Our Escape

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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!!!

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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.

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.