The Question now was, where would I go from here? My husband was dead, and I was penniless, without a friend in the world, and no way to escape. I had asked my mum to come over to be with me even though I was broke and penniless. I would raise the funds somehow, Mums answer was no, she had to look after my dad , which came as a shock, as my dad was over 6 foot and a security guard, it was then I finally realized I was all alone in the world. They may of been my parents but they didn’t care, it dawned on me then and there that I was truly alone in this world. My parents had never been there for me, so really I shouldn’t of expected anything different. The one person who was always there for me had been taken away; cruelly leaving me all alone in a country I loved but knew very little about. I had always been shielded from the harsh realities of how life could be in the Magical Kingdom as it was fondly known by us Expats. So I settled back home – under the knowledge that I couldn’t leave my home for 40 days as this was custom of widows – (mainly because if the woman is pregnant it is easier to prove her deceased husband is the father).
The first few days were a blur. Trying to come to terms with it all, I spent days consoling my children and nights alone when they slept, talking to my friends on line. I had made a very close friend with a lady named Kim from the United States; I had met her in a Yahoo group for support to people dealing with cancer. I had been there, looking for some cure, any cure, any help at all for Abdul; since Jeddah was very backwards with treatment. Kim was older than me and her beloved husband suffered for 10 years bed ridden. Kim was a tower of strength; while dealing with her own husband as his full time carer, she found time to be there for me – a young new widow, lost in a world of confusion. we talked late into the evenings sharing our lives, our darkest secrets and supporting each other as best as we could though a computer screen. Internet was new to Saudi Arabia and not as advanced as it is nowadays. I had also garnered support from a group of Scousers, from Liverpool, we met on a local Scouser’s group (for people who had left their home town of Liverpool but still had a love of Liverpool.) There was so much support coming my way from people who didn’t know me personally. I was blessed considering my own family had basically abandoned me and Abdul’s family had become my sworn enemy.
In those early days I could never forget Marge and Sylvia who were there for me every day. Ron, who sadly died years later became like a Grandfather to my children, and Mick who said something that was so profound and pulled me through my darkest days: I remember one day I was so down; seeing I was never going to escape Saudi Arabia, or see my family and friends again – my future was at best uncertain, at the hands and whims of these people who were supposed to be my in-laws. Mick told me ‘ Asima You Will Never Walk Alone’ the famous saying of all Liverpool supporters worldwide and as he sent me the song I listened and tears rolled down my face and I vowed there and then as a true Scouser, I would escape and do so with my children! No one was going to keep me down. I’m sure Mick never realized the effect of his words that day, but I am eternally grateful for the wakeup call.
My first problem was; what would I do for money? I couldn’t rely on my in- laws, but being a Muslim woman living alone – my life would be a challenge, one I refused to let defeat me. I had no friends, my life had been Abdul and my children and we were always happy, each-others best friends, never boring of each-others company. I had one acquaintance an Irish lady who was my exercise instructor and as she sat one day with me we hashed out what I could do, I didn’t speak Arabic and I had no contacts, I hadn’t worked for 13 years and whilst I had taken overseas courses from America, they weren’t in fields that would earn me a good salary to support my children and escape the Kingdom. She began telling me about the compound she lived in – Compounds are walled in cities built especially for expats, where they could live like they did back home in the west, mixing and parties where the norm, even though illegal, the police turned a blind eye as long as you didn’t leave the compound. She explained they had a playgroup and maybe we could go see if there was any work. She introduced me to the principal who informed me there were no vacancies, but as Teresa explained my situation the woman who was of African descent and a wonderful Christian lady said she would create a job for me as a Teacher’s Assistant. I took a tour around the school; it was small, but catered for Expat children around the world, whose parents worked for the airline. Fear clutched at me, I had never taught children before, and in fact I didn’t particularly like children lol. After being told I could start the following week I immediately cut all my hair to a nice shoulder length as before it was past my butt and certainly not suitable teaching small children. It was such a release, a new start a new Asima a stronger person who would not let circumstances defeat her.
My problem now was how could I work without my in-laws knowing? – Yes they lived in another city but my dreaded brother in law didn’t, he lived in the same city, whilst I was at home one night pondering this dilemma there was a loud knocking on my door at 1am in the morning, my heart began to beat faster, scared at what was going to happen next, I looked out the top bedroom window and saw my faithful driver Badsher standing there. Badsher had been on his holiday back home to see his family, when he heard from a neighbor’s driver that Abdul had passed away. Bless this man, he paid for a flight back himself and came rushing back to me and the children. We had a strange relationship which over the years became a family and no longer worker and employee. Laws and custom forbid women to mix and even talk, except instructions to her driver or house man, at all times the woman should be covered so he would not become familiar with her, but Abdul had always been relaxed with Badsher so we all talked and mixed freely. Abdul knew Badsher was a good man, he had taken sponsorship of Badsher from his father because he didn’t like the way Badsher was treated and abused by his father and hence he was always thankful to Abdul. Abdul’s family where furious and didn’t speak to him for 3 months for stealing Badsher away from them.
