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Update on the book

For the past few months Saleeha (oldest daughter) has been working on the book. She has organized, suggested and reviewed. I worked last year until I needed a big break but now that school is almost starting I will put my efforts back into finishing the book and first publishing a poetry book. I am new to all of this but feel that it is time! It is something that I have to do or need to do or just a part of the process of recovery but whatever it is, this is the time. Thank you for being there on this journey. Your love and support mean everything! 

Riyadh 2001

Jeans were seen as inappropriate and bad for the bones and female form. Silence gripped the room as he looked up and down rubbing hands across his face and then head, ultimately finding their resting place in his lap. The usual commentary repeated itself and unbeknownst to my scrambled brain, it made little difference what logic I attempted to pursue; she was young and did not have a womanly body, we lived on a western compound where all young girls were allowed to wear jeans and lastly there was no way to return these items. I finished my plea with a reminder that his children were modest beyond the norm and had never engaged in activities that would reflect poorly on him.  A roundabout discussion as to why my parents would bring such offensible items into our home and the improbable threat that he would actually speak with them, ended in tears. It was necessary to place myself on the side of caution and therefore I stood firmly with him. I knew there were only two options, we were either with him or against him. The jeans were rumpled into a ball and placed well away from view, hidden in a vast and endless cavern that contained forbidden actions, thoughts and words.

Her frail figure approached the table and placed the plastic sack down on a chair just beside me, tucking it under miscellaneous jackets, bags and items that were stacked in a pile. Her eyes shifted nervously at first forward and then a slight tilt of her head dared to look behind her. He was nowhere in sight that was the obvious and unspoken conclusion. The younger children voiced their irritation at this seemingly wasted trip to Faisaliah (one of the first malls in Riyadh). Clatter of shoes rubbing against the table jangled our nerves as Heme squirmed and rolled between the table, floor and chairs. The pants were eventually taken from the sack and handed over to my lap where I surveyed their color, length and ability to conceal her tiny figure.

Plain light blue, loose fitting and ordinary, they appeared to be the best that we could find and the only suitable option in this upscale, trendy mall. They looked to be perfect, a replacement for the shiny, fashionable jeans and shirt that Grama had recently brought from America. Grama and Grampa supplied all clothing and as far as she knew that is where necessities came from. A play station, toys, shoes, towels, mixers and of course clothing had become my parents “gift” to the children as well as to him. Dress pants, ties and shirts were purchased and put together into suitable and professional sets and then brought as yearly gifts in boxes that either preceded their visit or came along with them. This was undeniably the most helpful lifeline that we were blessed with but also came to be a sharp double edged sword, both welcomed and dreaded.

Little ones jumped to attention and sat upright, the girls fixed loose hairs and smoothed their abayas and I knew that this was it. He smiled and sat directly opposite my chair and I reciprocated with a grin and nervous laugh. Heme pestered and whined asking for ice cream, cheesecake and fries. I shushed him and placed him on my lap informing Baba (their father) that we had found the perfect pair of pants, a replacement for the distasteful and repulsive ones that had been the topic of discussion just days before. He waited patiently as I took them out and did my best to make them look mundane, unflattering and non-threatening. An exasperated sigh wisped between clenched teeth and parted lips, his eyes rolled back and forward and his hands rested in their place on his lap.

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The scooter

 

Riyadh 2000

The sound of laughter from the porch could be heard throughout the house as events of the day were discussed and dissected at the dining room table. Freshly baked cream puffs had been sent to a neighbor on a whim and had been mentioned to him during lunch at the office. This brought humiliation and shame and highlighted the lack of control he had in his own home. I sat eagerly listening, offering apologies, relieved that our conversation kept him occupied and unaware of the hodgepoge of comedy that unraveled just feet away.

Flowering plants were now in bloom and palm trees made a waving pattern over the large grass area near our home. Women walked the loop, workers delivered jugs of water in a rickety shopping cart and children played, running back and forth down the street that passed our residence. The latest gadgets and toys; pogo sticks, scooters and bikes all wound up piled near sidewalks while swimming and other play commenced. A large garbage truck chugged past pausing to collect weekly trash while laborers swept streets, trimmed bushes and maintained a well established standard of Western living.

