Chapter 3

In KSA 1986

Khaled and Nadia

I was very little when Baba and Mama decided to travel to KSA. In Egypt, we had a small flat in the public housing part of city comprising of one bed room and a wide hall. The floor was not a fancy one. By that time ceramic and porcelain were not common for poor people, so the floor was covered by rough tiles; supposedly white with black dots. But in my memory they show as grey with black dots. The walls were painted with a chalk-like painting. I remember when I sleeked my hands over them touching the tiny little goose pumps, they would get a bit dusty from the painting. The bed room of Baba and Mama was beige and simple. Mama never loved too much ornaments in wood (as was custom in Egyptians) or maybe its poverty that caused her not to. In the hall, Uncle Fouad, mama’s brother (my bestest uncle of all who was considered the richest), gave my parents the dining table and the golden salon as presents. Actually, I later on knew that baba didn’t have the money to buy mama ‘shabka’ (the wedding ring or wedding golden gift), so uncle Fouad was the one who helped him too. ‘Why the hell did mama marry baba?’ a frequent thought occurring to me during the years which made me set ‘good finances’ on top of characteristics for my new yet unknown husband.

 I was still months when baba decided it’s about time to leave and build up a new financially good life. He accepted the contract to work in one of the governmental Saudi hospitals. Mama had her contract too to work in a private hospital. My memory about that period is quite like mush about that period.

Our house there was not a fancy one either. But it had two bedrooms; one for my brother and I and the other for my parents. There was a living room that had three flat sofas pushed against three walls and covered with dark beige sheets ornamented with big red flowers. Each sofa had two rectangular cushions set against the wall. Dad brought us a Japan-made Sony TV (when Japan made items were the most expensive and best made).

Because of mama’s work, she had to put me into a house that hosted children. Let me close my eyes for a second. I was quite young in age and little in size. I wanted to socialize with the other kids and I thought that people would take me for the good sense of humor I had. There was that boy wearing a black scarf around his neck. I wanted to play with him. He was laughing with me so I grabbed him by the scarf. He fell down. But I did not mean to. I was just playing with him. ‘Nadia’ a scream and a frowning face from the hostess followed. I shrank in my seat hunched my shoulders as if I wanted to disappear and refused to weep.

Because I was the fair sex in the house, Khaled took all the blame and beating from my father. And although he didn’t imply any hard feelings against me, he always put me on the frontline when a catastrophe took place. When we grew up and were telling stories of our childhood, I found him telling me that he was sorry, for once he dropped a glass and broke it and when baba came back home, he said that it had been me who broke the cup. Baba never liked to hit me so it had been over in 5 minutes. In another incident, Khaled declared he didn’t like baba putting eggs beside the beans (fool) in the same plate. Baba got so furious then I was told he yelled at him him ‘it is haram that you say this. You will burn in fire for that’.

Such attitude from baba made us avoid telling him any mistakes. Because he didn’t like us to watch TV for a long time, we played a trick to remove the evidence from the crime scene. The TV victim was hot so we used a wet towel to absorb the heat and cool it down. The trick worked well until I decided to try something else. That day, time passed by and we didn’t notice it was time baba came home. I wetted the towel and decided I am going to squeeze it this time at the back of the TV. ‘Teshshsh’ the sound raised as if I s sizzling something. I shivered. When I tried to switch it on, the screen didn’t light and a weird sound came out. My heart was pounding. When baba came, we had to confess our crime to him. Thank God it was fixed later on or else I wouldn’t be telling the story right now.

The first day in school was quite distinguished. Mama managed to get me in school very young at the age of 4 and half which was a privilege I was told. I would be the youngest amongst my peers and get the chance of entering college really young. The first class I joined when I was taken to school was the Quran class. I can’t remember why I hadn’t attended the morning assembly though. I just entered into the class. I walked embarrassed amongst the desks where the girls were neatly sitting all in their grey dresses with their hair tied in a white ribbon. I squeezed myself in between two girls whom I can’t remember their faces or names. The class was reciting after Abla Ne’ma. I just did the same like everyone else; paying no attention to what I am saying and eagerly looking around me. After the next verse, Miss Ne’ma said ‘Nadia’. The whole class recited the verse along with the ‘Nadia’ at the end. And again, and as if this was my reaction to all that have embarrassed or lacked respect to my emotions: I shrank in my seat hunched my shoulders and lowered my gaze.

The best entertainment in Saudi Arabia at the time was the one hour childhood dedicated TV programs. The first half an hour was Hollywood cartoon and then an animated program. Khaled and I loved setting this one hour gazing at the TV and enjoying the figures flickering on screen. Baba always said TV was not the greatest invention. It was the West illusion to make the Arabs go numb and dumb. We never believed him and thought it was a matter of selfishness from his side to spoil our pleasure.

Actually, baba was such a terrible dad! He would spoil all the pleasures in the world. He would call those mouthful melting chocolates with crunchy nuts flavorful smell UNHEALTHY. He would call those crispy salty tomato flavored chips that reenergize the soul CRAP. He would give us a prize of green watery cucumber that tasted no better claiming that this was the healthier option. I never knew that later on I would be such a terrible mother too.

Besides our school, we had our household chores: vacuum the living, wash the dishes, tidy up the toilette, collect the toys into the big cardboard box and keep everything tidy. Khaled was still the mean boy while I was the innocent good girl. He would play a game with me to divide the rooms. The rooms to clean were the hall, the two bedrooms, and Khaled included the bathroom and kitchen for his mean trick. He would raise his five fingers and say ‘choose’, he had put a finger for each room and always kept the bathroom and kitchen, which mom used to clean thoroughly, for him no matter what my choices were. I trusted him the most though.

