It had been a week since my parents packed their bags and left for the airport. Life returned to normal in our household and the compound. The holiday season had passed and people who made visits home for Christmas were now trickling back. I woke most mornings at 4 a.m. carting baby Soos down the stairs, gently plopping her on the floor to play, while I made the school lunches of arabic bread and cream cheese. Secret treats of cupcakes and cookies, holiday candy and juice were packed in lunches to brighten an otherwise stressful day for the boys. See See and Foof still attended American school riding the big bumpy bus each morning, oblivious to the outside world and all that was to come when they too would attend Arabic school. He became more restless with his job and constantly pushed for a transfer making accusations of prejudice and unfair treatment. Compound residents walked the loop, played tennis and swam at the pool resuming their daily routine that had been forgotten during compound festivities. Although dust, wind and sand storms were relentless, the dipping temperatures made weather in Riyadh a treat during winter months.
Each morning the boys would trudge down the stairs at 5 a.m.in their thobes and lay on the couch waiting for the driver to arrive and take them on the 30 minute trek to the large private school. I offered them eggs, pancakes and french toast but nothing seemed to set well at that hour and so the tradition of freezing bags of peanut butter chocolate chip cookie dough for baking morning cookies, began. I sat on the couch as they laid their heads on my lap, we talked and joked about little things that made them smile while baby Soos pulled their hair and dug in their backpacks. The usual complaints about being awake so early and their dislike for wearing the mandatory thobe, were met with a mother’s sympathy and advice to see the positive when possible. I asked them what they wanted for dinner and a menu took shape. I would then spend the day making sauces, peeling potatoes and whipping up favorite meals.
I didn’t know what really went on at school as they had become skillful at hiding their bad days with adolescent silence, but after three years of living in Saudi I had formulated a rough idea. I surmised that attending Arabic school meant three things, very little supervision from teachers and staff, a gross lack of respect between teachers and students and a constant fear of making mistakes. Students learned no compassion or integrity from teachers as they witnessed scenarios where students who did not do their work or made trouble in class, were randomly and violently punched and hit, chairs being yanked from beneath them while the class sat helplessly looking on. On these days the boys stepped out of the van and drug their things behind them, walking into the house and straight to their rooms. No amount of good intentions to find out what had happened would bring results and only seemed to make the boys more nervous, issuing warnings to- “never talk to the school or complain” which were generally observed. Good days witnessed them walk through the door laughing and discussing the antics of friends during foos ha (recess) and stories of the blatant lack of respect for school property. They recounted fights between students and the craziness that went unnoticed by adults within the school. I always asked them about their day, acting as if they had returned from the American school of Riyadh with their sisters. If the day had gone smoothly they would be so engrossed in their stories that a quick reply of, “fine” was all I heard. They would then continue to discuss the possible repercussions for those students who had misbehaved and caused mischief. These were usually comical ideas from cartoon characters that were not a reflection of what really went on inside the walls of the school.While it was comforting to know my boys were not being hit it was also sickening to know others were and that everyone sat watching in silence, doomed to repeat this cycle if any of them became educators. I spoke to him and insisted that he go into the school but he said there was no point and any insistence on my part brought days of anxiety and stress.
It was not until the day that my sons stumbled in the door an hour late from school, that I wrote my first letter and nothing would deter me in this course of action. I called transportation, their father and the school, gaining little insight as to where they were. I convinced myself not to panic in order to make a plan of action and find my sons. Finally the van drove up and the boys piled out and into the house. The driver had forgotten the school trip and upon my calls to transportation he made his way to the school while the boys waited outside.
My oldest son then informed me that during the first foos ha (recess) a student had pushed his younger brother to the floor resulting in a hard hit to his head. He stood, dizzy and dazed, unable to see things in front of him. With no apparent supervision or concern by school officials, he made his way to the school doctor on his own. He asked to call his mother and informed the doctor of the events that had occurred. The doctor assured him that all was well and sent him back to class to continue his day and the next 5 hours. While I listened to his story and questioned him, looking for signs of a concussion he fell to the floor throwing up and eventually falling asleep. I called his father and despite his irritation that I “overused” the doctor for silly things, I insisted that he come and take us to the hospital.