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Compound home

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Yusuf parked the flimsy red and blue scooter on the porch, leaning it against a cement pillar. A large bolt clanked and rolled down past his shoes and onto the third step. Silence fell from oldest to youngest and each examined the place where Osama had carefully used a screwdriver, then tape and finally glue. A ringing clank had become customary as each of the seven siblings who were old enough, took their turn on the shiny vehicle and then watched bits and pieces loosen and eventually drop from porch to steps and sometimes into nearby plants.

Toys, bikes and the latest trends were seen as ridiculous, unnecessary and generally prohibited. Foof was determined to run next to her friends while they whizzed past on bikes but her brother was not so easily appeased. Gifts that did make their way into the home were usually socks, mittens or anything that would be deemed as essential. But this time it had been different and each night prior to the upcoming holiday, Osama sat in the well furnished living room of the compound debating and wrangling to obtain Riyal (Currency in Saudi Arabia) for Eid gifts.

Frustration finally gave way to jokes and eventually an unstoppable wave of laughter as handlebars made a loud and resounding crash. Red and blue parts rolled and scattered and were later scooped into a large plastic bag.

The modern life

My niece took these photos last summer when she visited Riyadh. Things have changed so much since we arrived there in 1993. Over the 16 years that we lived there it turned into a modern city offering designer shops, cuisine from various European countries and yet women still faced the same dilemmas and obstacles and that remained unchanged. 

A modern life

JSFP8356My niece sent me these pictures from a visit to Riyadh. Things have changed in the past 9 years as you would expect. When we first arrived to Saudi in 1993 there were no fancy malls and not much fast food. By the time we left in 2009, upscale malls with ice skating rinks, amusement parks and designer shops had popped up everywhere! Fast food chains were to be found on most streets and many locals seemed to adopt a new lifestyle.

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My niece just informed me that today they opened a cinema in Riyadh which seems really unbelievable!

And so I smile

Riyadh 2006

Her smile had faded and stringy hair had been cut into one even line, but it was obvious she still existed. No modern styles were allowed and like the children, she would be summoned to sit in his chair and wait for scissors to chop and shape until this task was complete. Her skin had wrinkled and bits of grey washed through a dirty blonde but there was no mistaking, it was really her.  A red shirt hung loosely over her chest and spots of bleach dotted her pants. The space was noticeable but only with a wide smile which could easily be avoided.  It had been years, even decades since I really looked at her in the mirror.

His job ended and once again he would stay at home for 12 months looking for the perfect employment opportunity. Offers came and went but none were at the standard that he had become accustomed to. He held a U.S. passport which entitled him to benefits and a salary that were in line with his status. His frustration built with each passing day as he slept till noon, drank tea with friends and walked through the house making random inspections.

The balance that was kept when he was working had now come crashing down and although money had been saved and was plentiful, it was not to be touched.  The boys were at University, children needed immunizations and our teeter totter balance could not be disrupted. Eating and drinking had become difficult and avoiding the fractured tooth that hung precariously was no longer possible. It wiggled and moved sending shooting pain along a rugged path that ended only to be agitated more frequently. One last warning was given and an offer to see the dentist. He was of course the best provider and always thought of his family first. I nodded my head in agreement, handing him the pliers and a tissue. He placed his hand firmly on my head and gripped the jagged piece of tooth ripping it loose.

Welcome home

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.

True life story- Two plastic sacks

No words could be formed,nor could any make their way past her lips. She simply stood motionless, gripping two plastic bags that now threatened to expose items she had haphazardly thrown onto the grocery store counter and then into plastic sacks.  A new era was about to unfold, one that would hurl them even further into the alternate reality where they had sunken deeper with each passing year. It had been three grueling days of heat and sheer boredom for 8 children and their weary mother, sitting in a hotel room waiting for the evening meal to be purchased and delivered. Hours were spent looking out the window, listening to engaging clatter from the street below. Workers sold colorful scarves, books and toys, women and men heeded the call to prayer and walked towards the holy mosque. He lay sleeping in the second room, napping throughout the day, waking only to use the restroom, walk to prayer  and issue reminders that this trip was for worship, not frivolous play.

