I never thought my life would have so many twists and turns, I was married to a good man, like all couples we had our ups and downs but we both had a solid foundation of love and respect and family values I guess that’s what kept us together. Over the years we alternated our lives between Saudi Arabia and the Wirral on Merseyside in the UK. I guess the moment that really defined the next ten years of my life was when we were living in the UK again; we only stayed 3 months, shorter than planned. Abdul had started bleeding very badly every time he went the bathroom, at first we didn’t think much of it, as he was a strapping man of 6ft 2 and never drank or smoked. However after a while I made him go the emergency department of our local hospital – like all men it was impossible to get him to the doctors – what is this aversion men and doctors have? I will never understand. He was given the spiel that because he was from Saudi Arabia the water was different in the UK so could cause upsets to the digestive system, while we thought this didn’t make sense as we had been coming to the UK for a good 15 years and never had this problem, after the 5th visit and getting no decent answers why my husband was bleeding profusely every time he went the bathroom, I was at my wits end. We had arranged a short visit back to Jeddah to see Abdul’s family, whilst there I made him go the hospital: hospitals in Saudi Arabia are not like the UK since you pay for your health care they are big businesses, like the banking, each hospital has a connection to a country, such as the Saudi American Hospital, or the Saudi German Hospital. We decided to go the Saudi German hospital: Germans are known to be very thorough and I felt in my heart of hearts something was wrong. Immediately they began to investigate; it was probably an ulcer through stress they said and we’d find out in a few days the results. Abdul opted to go alone for the results, whilst I stayed home with our two small children – by then Faris were 10 and Jannah 2 and a half. As with Arab families, they rally around and his family waited at home with me. I wasn’t comfortable with this; I wanted this to be dealt with between me and my husband. The moment he walked through the door they all descended on him wanted to know the results, I was pushed to the back but I saw his face as he spoke in Arabic, then loud wails began off the women, grabbing at him. My heart stopped for a fraction; first the silence in my soul, until it began to echo so loud and fast with fear it deafened me, as I shouted what was happening? Abdul quietly looked at me; fear and sadness in his eyes as he told me it was cancer, worst still, it was stage 5 cancer, and it was in his bowel, there was nothing they could do. I stood disbelieving, as though my world had ended around me, my two precious children holding onto me , I could see Faris understood and the fear in his beautiful grey eyes as I held them close not knowing what to do. Life slowly began to change while Abdul stayed physically strong; the trips to the hospital began. Back in 2000, Jeddah didn’t have many facilities for cancer, not like today where they have some excellent facilities. We had to try and use wasta to get decent treatment: wasta is a form of connections, if you know people in power it’s possible to achieve almost anything, sadly if you have no wasta life can become very hard. Through Abdul’s father who had wasta we got Abdul admitted to the Government National Guard hospital for treatment. Diagnosis was that they could prolong his life if he had a catheter inserted. The first day I came to see him at the hospital I was refused entry unless I would leave my children outside. I pleaded with the security, their father was dying, and surely he would allow them to see him I was greeting with the harsh reply this was a government institute hospital were patients were dying and had serious illnesses: did he seriously think I didn’t know this? For this reason children were not allowed entry he told me with disdain. How dare a woman even try to argue with him? I sadly went home without seeing Abdul. He stayed in hospital a few days and decided against the option of a catheter – he knew he would beat the cancer and he didn’t see why he should limit his life this way.
Slowly the chemotherapy took its toll on him and he became weaker and thinner. As with all people who are ill, our instincts tell us to feed them healthy foods this will build them up make them stronger, but it got to the point where the chemo made Abdul go off food, we changed to making juices and soups all healthy and liquidized to give his body the nutrients it needed. Funnily enough after chemo he always craved Ribs from Applebee’s restaurant (this is an American fast food joint) over the months his visits to work lessened he stopped driving the car and our trusted driver; Badsher drove him to work. (Little did I know at this time Abdul had asked Badsher to look after me and the children if anything ever happened to him, which Badsher agreed and kept his word). At night he would hold me tight as I cried into his arms, telling me it would be OK he was going to beat this, I believed him, I needed to believe him, it was bad enough coping daily; looking after him and my small baby and my beautiful son, mentally it took its toll and I spent a lot of time crying, how on earth would I cope if I lost him. News came to me that a friend of mine who was married to a prince and whose sons were close friends of Faris’s, father had just died of cancer, it brought the fear more to the surface, that it was a possibility this would be us in the future. Sadly my friend had to contend with her late husband’s family who wouldn’t let her travel or leave the Kingdom with her children. A few weeks later another close friend of Faris’s, father passed from cancer and his wife called me upon hearing of Abdul’s illness. She was a Turkish lady married to a Saudi and she informed me to make sure all my affairs were in order; house and businesses in my name bank accounts etc. to be safe. I was horrified to find out a few weeks later she had a fall in the gym and hurt her spine, at the hospital they found she had cancer and she passed away a few months before Abdul. It was so upsetting, but with all the sadness in my home I never realized the fear my son was going through; seeing men he knew die, his friends become fatherless and motherless. Eventually Abdul made the decision to go to New York to Sloane Kettering, the huge cancer centre they had there. I of course stayed home with the children to try and keep their lives as normal as possible. He stayed a week and came home, telling me the consultant advised him to come home as he was going to die and he seemed a man who wanted to die in his country with his family. One night as he held me, he told me I should think about taking our children and return to the UK – what – why – was he crazy?? I refused! How I could leave the man I love and let him die without us around him? Now I realized he knew of the horror that may befall us and he was trying to get us out to safety. As the law stood in Saudi Arabia a woman may not travel or leave the country without mahram permission; a mahram is the man who is in charge of protecting the female. He told me to find a lawyer and draft up a legal letter, him giving us permission to leave the country if the need arose.