Unbeknown to me Abdul had talked with Badsher and asked him if anything ever happened would Badsher promise to look after Madam – this is a term of respect given to the wife of an employer or a woman who was in charge, and to look after the children and keep us safe. I guess Abdul knew deep down we weren’t safe without him around.
I ran to the door relief and shock on my face when I opened the door Badsher grabbed my hand and said in broken English – ‘please madam sign no papers for any one ‘– I nodded and tears started to fall from my eyes slowly that I hugged him close and thanked him. Over the years other people tried to lure away Badsher with higher salary better jobs but he always stayed close and looked after us. Like any family we had our arguments when he wasn’t happy with something or did something I wasn’t happy with but he knew we had genuine love for him and I’d like to think he had the same for us too. He came from a town called Peshawar in Pakistan, the strong hold of the Taliban, the men there were known to be very proud and ruthless and whilst Badsher was very proud and very religious, he was very loyal with a heart of gold, mixed with a quick harsh temper if crossed. He had known Faris since he was 4 years old and watched him grow up – and Janah was his little niece. .
Life began to take on some sort of routine, to go back to what most people call normal or as normal as it could under the circumstances, Faris attended school, which had been a huge problem as it was an American school and my in-laws were against this, they took over payments for his schooling so thought they had the right to choose his school and wanted to enroll him into a Saudi school I fought hard with them arguing his father wanted him in a American school and he would be learning Arabic in there also along with Islamic classes, after lots of fighting the family conceded as long as I allowed a Islamic tutor to come and teach him at home, since I was so lacking in my religious duties. I then realized that these people hated me with a passion and thought I was nothing to them and didn’t even think I was good enough to be a mother to my own children. They bombarded me daily with Islamic book on how to behave how to dress how to pray, my religious duties as a woman. Faris was given an Islamic teacher, who I wasn’t allowed to interact with, when he visited the house, Badsher would always sit inside the house in another room to make sure I was safe, Faris hated the lessons with a passion and after a while confided to me that the teacher hit him if he didn’t pronounce the words correctly ( Arabic wasn’t his mother tongue and is a very hard language to learn) what could I do? I only had my sons word I wasn’t there to see this happening , I didn’t want him taught a moment longer than he had to , so Badsher sat in on the classes and reported to me that the tutor was indeed hitting Faris with a cane across his hands. I demanded he left and informed the family that I would no longer allow anyone to teach Faris, he would learn Islamic studies at school and school only.
One day my father in-law told me we had to attend court to sort out paper work regarding the family ID card. Every Saudi man has one of these that state the man’s name photos and ID number and what family belonged to him; like we are belongings and not people. My in-laws had never ever given me Abdul’s one back, as they knew without this I had no control over myself or the children legally and now they were saying me and the children would have to be placed on my father in laws card. This sounded very simple so I agreed to go to Makkah. I arrived totally in hijab from head to foot in black, black gloves and face covered -. Saudi back then was so behind in allowing women anywhere like government offices courts etc. as the men dealt with everything. Upon arriving I was ushered with the children into this tiny dirty room the air conditioner barely worked and I could barely breathe with the heat. After an hour waiting I was called in to a plain government room where the judge presided, and barked at in Arabic. They asked for no ID, upon hearing my name I nodded, and then was ushered out, I had no idea what had just taken place .Afterwards my father in-law gave me some papers in Arabic and told me to keep them safe. I wasn’t comfortable with what had happened mainly because I didn’t understand anything , so I rushed over to my lawyer and showed the papers, sadly he shook his head and explained what they were. My father in law had basically stolen guardianship of both of my children from me – I had no rights, I was their mother, but that meant nothing. I spent a long after noon with my Saudi lawyer who told me that I wasn’t to trust these people and if I wasn’t careful I would lose my children to them. The only thing I had in my favor was years before Abdul had gotten me a Saudi passport, meaning I was a dual national; British and Saudi. My Saudi passport meant however they could not get me kicked out of the country without my kids. This has happened to many women who didn’t take the Saudi passport and without their husbands protection swiftly got deported without their children. The downside of being a dual national is whichever country you reside in you have to follow their rules and are regarded that nationality, as I was in Saudi I would be treated as a Saudi only; the British Embassy would not help me. I was thankful to my lawyer who agreed to work for me free of charge and one day when I was sorted I could pay him back. That afternoon he revealed to me that he worked for someone very high and known worldwide , (we will call her Marie for now as her identity is to be protected)and they actually lived in the same Saudi compound as me , he would contact them and introduce them to me .Those early years this lady would become my guardian angel protecting me from my in-laws and helping me. As we left his office my spirits were lifted slightly from this news as much as it was frightening hearing what my father in law had done, Janah was scampering around laughing and teasing Faris, when my lawyer commented, ‘don’t worry we will get you out, one day you will be free, mostly because if you stay the family will destroy Janah’s spirit and we can’t have that happening’ – I grinned thinking yes Janah has Scouse blood flowing through her veins , and Mick’s words echoed in my Head ‘You will never walk alone’.