Finally the day arrived, my mum was upset which was a surprise she very rarely showed emotion, as I saw her crying I thought back to all the times she never showed me any emotions, but she did this day. Obviously no one came to the airport with us to see us off, I didn’t expect them too, it just wasn’t their way, why would I expect anything different, their youngest daughter was only leaving to the other side of the world, why would that warrant a trip to the airport to say goodbye??
I dressed Faris in a gorgeous white sailor suit, his sailor hat setting off his chubby cheeks; I wanted him to look gorgeous on his first visit with his ‘Saudi’ Grandparents, who were to meet us at the airport upon arrival. This is how real family acts, they had to travel to meet us, but nothing was too much for their beloved Abdul, their grandchild and the woman he chose to make his wife.
We arrived at Heathrow, my heart was in my mouth, I’d never flown before, and never left the UK and here I was throwing my old life away and travelling into the unknown.
When we arrived at check-in there had been a mix up with the tickets and the flight was full, my very first flight and now we mightn’t even go? The air hostesses fell in love with Faris and told us they would upgrade us all to first class, we were going after all AND we were going in style!!!
I didn’t know what to expect upon arrival, I hadn’t researched the country; all I was bothered about was my new life with my gorgeous husband and adorable son. I would advise anyone now travelling to another country of a different culture to always research it first. Upon arrival the lights of the city sparkled like jewels, I’d never saw such a sight in my life; this was a view I loved every time I flew into the Kingdom, signaling I was finally home. I was so excited I couldn’t wait to disembark, however that would be the total opposite of what I came face to face with.
All of a sudden, the mood in the plane changed, women queued to go the bathroom and when they came out they were covered all in black, what we call the Hijab, (the Abaya; long coat, and head scarf with full veil) I had a bright purple head scarf and a blue long coat. I stood out, I felt peoples disproving eyes looking at me as I disembarked onto the shuttle bus. The heat was horrific, even late at night; it was like being punched in the stomach as we disembarked. I had never felt a sensation like that in my life, like all your breath being sucked out of your body. What greeted me was a foreign and frightening sight. The men were all in white long dresses (known as Thobes) walking, holding each other’s hands, their only difference was their head covering which was either red and white check (this distinguished teenagers and countryside people; or as they say in Arabic the Shabab) – or white for the gentlemen. The women were all in black I couldn’t see their faces, some showed eyes but that was all. The smells and the sounds around me were so loud and alien they sounded coarse to my ears. I told Abdul I needed to change Faris’s diaper and he showed me where the toilets where. What greeted me , made me want to vomit , it stunk of urine , the floor was soaked and dirty and where were the toilets? All there was were holes in the floor. Little did I know this was the typical Arabic toilet. I left quickly without changing Faris as the smells made me want to vomit. Abdul’s parents greeted us and we all piled in their car which was a huge GMC Sierra; in those days Saudis drove only American cars, they were huge compared to what I was use to in the UK. We drove what seemed like hours through the desert, eventually I begged to stop, I had to change Faris as I couldn’t at the airport, and there was no way I was going to use those disgusting bathrooms. Little did I know then Abdul’s dad owned an apartment block in Jeddah, he was a property developer and owned numerous buildings in Jeddah and Makkah; we could stop there, that was my first introduction to cockroaches; little did I know they would be part of the landscape for the next 21 years. Slowly it sunk in that I hadn’t prepared for this huge move I had looked forward with rose tinted glasses at my new life, but they had drastically been taken off, and I didn’t like what I saw. I couldn’t see what Abdul’s mum looked like, as she was covered head to foot all in black, she sat in the back with me and Faris, yet we couldn’t talk because of the language barrier, whilst Abdul sat up front with his dad, chatting animatedly and loudly- they sounded angry, but I soon learnt that to the untrained ear Arabic can sound very coarse and angry The radio was on loudly, reciting what I would soon learn; Surahs from the Quran. I held on to Faris; my baby the strange language assaulting my ears as I said a silent prayer that I had done the right thing, leaving all I knew behind for a man I loved. There was no turning back now!
Soon we arrived at a check point; there were sign posts for Non-Muslims and Muslims only – what was that all about?? I was later to learn only Muslims were allowed in the City of Makkah. There were armed security patrol men at each kiosk and Abdul’s dad had to show his ID to prove who we were in the car and that we were indeed Muslim, suddenly we were waved through.
As we passed the mountains dark grey shapes of buildings all different shapes and sizes began to emerge, some were so close to each other; they reminded me of the game of Jenga – expecting one to fall at any minute. Soon we turned in front of a huge apartment block and drove underground into the family garage. Tired and in shock we rode the lift up to the top floor of the apartment block, where we were showed our rooms. The top floor had been reserved for me and Abdul, and compromised of a bathroom sitting room and bedroom; to tired I just sank gratefully onto the bed cuddling Faris.
The next morning I was woken suddenly by a loud call outside, I couldn’t understand what it was, what they were shouting? What was happening? I soon learnt it was the call to prayer (Adhan as it is known by Muslims). The call happens five times a day and this was the first one at the break of dawn. Over the years I would become to love this sound – so peaceful and spiritual. Abdul awoke and went to pray, to do complete wudu ( washing ablution before prayer to be clean through body and mind) while I wondered what this strange new world would bring me, I looked at Faris and his peaceful sleeping face, and vowed whatever the future held for us all I would always protect him.
I was introduced to the family that day, I felt so out of place, Abdul had 2 sisters and 3 brothers – one sister, younger than me and the other older and very religious, looking at me with distaste. His brothers compromised of a younger brother who studied English, another brother who was a twin with the younger sister and an older brother who acted as though he was better than anyone else. I felt as I was in a freak show, I couldn’t understand what they were saying – the food was like nothing I had ever tasted. Luckily Abdul stayed close and tried to translate but I felt so out of my depth. Having to be covered in front of his brothers, it was hot and stuffy with the whirr of the air conditioners humming in the background, I couldn’t understand the TV or the people around me, and I just wanted to run away. What on earth had I done?