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’
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
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.
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’.
I never thought my life would have so many twists and turns, I was married to a good man, like all couples we had our ups and downs but we both had a solid foundation of love and respect and family values I guess that’s what kept us together. Over the years we alternated our lives between Saudi Arabia and the Wirral on Merseyside in the UK. I guess the moment that really defined the next ten years of my life was when we were living in the UK again; we only stayed 3 months, shorter than planned. Abdul had started bleeding very badly every time he went the bathroom, at first we didn’t think much of it, as he was a strapping man of 6ft 2 and never drank or smoked. However after a while I made him go the emergency department of our local hospital – like all men it was impossible to get him to the doctors – what is this aversion men and doctors have? I will never understand. He was given the spiel that because he was from Saudi Arabia the water was different in the UK so could cause upsets to the digestive system, while we thought this didn’t make sense as we had been coming to the UK for a good 15 years and never had this problem, after the 5th visit and getting no decent answers why my husband was bleeding profusely every time he went the bathroom, I was at my wits end. We had arranged a short visit back to Jeddah to see Abdul’s family, whilst there I made him go the hospital: hospitals in Saudi Arabia are not like the UK since you pay for your health care they are big businesses, like the banking, each hospital has a connection to a country, such as the Saudi American Hospital, or the Saudi German Hospital. We decided to go the Saudi German hospital: Germans are known to be very thorough and I felt in my heart of hearts something was wrong. Immediately they began to investigate; it was probably an ulcer through stress they said and we’d find out in a few days the results. Abdul opted to go alone for the results, whilst I stayed home with our two small children – by then Faris were 10 and Jannah 2 and a half. As with Arab families, they rally around and his family waited at home with me. I wasn’t comfortable with this; I wanted this to be dealt with between me and my husband. The moment he walked through the door they all descended on him wanted to know the results, I was pushed to the back but I saw his face as he spoke in Arabic, then loud wails began off the women, grabbing at him. My heart stopped for a fraction; first the silence in my soul, until it began to echo so loud and fast with fear it deafened me, as I shouted what was happening? Abdul quietly looked at me; fear and sadness in his eyes as he told me it was cancer, worst still, it was stage 5 cancer, and it was in his bowel, there was nothing they could do. I stood disbelieving, as though my world had ended around me, my two precious children holding onto me , I could see Faris understood and the fear in his beautiful grey eyes as I held them close not knowing what to do. Life slowly began to change while Abdul stayed physically strong; the trips to the hospital began. Back in 2000, Jeddah didn’t have many facilities for cancer, not like today where they have some excellent facilities. We had to try and use wasta to get decent treatment: wasta is a form of connections, if you know people in power it’s possible to achieve almost anything, sadly if you have no wasta life can become very hard. Through Abdul’s father who had wasta we got Abdul admitted to the Government National Guard hospital for treatment. Diagnosis was that they could prolong his life if he had a catheter inserted. The first day I came to see him at the hospital I was refused entry unless I would leave my children outside. I pleaded with the security, their father was dying, and surely he would allow them to see him I was greeting with the harsh reply this was a government institute hospital were patients were dying and had serious illnesses: did he seriously think I didn’t know this? For this reason children were not allowed entry he told me with disdain. How dare a woman even try to argue with him? I sadly went home without seeing Abdul. He stayed in hospital a few days and decided against the option of a catheter – he knew he would beat the cancer and he didn’t see why he should limit his life this way.
Slowly the chemotherapy took its toll on him and he became weaker and thinner. As with all people who are ill, our instincts tell us to feed them healthy foods this will build them up make them stronger, but it got to the point where the chemo made Abdul go off food, we changed to making juices and soups all healthy and liquidized to give his body the nutrients it needed. Funnily enough after chemo he always craved Ribs from Applebee’s restaurant (this is an American fast food joint) over the months his visits to work lessened he stopped driving the car and our trusted driver; Badsher drove him to work. (Little did I know at this time Abdul had asked Badsher to look after me and the children if anything ever happened to him, which Badsher agreed and kept his word). At night he would hold me tight as I cried into his arms, telling me it would be OK he was going to beat this, I believed him, I needed to believe him, it was bad enough coping daily; looking after him and my small baby and my beautiful son, mentally it took its toll and I spent a lot of time crying, how on earth would I cope if I lost him. News came to me that a friend of mine who was married to a prince and whose sons were close friends of Faris’s, father had just died of cancer, it brought the fear more to the surface, that it was a possibility this would be us in the future. Sadly my friend had to contend with her late husband’s family who wouldn’t let her travel or leave the Kingdom with her children. A few weeks later another close friend of Faris’s, father passed from cancer and his wife called me upon hearing of Abdul’s illness. She was a Turkish lady married to a Saudi and she informed me to make sure all my affairs were in order; house and businesses in my name bank accounts etc. to be safe. I was horrified to find out a few weeks later she had a fall in the gym and hurt her spine, at the hospital they found she had cancer and she passed away a few months before Abdul. It was so upsetting, but with all the sadness in my home I never realized the fear my son was going through; seeing men he knew die, his friends become fatherless and motherless. Eventually Abdul made the decision to go to New York to Sloane Kettering, the huge cancer centre they had there. I of course stayed home with the children to try and keep their lives as normal as possible. He stayed a week and came home, telling me the consultant advised him to come home as he was going to die and he seemed a man who wanted to die in his country with his family. One night as he held me, he told me I should think about taking our children and return to the UK – what – why – was he crazy?? I refused! How I could leave the man I love and let him die without us around him? Now I realized he knew of the horror that may befall us and he was trying to get us out to safety. As the law stood in Saudi Arabia a woman may not travel or leave the country without mahram permission; a mahram is the man who is in charge of protecting the female. He told me to find a lawyer and draft up a legal letter, him giving us permission to leave the country if the need arose.