This was easier said than done.
I contacted the British embassy and asked them if they could help us, they refused. I explained the situation that I was a British citizen (even though I held dual nationality and held a Saudi passport too) that me and my children were being held against our will, again they refused any help in the end I begged they must know someone?? After many trips daily to the embassy, begging and pleading for help I asked maybe unofficially they could tell me instead of officially, thankfully they gave me the name of a Saudi lawyer who was married to a British lady, who it turned out knew an influential family who lived in my compound. He agreed to draft up a letter when needed and would wait for payment once it was done. Little was I to know he would pay such an important part in my life.
Abdul began to get worse he was no longer the man I recognized, his family sent a local sheikh to visit the house; a sheikh is a religious man pretty much like a priest. Abdul’s family was adamant someone had put the evil eye on us; the evil eye is a suspicion where as a person can look at you in envy and can put on an evil curse bringing you bad luck. The sheikh read Surahs (chapters) of the Holy Quran) over my husband to clean him of any evil, he informed us that he had many evil eyes on him by many people close to him, and then he set about cleansing the house reading Surahs and burning wood and herbs throughout our home. Calm returned to his family believing that all would now be OK, and Abdul would begin to get better. In fact he became worse. I begged him to go to the hospital and eventually he did. The hospital staff spoke to his brother and told him that Abdul would be admitted. Being his wife meant nothing to them, I was a mere woman and had no right to make any decisions regarding his well-being, after a few moments however they took me aside and told me Abdul’s brother didn’t know what Abdul’s wishes were if he was to take a turn for the worst, and wanted me to let them know. Sadly his wish was not to be resuscitated and to go peacefully. As always his family descended on the hospital and they stayed over with him. Most hospitals in Saudi have room for family to stay also, however I was not given that choice as his mother took over. I knew the end was coming and visited my lawyer who then prepared the draft for the legal document for us to travel. There was just one point however, I needed the hospital to sign it and say he was of sound mind and knew what he was signing and agreeing to. I knew this was now dangerous, as I approached the British nurses they sadly told me they wish they could help but it was the head of the department who had to sign it, she was Saudi and was horrified, that I as a Muslim would want to leave Saudi Arabia, ‘This was God’s chosen country and I should stay here’. I asked her to question my husband in English as he didn’t want his family over hearing the conversation, but she didn’t, she walked in and stated very loudly in Arabic was it true he wanted his wife and children to leave the Kingdom? It was like a dream, his mother and grandmother screamed loudly cursing in Arabic and Abdul in his pain looked confused and bewildered. The first time in my life I screamed so loud and nearly fainted, I knew there and then at that very moment in time, my life was over; I knew I would never leave Saudi Arabia. He went to the bathroom and took me with him and stated for me to give him four days and he would sign the document, he wanted to die without his family hating him and knowing we were safe. The next few days that followed were tense I could feel the hate enveloping me from his family, but I had to be by my husband’s side. We visited twice daily talked to him even though he was more distant day by day and shadow of the man I loved. We fed him from the enormous buffet that was always spread daily in his room.
Until that fateful night when we visited.
