The Journey to Now; PartV: Getting Closer to Now
A new ID: The first weeks were full of fun and surprises; I thought in an Arab country you would just carry on the same way of life. Having to adjust to a new life when in Britain was justifiable, but in a place like Saudi Arabia you would think there isn’t much cultural difference; it seems this Sudan is different from everywhere else. And also it seems that you need a life time to accept anew place as home.
Language barrier here becomes dialect problems. A small example was:
Milk = ‘laban’ in Sudanese Arabic
‘Laban’ = yogurt in Saudi Arabia
We threw away two cartons of yogurt that day thinking that it is bad milk before the shop keeper explained after I stormed downstairs to complain.
A different life; a new experience; you walk the steps you are destined to walk; keep walking; don’t look back!
A short time after we left, the University of Khartoum asked Waddah to evacuate the house with very short notice.
I can only imagine what he had to go through. To pack a 20 year old life in boxes and store them is a job I don’t even want to think of. This is why I never asked questions of ‘where’, ‘who’ or ‘how’ concerning this matter. You lose your loved ones one after the other, nothing else matters…and anyway, nothing is yours Asha!
Let bygones be gone, and think of ‘Now’.
But that doesn’t eliminate the bitterness we all felt towards the way the procedures were carried out while I wasn’t even in the country …
But then, the man died; who cares about what he would have cared for? His children and his books…
Saudi Arabia is truly the kingdom of men. A woman on her own and with a non-Saudi ID is put to so many tests that her stay really proves her perseverance. King Saud University is one of the institutions that try hard to protect their female employees…but the prevalent norm is stronger.
My first experience was in the grand office of the University Housing Director. We, taking the kids with me of course, were delivered to the University Administration by a KSU mini bus. I was ushered into this long
Hall with a huge desk at the furthest end and white settees and easy chairs all around the room and long black coffee tables in one row in the middle, small side tables were placed neatly at the arm of each chair. Reel was so excited that I had to hold her hand on one side and her sister on the other. My son, Mutaz, pretended this is a normal thing and just sat in the nearest chair. The Director came 45 minutes after we arrived, he didn’t show any surprise at the size of his guests and greeted me warmly using my name! He then beckoned me to sit on one side and instructed Mutaz to take his sister to the cafeteria if she needs a drink and sit he would soon attend to me. I must have dozed like my kids for I suddenly heard this loud Egyptian lady speaking so disrespectfully to the Director for not giving her a flat in the compound she requested. My heart fell. This is the compound Fatma told me to ask for; she lived there and she said it has schools for the children etc….
After the storm, I looked at the clock facing me and it showed that we have been waiting for four and a half hours!!
The man called me: Dr. Aisha (I never had a PhD. but why not?) where do you want to live?
- In the University compound
- But you need a strong letter of support, do you know anyone here?
- Yes I do
- Who is that?
- The Director of Housing doctor, I haven’t met any one since we arrived except you.
- Ahm…(not even a smile), how many children do you have?
- Four, one is not here yet.
- We will give you our biggest flat; three bedrooms, flat #1,Blg 40; here is your key.
I shall always be grateful to that Egyptian Doctor who made him so angry that he took his revenge on her by rewarding me for my patience and courtesy. I must have looked pitiful half asleep in his office with three children swarming around me…
That flat became our home for the next eleven years.
Every Sudanese family in the compound took part in welcoming us and supplying us with utensils and beddings and stuff so that we don’t have to spend the little we had until I get paid.
Gulf war…Riyadh heard may be the first ever gun thunder.
We went to Madina Al Manawwarah, the great city which houses one of the three most sacred places for Muslims: Makah, Madina, and Al-Guds (Jerusalem). We stayed with my sister Mona and her husband Mohammad. We loved the city and the feeling of nearness to Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). Four months of spiritual peace and quiet while the war raged not very far from us and Patriot rockets filled and lighted the nights in Riyadh. Hundreds of families came to the sanction of Makah and Madina. Then there was a rumour that if staff members do not appear within the week they will be dismissed. I made a phone call:
- Is that the Director of Staff Affairs?
