24th August 2010: a day I never thought would come, a day we would finally escape Saudi Arabia and arrive back home to freedom.
I can’t believe we have now been free eight years. Did I ever think this day would come, back in those darker days of Abdul’s death? It certainly has been a roller coaster ride!
Ten years of pain, despair and a feeling I’d never see home or my friends again. I truly thought if I ever made it home to freedom, it would be the light at the end of the tunnel, how wrong I was!
Sitting on the plane waiting for it to ascend into the night sky, holding my breath and hoping I wouldn’t hear through the speakers that the plane was being grounded or had to return back. Never in my life has my heart thudded so loud. Finally a huge sigh of relief when we had been in the air for 10 minutes, we had actually done it; we were actually on our way to freedom!!
That evening had been a tense night, knowing we were trying for the third time to escape, to hopefully taste freedom finally. We checked over the house once more, ensuring our belongings; we hoped would follow us at a different date, were safe and secure, with instructions for my friends, to ensure their safe transport.
Had we removed everything that may lead the family to where we were heading? I stood and looked around at my home, where mine and Abdul’s dreams had become reality, planning our future together and the feeling of pride at finally becoming millionaires, and calling it our home. Little did we know then that the dream would end with such tragic consequences?
I received the call, my friends were on their way, 4am in the morning, the streets were eerily quiet, as the cars pulled up outside my villa, hoping the noise of their engines wouldn’t wake the neighbour’s guards, who had been paid to report our every movement to the family and alert them to our actions. We removed the suitcases into the 4×4 my friend was driving as I turned and looked back at our home, so many memories flashing though my mind and the thought I’d never see this place again. 21 years and the dream was over!!
The drive was a sombre event, none of us knowing if we would be stopped by the police, why should we really, we were just a convoy of 3 4×4 trucks driving to the airport? Funny how in the height of such fear, your mind plays tricks on you, you suddenly feel as though everyone knows what you’re thinking, they know your trying to flee, when in reality, they are just engrossed in their own little world. We drove passed the many landmarks as memories passed by fleetingly, the compounds we socialised in, the restaurants we ate in, the huge sprawling malls, so many memories that would now be confined to that only, and we would no longer frequent those places any more.
We turned onto the road leading to the airport, a beautiful sight of rows of palm trees and the huge terminal of Jeddah airport. I felt the thudding of my heart becoming louder, my hands suddenly shaking with fear, this was it, and wondering if it would be third time lucky?
As we entered the terminal I saw one of the parents there from my school– oh no would she see us, what would I say? Suddenly she turned and saw us and waved us over. We did our greetings as she asked if we were going on holiday and where to? I responded by stating I was going to the USA, and hopefully would see her next term at the school. We kissed goodbye and joined the line for customs.
In Saudi dual nationality is frowned upon, but they turn a blind eye if you are American or British. Usually you leave the Kingdom on your Saudi passport and arrive at Heathrow on your British; this does away with the need for visas. As our turn came I showed our Saudi passports to depart, when the officer asked for letter of permission to leave the Kingdom. Women cannot leave the Kingdom without a man’s permission, this is usually the guardian; or Mahram as they are known in Islam. Faris had become mine and Jannah’s legal guardian secretly a few months back and we had a letter drafted saying he gave permission for us to travel with him. Again I held my breath, I was thankful for the face covering, so they couldn’t see my fear, when suddenly the officer asked to see our British passports, I never thought why and handed them over. Suddenly a senior officer came striding over and grabbed the passports, shouting in Arabic, this was it – it was over, what would happen to us now?
Fear gripped me like never before as the two officers spoke to each other in Arabic, when the younger officer asked were we British? I replied we were in the strongest Scouse accent I could muster, as the senior officer handed back our passports and waved us though.
We turned and hugged our friend’s goodbye, tears in our eyes for the life I was leaving behind. Even though there had been bad times there, I had also spent all my adult life there, Jannah was born there, her father, my beloved Abdul was from there, 21 years of our lives to be wiped away for ever. We boarded the shuttle bus and where on our way to embark on the plane.
I arrived at Heathrow early morning with 3 suitcases, and my children, no money to our name and wondering what the future held for us, we had finally escaped we were finally FREE!!!