This was easier said than done.
I contacted the British embassy and asked them if they could help us, they refused. I explained the situation that I was a British citizen (even though I held dual nationality and held a Saudi passport too) that me and my children were being held against our will, again they refused any help in the end I begged they must know someone?? After many trips daily to the embassy, begging and pleading for help I asked maybe unofficially they could tell me instead of officially, thankfully they gave me the name of a Saudi lawyer who was married to a British lady, who it turned out knew an influential family who lived in my compound. He agreed to draft up a letter when needed and would wait for payment once it was done. Little was I to know he would pay such an important part in my life.
Abdul began to get worse he was no longer the man I recognized, his family sent a local sheikh to visit the house; a sheikh is a religious man pretty much like a priest. Abdul’s family was adamant someone had put the evil eye on us; the evil eye is a suspicion where as a person can look at you in envy and can put on an evil curse bringing you bad luck. The sheikh read Surahs (chapters) of the Holy Quran) over my husband to clean him of any evil, he informed us that he had many evil eyes on him by many people close to him, and then he set about cleansing the house reading Surahs and burning wood and herbs throughout our home. Calm returned to his family believing that all would now be OK, and Abdul would begin to get better. In fact he became worse. I begged him to go to the hospital and eventually he did. The hospital staff spoke to his brother and told him that Abdul would be admitted. Being his wife meant nothing to them, I was a mere woman and had no right to make any decisions regarding his well-being, after a few moments however they took me aside and told me Abdul’s brother didn’t know what Abdul’s wishes were if he was to take a turn for the worst, and wanted me to let them know. Sadly his wish was not to be resuscitated and to go peacefully. As always his family descended on the hospital and they stayed over with him. Most hospitals in Saudi have room for family to stay also, however I was not given that choice as his mother took over. I knew the end was coming and visited my lawyer who then prepared the draft for the legal document for us to travel. There was just one point however, I needed the hospital to sign it and say he was of sound mind and knew what he was signing and agreeing to. I knew this was now dangerous, as I approached the British nurses they sadly told me they wish they could help but it was the head of the department who had to sign it, she was Saudi and was horrified, that I as a Muslim would want to leave Saudi Arabia, ‘This was God’s chosen country and I should stay here’. I asked her to question my husband in English as he didn’t want his family over hearing the conversation, but she didn’t, she walked in and stated very loudly in Arabic was it true he wanted his wife and children to leave the Kingdom? It was like a dream, his mother and grandmother screamed loudly cursing in Arabic and Abdul in his pain looked confused and bewildered. The first time in my life I screamed so loud and nearly fainted, I knew there and then at that very moment in time, my life was over; I knew I would never leave Saudi Arabia. He went to the bathroom and took me with him and stated for me to give him four days and he would sign the document, he wanted to die without his family hating him and knowing we were safe. The next few days that followed were tense I could feel the hate enveloping me from his family, but I had to be by my husband’s side. We visited twice daily talked to him even though he was more distant day by day and shadow of the man I loved. We fed him from the enormous buffet that was always spread daily in his room.
Until that fateful night when we visited.