- I am ….from….. I want some advice: I am on my own and I have three small kids with me, do you think it is safe to come to Riyadh, regardless of the penalty…
- Are you asking me as a boss or…
- No, as a brother of course
- Don’t come; another week or two and things will be clear. Take care of the children.
- Thank you; I will
Call it unprofessional, but I sure called it something else at that time and stayed until things cleared up before going back.
A lot of people might tell different stories about life in Saudi Arabia, especially university staff coming from such significant and scholarly and traditional …etc…backgrounds. On the bus we ride every morning from the compound to campus you meet all these highly qualified women, holders of all kinds of titles and honours from universities and institutions you never heard about, from all over the world. To me that was the real experience, added to it the young Saudi women students in their vigorous attempts to break out of their shells, not those of religious beliefs, but what is created from the mix up between tradition and superstition and personal whims in the name of religion.
The Saudi woman, like all women, is a potential still unexploited for the good of their role and their kind and their country and the whole world. I am waiting for the day when this get- through- becomes a reality and when I can speak and write of these great women without fearing their fathers’ and husbands’ revenge on them!
I send my love and respect to all those women in and beyond the two universities and other establishments I worked for in Saudi Arabia. I salute the tolerance and patience of the oppressed, keeping silent for the sake of their children or self respect. I cheer those who confided in me that there would come a day when patience is rewarded.
Let me pick up the thread of my own journey….
Now Engineer Waddah works in Jeddah thanks to Juhair (an extra mural student of mine and a friend) and her husband..
- Mama I want to get married
- Really, and who is the lucky daughter in law?
- You know her mother, not necessary to know her, I do..
- OK, Mr Man let us start a budget I am not paying any man’s dowry for him.
It took us about nine months to prepare for one of the grandest occasions in the family as we wanted it to be a break through from sadness to happiness. During the years we were in Saudi Arabia, I lost my two major supports after my father and husband. Those were my mother and my sister Adla who was a real second mother to my kids during the years of their father’s fight with health and the years after he died.
Now Waddah and Hiba furnished us with Sara, Mohammad, and Nur later.
And after fighting and beating and beaten and detentions and suspensions, Shiraz graduates from Khartoum Medical School. Her aunts sneaked her out of the country at a time when breathing aloud was penalized! She was taken as an intern in King Khalid University Hospital, where even there the lashes of the regime tried their best against her.
Now, please Mama, an engineer son and a doctor daughter can I go to London to study something different…, pay my tuition one year and I will take over. Go ahead, Sudanese still taking their revenge from the British, the clever British, now I pay. To be fair, I did not lose a son to the British; Mutaz, after three years got the British visa, and got married to Lynne and they are still living in North England.
During the Mutaz saga, Reel decides to take an early IGSCE and remembering her early distinctions in fast learning, I took her for a mock exam at the British Council and she passed with a good credit. Once again Britain features in our family life and Reel got accepted in the department of Information Technology and Computer of the University of Portsmouth. The year #4 graduated I felt emancipated and resigned from King Saud University against everybody’s will.
Packed and ready to leave in a month, Shiraz and her husband Hatim come for tea, and:
- Mama, good news…
- I know, you are pregnant!
- Yes, please stay just one more month…
Same week, I got this message from Dr Kathleen of Prince Sultan University offering the post of lecturer in Translation. Good, wait for the baby and be useful to yourself and others. That house you started building 10 years ago needs to be finished if you are to have a roof over your head.
Shiraz got Mutaz, and another son, Badr and look here folks this is unfair I am turning 65, and you tell me you activists in Human Rights not to retire?
Nobody believes that the years get heavier and heavier on your shoulders, and the legs get weaker and weaker carrying your weight and a clean blue sheet under your body is all you dream of….
This is where I am sitting right now; lap top and other tools within hand reach.
The house? Not yet finished but about to…
Your journey now turns into waiting Asha.
Who said a Now should be in This World?
Or, don’t you believe in the Other?