I tried to feed him as usual but he refused to open his mouth his eyes were staring but not seeing and it was as though he was there but not there. I sang happy birthday and told him I had his favourite chocolate cake, where he opened his mouth and began to eat, relief filled me that he was responding until suddenly he began to choke. In horror I froze…. I didn’t know what to do the screaming from his mother in Arabic confused me and the fear on my children’s faces. The doctor came in and barked why we were feeding him. We’d had no instructions he wasn’t to be fed. The nurses followed and tried to insert a tube down his throat but he refused to respond every one tried to coax him until eventually I told him he was at the dentist and he needed to open his mouth wide for the dentist to see, after a few tries he opened his mouth and they inserted the tubes to stop him choking. This was too much for me and for my children to see their father that way, once they cleared his throat I immediately took my children home and began to play with them: Anything to take their minds off what had just happened at the hospital. Now in hind sight I realize I never once spoke to Faris about Abdul’s illness I stayed in denial telling him his dad would get better. That night however would be the last memory we would have of this wonderful strong loving man as he passed away in the middle of the night.
I was awoken to a loud banging on my front door – sleepily I opened it to the glaring face of my brother in law – ‘Yella where is Abdul’s ID card – get it now! ‘Why I stammered what’s wrong?? – your husband is dead, while you were sleeping too busy to be there for him – he cried for you for hours while you lazily slept, he shouted and cried your name and you left him to die alone with your name on his lips! Get dressed and get to Makkah within the hour he will be buried there. (Makkah is the holy city of Saudi Arabia and all Muslims around the world – it’s a wish of all Muslims to be buried there, and they are usually buried before the next prayer) – I had no say, stumbling back in shock I went to find his ID card while my brother in law sat down. When I returned he stressed to me – that I must know I will never leave Saudi Arabia – my children were Arabs and would never leave – if I wanted to go they wouldn’t stop me but my children ‘our children- mine and Abdul’s’ wouldn’t. Then he left as quickly as he arrived, slamming the door behind him
Still in a state of shock I had to wake my gorgeous sleeping children and inform them of their father’s death dress them and rush them to Makkah – it was all a blur – an unreal nightmare! We arrived in Makkah the journey I can no longer recall but when we arrive I was immediately cursed at for arriving dressed in black – unknown to me women wore white to funerals – this I would not know, never attending a funeral before. Abdul was laid out wrapped in a white sheet – what a strange feeling there was my beloved husband – but he wasn’t my husband – the essence of him was gone – I guess that’s what happens when our spirit leaves the body we are just a shell. Janah laid a small bunch of Jasmine flowers we had picked from our garden – this was Adel’s favorite flower. She placed them on his chest to the horror of the family who told us our Khafir (unbeliever) ways would send Abdul to hell – what kind of family were we to do that to him. – Little did they realize they should of guided me I had no idea of Islamic ways of grieving only the ways I had been taught in the west. – The flowers were snatched away and thrown to the floor.
Custom is that women receive mourners for 3 days when her husband dies – she cannot attend his burial only the males attend. The first day I sat there dressed in a white long dress and scarf receiving women who were related through the family, lined up wailing and kissing me cheek to cheek – uttering their condolences that I couldn’t understand. I couldn’t do this, all I wanted was to be with my children hold them tight – I never knew what nightmare was going to unfold. I took them both upstairs, locked us in our bedroom and held them tight – I could hear the laughter of the small children outside playing – this was horrible to my ears – yes they were children they didn’t really understand, but to me; my life was over and hearing their laughter was torment .
Faris was to go to the grave yard to bury his father with all the men but he told me he couldn’t do it, he didn’t want to see his dad lowered into the ground (Muslims are not buried in coffins, but just wrapped in a white sheet) I told Faris ‘death is a very personal choice and only he could decide what was the right thing to do, he had to do what he knew he could live with’. My brave little man decided he wanted to remember his dad alive tall and strong fit and well and decided against going the burial. The family were horrified how could he do this to his father – Abdul would go to hell for having such an unbelieving family – I could no longer stand all their anger and hate towards us – we were grieving too, I had lost the love of my life, my children their father. I realize now that this was the day Faris’s childhood ended. That night I took the children and went back to Jeddah to our home to come to terms with the nightmare that was unfolding – The family sought to punish us to this day we have no idea where Abdul is buried – only that it is somewhere in Makkah. I found out also months later that Abdul never did die screaming my name -. I lived for months of pure guilt and hating myself, to find thankfully he died sleeping having a fatal heart attack – his body just gave up – I thank god for that small mercy, but can never forgive the lies his family wove to make me feel a bad person and that I had failed my husband. MY whole world had collapsed I was suffocating with grief and trying to be strong supporting my children, with the knowledge Abdul died bankrupt. I was left with the equivalent of 30 UK pounds and the home we lived in. I couldn’t understand why the family would tell me such evil lies, that ate me up inside for months. Still to this day I’ve never come to terms with the loss of my husband – the events that were to unfold, never gave me that luxury as I had to be strong and protect my children at all costs and find a way to get them home to Freedom.