I tried to feed him as usual but he refused to open his mouth his eyes were staring but not seeing and it was as though he was there but not there. I sang happy birthday and told him I had his favourite chocolate cake, where he opened his mouth and began to eat, relief filled me that he was responding until suddenly he began to choke. In horror I froze…. I didn’t know what to do the screaming from his mother in Arabic confused me and the fear on my children’s faces. The doctor came in and barked why we were feeding him. We’d had no instructions he wasn’t to be fed. The nurses followed and tried to insert a tube down his throat but he refused to respond every one tried to coax him until eventually I told him he was at the dentist and he needed to open his mouth wide for the dentist to see, after a few tries he opened his mouth and they inserted the tubes to stop him choking. This was too much for me and for my children to see their father that way, once they cleared his throat I immediately took my children home and began to play with them: Anything to take their minds off what had just happened at the hospital. Now in hind sight I realize I never once spoke to Faris about Abdul’s illness I stayed in denial telling him his dad would get better. That night however would be the last memory we would have of this wonderful strong loving man as he passed away in the middle of the night.
I was awoken to a loud banging on my front door – sleepily I opened it to the glaring face of my brother in law – ‘Yella where is Abdul’s ID card – get it now! ‘Why I stammered what’s wrong?? – your husband is dead, while you were sleeping too busy to be there for him – he cried for you for hours while you lazily slept, he shouted and cried your name and you left him to die alone with your name on his lips! Get dressed and get to Makkah within the hour he will be buried there. (Makkah is the holy city of Saudi Arabia and all Muslims around the world – it’s a wish of all Muslims to be buried there, and they are usually buried before the next prayer) – I had no say, stumbling back in shock I went to find his ID card while my brother in law sat down. When I returned he stressed to me – that I must know I will never leave Saudi Arabia – my children were Arabs and would never leave – if I wanted to go they wouldn’t stop me but my children ‘our children- mine and Abdul’s’ wouldn’t. Then he left as quickly as he arrived, slamming the door behind him
Still in a state of shock I had to wake my gorgeous sleeping children and inform them of their father’s death dress them and rush them to Makkah – it was all a blur – an unreal nightmare! We arrived in Makkah the journey I can no longer recall but when we arrive I was immediately cursed at for arriving dressed in black – unknown to me women wore white to funerals – this I would not know, never attending a funeral before. Abdul was laid out wrapped in a white sheet – what a strange feeling there was my beloved husband – but he wasn’t my husband – the essence of him was gone – I guess that’s what happens when our spirit leaves the body we are just a shell. Janah laid a small bunch of Jasmine flowers we had picked from our garden – this was Adel’s favorite flower. She placed them on his chest to the horror of the family who told us our Khafir (unbeliever) ways would send Abdul to hell – what kind of family were we to do that to him. – Little did they realize they should of guided me I had no idea of Islamic ways of grieving only the ways I had been taught in the west. – The flowers were snatched away and thrown to the floor.
Custom is that women receive mourners for 3 days when her husband dies – she cannot attend his burial only the males attend. The first day I sat there dressed in a white long dress and scarf receiving women who were related through the family, lined up wailing and kissing me cheek to cheek – uttering their condolences that I couldn’t understand. I couldn’t do this, all I wanted was to be with my children hold them tight – I never knew what nightmare was going to unfold. I took them both upstairs, locked us in our bedroom and held them tight – I could hear the laughter of the small children outside playing – this was horrible to my ears – yes they were children they didn’t really understand, but to me; my life was over and hearing their laughter was torment .
Faris was to go to the grave yard to bury his father with all the men but he told me he couldn’t do it, he didn’t want to see his dad lowered into the ground (Muslims are not buried in coffins, but just wrapped in a white sheet) I told Faris ‘death is a very personal choice and only he could decide what was the right thing to do, he had to do what he knew he could live with’. My brave little man decided he wanted to remember his dad alive tall and strong fit and well and decided against going the burial. The family were horrified how could he do this to his father – Abdul would go to hell for having such an unbelieving family – I could no longer stand all their anger and hate towards us – we were grieving too, I had lost the love of my life, my children their father. I realize now that this was the day Faris’s childhood ended. That night I took the children and went back to Jeddah to our home to come to terms with the nightmare that was unfolding – The family sought to punish us to this day we have no idea where Abdul is buried – only that it is somewhere in Makkah. I found out also months later that Abdul never did die screaming my name -. I lived for months of pure guilt and hating myself, to find thankfully he died sleeping having a fatal heart attack – his body just gave up – I thank god for that small mercy, but can never forgive the lies his family wove to make me feel a bad person and that I had failed my husband. MY whole world had collapsed I was suffocating with grief and trying to be strong supporting my children, with the knowledge Abdul died bankrupt. I was left with the equivalent of 30 UK pounds and the home we lived in. I couldn’t understand why the family would tell me such evil lies, that ate me up inside for months. Still to this day I’ve never come to terms with the loss of my husband – the events that were to unfold, never gave me that luxury as I had to be strong and protect my children at all costs and find a way to get them home to Freedom.