The 7 hour trip was spent speeding through the desert, from Riyadh to Medina, stopping at bathrooms only when necessity warranted. Feces, soiled diapers and urine lined the stalls, each of the children entered and then made a hasty retreat back to the car, unable to use the facilities. Desert tents, camels and an occasional shrub caught her eye as the vehicle followed a path to the holy city of Medina. A warm anticipation filled her heart and soul as they traveled on this sacred path. But now she stood, staring into the crowd, a booming voice broke through the click clack of ship ships (sandals) that hurriedly marked steps made through the crowded thoroughfare. He marched forward, boldly raising his voice to a level that had been hidden from the public until this time. His arms flailed and waved as he stormed, ranting and raging.  People stopped momentarily to ascertain the situation that appeared out of nowhere and gained momentum and force with each piercing word.   A small crowd formed and then dispersed upon seeing her, salty sweat dripped through her black, tattered abaya, lingering long enough to leave faded stains where she wiped away the constant drip drip of humiliation and fear. She stood steadfast, gripping the coveted treats that would bring a meager but much needed relief to the stagnant living quarters.

 

Saudi Souvenirs

Pin the tail on the donkey game using a camel instead.

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This is a picture of a postcard from Saudi. We made several road trips to Syria during summer break to see in-laws in Damascus. Along the road it was common to see cars loaded up!

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Fancy table decorations and cloths

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When visiting the Gold market, right next door was a cool camel style souk. There were blankets used in the desert and all kinds of unique stuff. Men sat along the market making these key chains and selling them. These are tiny Arabian style ships ships (sandals)

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One of the shops near the gold souk

Fire drill–True life story

 

Three of my girls attended a small Saudi school in a neighborhood in Riyadh. This is a story of the first fire drill they tried to implement and how it was handled in a typical Saudi school. 

The girls dropped their backpacks as they entered the villa, warning glances shot between the three as they made their way across the room. A familiar feeling gripped me reminiscent of many school days in the past. I struggled to keep silent knowing that any events that occurred at school were supposed to stay within the confines of that day, place and time. Issues that were daringly brought to light, were then dissected and proper instruction on avoiding further incidents were discussed at length. This process could take days or possibly months and involved potential restrictions on an already guarded freedom.

I greeted them, hugging and holding them close, a signal that meant I knew there had been trouble. They smiled with relief and ran to change out of their uniforms leaving a trail of shoes and hair ties behind them. I watched as they gleefully hopped up the stairs and then back down to sit for their afternoon meal. He must have sensed the tension as well and inquired about their day in an unrelenting fashion until little Soos finally broke down and opened the door for the upcoming inquisition.

Teachers and supervisors scurried through the building waving their arms frantically, girls sobbed uncontrollably making their way down the stairs, tripping and flailing along the way. The school staff yelled out, exclaiming that there was fire everywhere, instructing the young ones to run, pointing to their bodies at make believe flames they brought to life with frenzied voices. Mayhem overtook the facility and the two buildings that surrounded a small courtyard were engulfed in a simulated inferno. Girls whaled as they called out for their siblings, tumbling down stair wells, hurling backpacks and pleading for God’s help from impending doom.  Saleeha and Fattima found each other and searched for little Soos in the pandemonium and disorder. They located her and with no evidence of a fire, stood near the gate, watching in horror as the scene unfolded. Finally the principal spoke into a microphone in an angry and irritated tone, announcing that the first of many fire drills had now been completed.

 

Sports in Saudi

This was me practicing with Abdullah for his upcoming baseball season.

In Saudi Arabia it is common to see young men on the side of the road, in a vacant lot of sand and dirt, playing a game of soccer.  In school, boys play soccer in P.E. as well as at recess time. Girls are not encouraged to play sports and when a stray soccer ball fell on their side of the wall, just picking it up was discouraged. I suppose it was not seen as lady like. In Riyadh a sports league for kids was established and each season a different sport was played. People from the U.S., U.K and various middle eastern countries participated.  Osama wanted to play baseball and he then pushed the kids to do so as well. Fattima played softball several seasons and Abdullah played both soccer and baseball. It was a great experience and something that they looked forward to.

IMG_2189Osama playing in a soccer league, RiyadhIMG_2158IMG_2185DSC02797

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Practicing for baseball season!

 

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