The words my son spoke could not penetrate through to my brain, my real thinking brain. I was now amidst trucks, cars, bikes and hundreds of students, drivers and fathers. My first thought was to get my children safely home. This new and strange environment seemed suddenly hostile and distant, no longer interesting and colorful! I grabbed my son’s hand and held it tightly, pushing the stroller with his hand attached to mine. I was no longer a timid foreigner but an angry mother marching out into the street, navigating through the cars and trucks. Vehicles lined the streets stopping in the middle and side of the road, blocking other traffic. Horns honking, cars screeching to a stop, children laughing and the sounds of a busy school day letting out. I couldn’t be bothered by anything except the words my son had uttered.
We reached the outside of the villa, it was hard to know which one it was. I stopped and looked, there was Abu Abdullah’s (owner of the villa) little pick up truck. When I started out for the school to get my son I had counted the streets and tried to notice other details along the way so that I could find my way back, white pick up, grey car, beige house, stray cats, garbage dumpster, and again the same line up along the way. Every villa and neighborhood looked the same to me, beige or tan, the color of sand, huge walls surrounded each home making the whole block look as if it were one big wall. We approached the large rusted metal gate and walked through the empty courtyard, up the stairs to the dull brown doors that had once appeared mysterious and full of possibilities. I sat down tired, weary and hot! I took off my abaya (long black coat) and rested for a moment. I asked my son, What happened what do you mean someone hit you on the head? I held his hand in mine and tried to make eye contact with him. I don’t know mom! He was tired and overwhelmed and didn’t even understand what people were saying at this school. He said that the teacher had a long wooden stick and for some reason had hit him on the head! I didn’t know what to say or to ask but I tried to be calm. “Was he joking or was he mad, did he hit you hard or a tap” as the words came out of my mouth I realized how ridiculous this sounded. What did it matter if he was mad, happy or sad? He hit my son and nothing could change that. A dread came over me, I felt helpless and confused.
That night we had a make shift soccer game in the mejalis (men’s sitting room). I always tried to think of the benefits that came with not having furniture, indoor soccer games, pillow fights and no mess to pick up! After the kids were in bed, I sat in the plastic blue chair he purchased at the plastic souk (store carrying all things plastic!) it was hard on my body at this point to sit on the floor. Contractions came and went along with back pain, heart burn, hemorrhoids and all of the things pregnancy brings. I sat and waited, I looked at the clock, 8:10, then 9, and finally 10. He left for work each day around 7 a.m. and arrived home around noon. If you work for a company keeping this schedule you work two shifts, morning until noon, back again around 4, finishing your day at 8 or 9 pm. This schedule might have carried with it a benefit except that all stores and offices were then closed. So, a time when you would have potential transportation, there was no place to go. With each minute my anxiety grew! When he walked in I smiled and tried to be the cheerful, dutiful wife. I remembered that he was tired, busy and did not like his new job. I learned to never bother him with my trivial troubles, personal feelings or struggles because a reply about me thanking God for my blessings instead of complaining and a lecture would ensue. But, with my kids it was different, there were no boundaries and no reason to ever give up or stop fighting! I carefully approached the subject and told him what my son had said. He ignored my comment and continued eating. I repeated my statement and he glanced at me stating that he was sure no one would ever hit the boys, it was not possible! I questioned him further and could see the veins in his forehead start to bulge! There was no way for me to comprehend this and it could not stand. “I would not be sending my children to an unsafe environment where they would be hit!” No response was given but my point was clear and left him no alternative.
The next morning as I helped my boys get ready for school, I made sure they knew that hings would be different! It must have been a mistake or misunderstanding and one that would not be repeated. I waited anxiously all day trying to make sense of what had happened and his response to this incident. That night when he arrived home after work he told me that he had gone to the school to see the teacher. The teachers all loved my son and said no one would ever hit a child, it was against Saudi law! I knew my son would not make this up and so began 12 years of muddling through the Saudi school system. This meant changing schools each year in some cases, lodging complaints, and trying to unravel these complicated, unwritten rules. Years later I took my kids out of the school system and went back to home schooling. That was one of several choices that afforded more freedom but pushed things to the limit and brought me to where I am today!