I remember one day, I was lying in my bed and found the dark room lit in blue and the blue was flickering and blinking on and off. I freaked out and knew some strange creature was in the house. I was so afraid that I hopped out of bed and went straight to Khaled’s and squeezed myself in between his tiny shoulders; for there I felt so safe.

‘Lady’ was my favorite animated cartoon series. ‘Lady’ was a girl who adored horses (just like me, or I grew up to like them after her, I don’t know). She had a stepsister who hated her so much at the beginning and then got to love her because of Lady’s beautiful soul. The first night after their re-conciliation, Lady slept beside Sarah holding her hand. And after that re-conciliation too, I slept beside Khaled sometimes holding his hand the same way. The stupid society made feelings of security sprung just beside him. For some reason, I was so insecure and afraid.

My body was a taboo and still is. I am a girl. I had to cover my breasts even when I didn’t actually have breasts. And I had to cover my virgin body although it was fresh and innocent and desire-free. But my father didn’t pay much attention to this. He once took us to a swimming pool. He asked me to take my shirt off. He smiled and said ‘come on Nadia, enjoy the water and take your shirt off’. I listened. I took it off. Dad seemed to forget we were in Saudi Arabia. Every man in the pool looked at the only single female embodied in that little girl on the stairs. I dared not go in the pool. I just sat their blushing. I shrank in that position, hunched my shoulders and lowered my gaze.

At the age of 8, I had to wear the abaya as well as cover my face whenever I go to school. At the same time, I wore miniskirts in outings with baba, mama and friends. My school was a girls only meanwhile I used to play with boys from our friends. I thought I should be sticking to one concept and whether to go with abaya or without it. But I learnt then that I had to conform and obey. I didn’t know that this was the start to teach me to hunch and bend with the waves.

One day, my best ever Arabic teacher miss Layla was sitting with us amongst friends. She suddenly looked at me and said ‘Nadia, yesterday I noticed you weren’t putting your face cover when you went out of the school’. I replied ‘I am just 8’. She said ‘which means you’re a big girl’. I had to put the face cover over whenever I am out from school and just pull it up in my dad’s car.

My result was out. I was the second in score. Dad or mom had to come to sign the certificate. But baba was too late this time. I just couldn’t wait and although women weren’t allowed to walk in the streets on their own at that time; let alone a child female. I rushed to the street where the hot breeze hit my face. When I was far by enough I pulled up my face cover. I knew mom’s hospital was just around the corner. I just couldn’t remember the directions very well. I took a turn with my heart thumping faster than usual. A beep beep sound. I swirled around fast and that’s baba there with his car astonished I was out! With a firm voice he said ‘never do this again.’

Mom was forced to put hijab on. Although she was coming from an Egyptian culture where women blew their heads up high, changed the color of their hairs very often and showed in timidity part of their legs, she knew that wasn’t acceptable in Saudi Arabia. And although inside her hospital walls she could take her abaya off and wander with her white gown, she still wasn’t allowed to wander in the streets with her long dresses. Just inside the walls.

We stayed in Najran at the farthest south of Saudi. They always said if we passed the big mountain at the end of the city, we would cross to Yemen. I bet it was a city actually. For me, it looked like a street, one long street in the sand where buildings made of debris scattered on both sides. The whole city had two main clothes shops besides minor shops for accessories and food. We knew around three to four families, who were comprised of my mom and dad physician friends and luckily they had girls my same age. But still it wasn’t live enough to me.

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Chapter 2

 

More fragments (speaking for myself)

My dad was a very liberated and open minded man. A bit nervous he was though. And he was all the time speaking about the West and advanced countries. He would always say “we should set our meals around the clock. That is why the West is so civilized and advanced”. In Eid (the feast), when the whole of Egypt is busy making Kahk (a kind of cookie made at the end of the month of Ramadan), he would snicker “Indians do not care about what they eat. My friend eats a grilled fish a day but his house is full of all up-to-the-date technological devices”. He did not understand that his friend was a miser to eat just one grilled fish a day! But he was also liberated in a greater sense so as to leave his girl choose for herself. Unlike Eastern approach, Baba taught me ambition. And ambition for Egyptian girls was tiresome. Neither the society nor men were on good terms with ambitious girls. I had my own character, chose my language college (although Baba had always hoped for a physician daughter to take after my parents), chose my job as a translator and teacher and chose my husband. My father always empowered me with the freedom of choice.

But as was said before, neither society nor men were on good terms with ambitious girls (those with character and personality). I always fought with my older brother who had embodied the cruel Eastern society. Khaled, who was just two years older, was at the top of his lungs when I returned home at 11 pm whilst he never came back before 2 am. “I am a boy” he would say.

‘Maybe it would have been better if God has created women with penises so that they can come home late like men.’ That thought always came to me when I learned how bad people can talk in defense of their thought. Yet it never occurred to me in my adolescence to fight back in this cruel manner.

 The cause of pain in whatsoever fights erupted based on gender basis was my firm belief that girls were far more polite and responsible than boys in Egypt. When I was out, I was with my friends trying a new kind of coffee at a new café, a new dish at a restaurant, or doing some shopping. But when he was out, he might be hanging out with girls, smoking, or trying all the taboos which society would always excuse for ‘he is a man’! But I stood up against that concept. On the other hand, Baba always stood against us both!

me: I am free to come whenever I like

Khaled: No, you aren’t. