Heart and soul heart and soul
Mindless fury takes its toll
Live to please
just play my role
Heart and soul heart and soul
Mindless fury takes its toll
Live to please
just play my role
In a room well-hidden
I stood inside a box
Corners of seclusion
Marked only by his thoughts
Bow down and own your choices
Senses meld to grey
Peace for one more day
This is an ongoing story recounting our first year back in America. There are three parts that can be found on my menu page.
Fight flight or freeze were words we all knew well. There was never a place to seek refuge in Saudi and fighting might have meant dire circumstances and so the mode of coping was usually freeze. Fighting only ensued when the children were involved and a demeanor of reason, reminders of religious principles and finally a stance of locked rebellion meant that the worst would not come to pass. Battles were picked according to priority which meant safety, basic needs and issues regarding personal liberation but I held firm when it came to my children. I was well versed in the operation of pick and chose, making sure that every decision took its place, stacked upon years of training, seasoned with fear.
The first grade teacher’s voice was no longer sweet and calm but had taken a turn towards dry resolve. She remarked that my son was clearly not ready for school and that it would be better if he did not return. Her heels clicked on the patterned floor as she marched the other students to the door to line up. We walked to the brightly painted cubby and collected a single backpack, hoodie and lunch bag. No words were spoken and a sense of defeat hung heavy as we unlatched the wooden gate that lead to the apartment parking lot. My three other children who had attended the first day of school also remained silent and the unremarkable yet familiar feeling of dread lagged shortly behind us.
Fattima stood at the ready stirring homemade sauce that bubbled and spattered, leaving red dots on the yellow tinted 70’s stove. She started to ask how it had gone but stopped when she saw my face and instead plated meals and grabbed backpacks. Mom and Dad’s hand me down lake table was opened and chairs positioned near the slider so that the meal could begin. It was a tight fit but the table brought back cheery thoughts of carefree days spent in the paddle boat, laying on the dock and roasting marshmallows. As each one finished they trudged into the tiny living room and plopped onto the couch.
It was clear that Heme was not going back to school, there was no option given and it was not worth the fight. It was almost a relief to keep him with me as his name had been mentioned and the idea that he should be returned to his father where he belonged. No other child was discussed but a message was clearly sent through a mediator that my youngest child belonged back in Saudi.
I walk the road of no regrets
Dirt scuffed shoes and poplar leaves
Fallen heroes grieve for me
Womankind stacked at my feet
Her voice calls out in unison
I sing in tandem heart bereaved
The chime says no regrets for me
A wasted form of liberty
Fall 2009, just 4 months after relocating to the U.S. midnight paper route A single stream of light blanketed the room and served as a reminder to quietly roll off the mattress that mom and dad had purchased from the thrift store and rise to prepare for the morning route. A faded diploma in Speech comm. and years of being a stay at home mom made options limited when searching for employment. The two youngest children suffered from extreme separation anxiety and even a simple trip to the restroom required promises to never leave and assurances that I would return within minutes. They accompanied me to my job as a cook for a girl’s co-op on campus and so the supplemental income of a paper route or perhaps two, seemed logical and almost easy. The older kids would be in the next room sleeping and I would slip in and out without notice. Each of my two older girls agreed to help take turns and so our little adventure began.
The stack grew wider and taller and was finally deposited on the back seat of the Suburban. Cuts on fingers from winding and wrapping rubber bands had now turned to hard rough scars, resistant to further damage or pain. Small town lights flashed yellow and red, a signal only surpassed by the harvest moon that illuminated our usual routine through darkened country roads. At first it had been tough remembering the various homes that took one of three newspapers but soon it became automatic and something that would be recalled for years to come. It seemed like a good idea at the time, an easy way to help support my family and our new life back in the States. I would be home by 5 a.m. just in time to get breakfast on and wake the two boys who attended public school. The youngest children would not be panicked by my absence and their siblings were there in case they woke. But now it had become a burden, gas for mom and dad’s vehicle was not worth the money made delivering the morning news. Just one more week and it would be over and back to what had become our new normal.
My new career is that of being an author! I have been a cleaner, cook and newspaper lady in addition to my favorite career-MOM! I self published my first poetry book a week ago! Thanks for your support and love!
I will be giving away a book each week for a month starting next week. My e-book can also be purchased for a fairly low price on Amazon.
Al-Khobar Saudi Arabia 1995
Her pleasant yet unreserved demeanor abruptly took on a sharp and commanding tone. Hand gestures that included a wagging finger and pursed lips were now accompanied by a raise in volume. She gave one last sharp look his way as his leg and foot made a loud thud on the kitchen floor. Her once welcoming face now stood clouded in confusion and anger. Guilt and shame stacked neatly piece by piece and a feeling of embarrassment quickly replaced self respect as I backed up. I stared blankly into her eyes as she paced and raised her voice one last time. A mismatched array of English forced its way out of tightened lips, “no no Um Osama, no”!
The customary kiss kiss was given first on the right cheek and then the left. Two female cousins greeted me and hugged little ones that trailed behind. A trip from Riyadh to Al-Khobar had lasted 4 hours and with it a scenic view of red and brown desert that slowly transitioned into sand dotted with shrubs and tents. I was ushered into the sitting room and motioned to sit on the customary pad arrangement.
I took my place and folded legs close to my buttocks, knowing that it was deemed disrespectful to place a foot pointing at others on purpose. Tea, coffee, fruit and sweets were all brought in rounds one after the other. Chatter and talk of school, family and memories of time spent in Damascus kept us communicating while the men attended prayer. My language skills were not perfect but I had put together a list of phrases and understood very basic Arabic that helped but also brought confusion when trying to keep up a conversation. The ladies were limited in their English and so hand gestures and assistance from the boys who had now attended almost two years of schooling made the visit easier this time around.
A family environment that paired duty and service with vigorous expectations and standards was obviously in place. Children were to be respectful to adults, women served men and they in turn worked hard to provide. Wives raised voices and insisted on men returning to the store for items missed, discussions regarding child care were numerous until little ones were eventually handed off to fathers and taken outside for walks to the park. Women requested accessories that were well beyond the meager family budget and husbands were required to comply. A happy mix of loud voices, arguments that ended in laughter, endless amounts of food and finally the last cup of tea, all offered a warm and unusual atmosphere.
I felt at home within these walls and was treated as a guest as well as an immediate part of the family. The female cousins insisted I eat more, drink tea and even urged me to nap wherever I felt comfortable. The message was clear, I was being asked to join this tight knit part of his extended family and no language or cultural barrier would stand between us.
The visit came to a close and we stood talking in the kitchen where the oldest of the two females relished the last bits of a chocolate cake we had thrown together. She joked and laughed with him inquiring about our lifestyle and how he was able to keep up with my American standards. A smug grin crossed his lips as he spoke words that fueled a raging fury and caused his cousin to raise her hands in anger, and with that his foot was placed inches from my mouth “Watch she will do anything I say even kiss my foot“
2008 Saudi Arabia
A desolate and lonely desert wove its way through tiny towns where necessary stops were made for fuel. Tones of brown and red rolled over dunes that swirled in the mid afternoon heat. Seats were laid down and made into a large bed of blankets, pillows and clothing. Although he made several trips each year the children and I had not been to Damascus for a while and Taita (grandmother) had been asking to see our youngest child, Ibrahim. The used vehicle that had been questionable was now seen as a blessing and nothing more was said.
In the months that lead to this trip our household was eerily wrapped in a temporary calm. Talk of visiting Uncles and cousins gave rise to a cheery and reminiscent atmosphere. He was not allowed to take the company car out of Saudi and so he started looking for a suitable vehicle. When asked about my preferences I had only one request and that was that there would be enough seats to accommodate every person.
With each day his frustration mounted as he viewed numerous vans, cars and SUVs until he found the perfect fit. It was a used passenger van with extra seats and amenities, tinted windows, a television and plush carpeting, but most importantly plenty of seating for our family of nine. He took us to see the van that promised to be the beginning of this last trip to Syria. A guarded excitement found its way into our home as we discussed the comfort and luxury that would ease this long and arduous journey.
The next day his plans changed and he announced that this was a frivolous vehicle that would not be used when we returned. That evening he took us to see the SUV he had chosen and asked for my approval. I pointed to the lack of seating and when confronted, calmly stood my ground. He asked one more time if this would be a good purchase and if I would agree, but the same words emanated from my mouth, no. It was hard for him to contain his temper and although I was scared I felt proud of myself for having my own opinion. His thobe (men’s long white robe) swished past me and he stomped towards the car,entering and starting it while the children piled in. Only little D and I remained standing, waiting to take our seats. I plopped her onto a seat and felt the crunch and grind of a tire roll over my foot. The children let out a gasp and called for baba (father) to STOP; he ignored this and kept driving as I hopped into place.
The car fell silent after doors were shut and a measure of safety was secured. Each child glanced my way and the usual tears welled up but this time they were allowed to drip down my nose and onto ragged lips that had been sealed in desperation. The sting of humiliation was too much and no eye contact was returned, afraid that sobbing would be uncontrollable. My instructions were always clear and meant that the children were to remain calm and never intervene. Physical pain became insignificant and was overshadowed by the feeling that once again I was somehow an accomplice in this vicious cycle that was brought against me.