I began secretly working as a Teacher’s Assistant in Kindergarten to a wonderful Pakistani teacher, sadly in Saudi most would prefer their children to be taught by westerners and white skin, so I was brought in as the white face, Fauzia was a lovely lady older than me, more like my mum’s age and she helped and taught me what I needed to know. Secretly I enrolled Janah into the same school, as the family didn’t think she should attend school as she was a girl and there was no rush. As far as they knew I stayed home all day with Janah, if they called, my driver would make some excuse I was sleeping etc. Times were hard trying to pay the bills with no money – the family did the charitable thing and paid all the basics for us, and with the money I earned secretly I was able to buy a few extras. Phone calls came daily where was I, what was I doing? – I was not to leave the house unless it was with Faris etc. I began to dread the phone ringing as it was usually them giving me some sort of abuse. It took me years after our escape to get use to a home phone ringing without me having a panic attack. I am thankful for mobile phones now as I can see who is calling, but I still won’t answer an unknown call in case it is the family, in case they have found me, that fear will stay with me till I die.
One day my brother in-law called telling me we needed to sell the house as it was too big for me and the children. This was our dream home, Abdul worked so hard to get it for us, we watched it being built from nothing to our specifications, and now they wanted to take away my children’s home. (I remember the day we went to look at the villa, it hadn’t been built yet and was in a very prestigious compound , where only Princes and Princesses and millionaires lived. We rolled up in our tiny Subaru car and enquired the cost, where the sales man looked down his nose at us and towards our car, reeling off the price, saying the down payment had to be paid in a week if we were to purchase the Villa we had viewed. It was a huge villa; private swimming pool, gardens from front to side with banana trees – sugar cane and huge palm trees. It had state of the art double garage – 4 large en-suite bedrooms 2 kitchens, 2 dinning rooms , 3 sitting rooms (1 being for women and 1 for men as it was customs for men and women not to mix) a huge study and maids quarters on the third floor and the floors made of marble. Security to enter was tight with private security gates and guards, I was totally in awe, that this would be my home. We sat by the pool which was still being constructed, planning our breakfasts by the pool in the glorious sunshine, making plans for our future for us both and Faris, what more could a Liverpool girl ask The next Day Abdul returned with the down payment on the Villa, much to the shock and surprise of the sales man, his demeanour changed completely, yes sir, no sir, grovelling away. Some times when you become a success it isn’t always measured by the car you drive or the clothes you wear).
It was hard enough on the children losing their father now they wanted to take our home away, he informed us we were no longer allowed English TV, English friends, Faris would be transferred to an Saudi school and to sell our home , he even went so far asking Faris what nationality he was; when Faris replied “British/ Saudi” they shouted no he was Saudi- I remember Faris’s reply “no my mum is British and my dad was Saudi and I am both”, very sternly they told him your mum is Saudi now and you and Janah are Saudi only. Thankfully Faris was strong willed and he was proud being both. The next day my brother in-law took us to see a new apartment they wanted us to move to –when I say new apartment, it wasn’t new as in age, I had never seen such a hovel in my life – it was in the Pakistani district where all the Pakistani workers lived, the air conditioner were old and noisy. Cockroaches and ants were in evidence, as well as the smell of the garbage kept outside residents doors in the hallways, they told me this would be my new home. I screamed and yelled at them “No I would not move here”. They wouldn’t listen and in the end I began to cry and sat on the stone floors pleading with my younger brother in law, that Abdul had worked all his life to get our home, it was our dream and the only thing left to remind my children of their father and if they moved us here all Abdul’s work in his life would have been for nothing and all his struggles. Thankfully I think he partly understood and spoke to my father in-law who shouted for us to go. I was taken home, and they left abruptly, without a word. I know I had angered my father in-law, that I had disobeyed him and thwarted his plans. But I truly didn’t give a damn and smiled to myself that I had won again a small victory but never less I had managed to keep our home a bit longer – how much longer I had no idea.
My friend who I will name Marie helped and advised me numerous times and after the deceit of my father in-law stealing guardianship of my children she arranged that if I was to ever to go to court again she would give me one of her translators from her husband’s multi-billion dollar company, I didn’t realize I would be needing him so soon, seems the hands of fate had turned in my favour.
My father in law had called to tell me we had a court date set to transfer over a small meagre widow’s pension I was allowed from the country, into his account, as back then it was very uncommon for women to have bank accounts. He told me he would give me the money every month in cash once it was deposited into his account, so I agreed to go along with this. Needless to say I had no idea of his ulterior motive. Upon arriving at the court house, there was myself, Janah, Faris and Kareem: my translator, I had been given free by Marie. The case started off easily enough, understanding what was happening, when suddenly tones changed and Kareem whispered to me “Was I agreeing to let my father in law sell my home?” shock showed on my face just as the Judge looked my way – which in response more shouting arose- through Kareem, the judge questioned what was wrong with me, to which Kareem responded I was not agreeing for my father in law to sell my home, I was only allowing the transfer of Abdul’s pension. The judge began shouting at my father in law and dismissed the motion for control of my home. I could see pure hatred and anger on my father in laws face as well and my brother in laws, as he stormed off without a word, leaving me stranded alone with Jannah in 110.f heat.
There is no public transport for women in Saudi Arabia; back then a woman alone in a taxi was looked upon with suspicion especially in the area I was left in. Thankfully Kareem drove me home which I was extremely thankful for as if we had been caught in the car together we both would have been arrested as he was not my mahram (A mahram is a man who is responsible for a woman, be it her husband father or brother or uncle).
The saying ‘Home is where the Heart is’, is very apt, my heart was now in bricks and mortar, as that was all I had left of my beloved Abdul, and I would make sure no one would take that from my children.