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Invictus by William Ernest Henley

 

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

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Music Soothes the Soul

One of the things I found with my time in Saudi and my predicament, was that music always played a huge part in my journey. Obviously different stages there was always a song that pulled me though, that gave me hope. One such song was Free by Light House Family, Each song at the time would give me that kick up the back side when I would feel it was hopeless and I would never taste freedom again. Some songs seem sad, but the words would pull me through. It pains at times to still hear them but as I get stronger they no longer hold pain to them but a feeling of pride that I pulled through, and I am indeed ‘FREE’

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bN4osi44hFc

Susie of Arabia

 

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Many years ago in Jeddah I had the fortune on meeting a Lovely American Lady called Susie – She is an American Ex police officer who  married  an amazing Saudi man. Susie is well know around the world for her hugely popular blog that she created, a western woman’s view on living in Saudi. I would advise you all to check out her blog, its very insightful.

Susie did the original blog on myself and children in 2009, to inform the world at large of our plight, and last month she asked me to do a question and answer interview to update the blog on what had happened to us .

Feel free to check out the update and  also the original  blog:  https://susiesbigadventure.blogspot.com.tr

Hopefully you will hear more from us both soon as Susies is constantly keeping the world informed on the happenings in the Magikal Kingdom, and my story? Ah well who knows what adventure I have to inform you of from my time in Saudi

Paupers to Millionaires and back again

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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.

Scousers, Loyalty and Betrayal

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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’.