked in the office at the position that he felt would change his level of happiness. He visited the “sheik” three days each week bringing the dessert trays that were prepared under his watchful eye. My little “bakery” continued to provide sweets for neighbors and I hosted dessert nights from time to time as my way of connecting with other ladies on the compound. The children played for hours at the park, the recreation center and on the front porch, they made friends and life seemed carefree. The boys new school brought with it hope for a somewhat positive experience. It was not like the very westernized school in Al-Khobar but it had numerous good points and the boys seemed to settle in easily. Saleeha (See See) was now six and Foof was four, pressure was mounting to get them into school. After the previous failed attempt at getting See See into first grade, he formulated a plan. The company paid school fees for 3 children and while the American school in Riyadh had a prohibitive tuition, the two girls would be covered. They would be enrolled at the American school of Riyadh for the first year, an adjustment period where they could learn in their native language. The following year they would transition into the Arabic school system with their brothers.
As the day approached it was nerve wracking and stressful thinking that my girls would now be leaving each day and going to school. We toured the campus, met with the counselor, took the proper entrance tests and it was confirmed that they would soon be attending American school. The counselor suggested that their father accompany them that first day to help with separation anxiety that often comes when children say goodbye to their mothers. The day arrived and I knew like everything else in our lives, it was inevitable, so I made sure it would be as smooth and voluntary as possible. I spoke of the kind teachers, the activities and the new friends they would make at school. They took their lunch boxes and back packs and headed out the door full of hope and teary eyes. They piled into the car with their father and he drove them to their first day of school. Foof settled in and made friends, climbing under the bathroom stalls, locking the doors and then exiting! See See had more trouble, she sat on the teacher’s lap and threw toys around the room until she finally realized she would be staying. It was a rough first day but after that both girls made a speedy adjustment, making friends and looking forward to school each morning. They seemed to settle easily, unlike their brothers who still struggled most mornings with making their way to school.
I loaded Abude and the baby and boarded the big “bumpy bus” as the girls called it. We made the 30 minute trip to the American school and back each morning. Driving in Saudi is dangerous with boys as young as 13 years old whizzing past, skidding, racing and going the wrong way in traffic, so a bus monitor was needed in case of emergency. The children that rode the bus and attended American school were from various countries and had differing ideas on bus riding etiquette. Children ate food, left wrappers, wandered around while the vehicle was moving and at times instigated fights. The Pakistani driver had little authority over the children and so a monitor was mandatory and required by the housing director for the overall safety of students. This concept was not popular and many days no one showed up to fulfill their duty. I made the decision to ride the bus and serve as the monitor to ensure that an adult would be present at all times. We sat in the back and watched the desert pass, camels and bedouin tents dotted the outskirts of town, then apartments and bukalas (mini market) until we reached the school. We entered the secure gates and lined up with buses from all over the city and various compounds. The girls looked back at us with a smile and headed off for school. When we arrived at our door step it was back to the morning routine and life as usual. In the afternoon we made the same trip back to the American school, the girls jumped on the bus smiling and beaming, art projects, stories of friends and new adventures. Although I should have known it would be this way at a Western school, a part of me worried that it was indeed something inside of me that made my boys nervous and unhappy at each school.
I felt a tiny crack in the exterior of my being that had been created through his eyes and I began to question my reality. He had ingrained a sense of urgency inside of my brain that held me accountable for any and all child related woes. The slightest unhappy moments or school issues would randomly bring about days of anger and unrest on his part. My inability to successfully mother the children was directly reflected in the children’s anxiety and unwillingness to “just go to school” and that was the line that I heard most days. As I watched the girls come and go from the American school, a smile firmly planted on their lips, giggles and whispers of things that brought them joy, it reaffirmed my own thoughts. For three years I had tried to explain, taking great care not to offend or incite his anger,that the boys felt uncomfortable in Arabic school, not knowing the language or culture and being subjected to a harsh environment full of corporal punishment and humiliation. But there was no relenting in his character and the message had always been clear and non negotiable, until now.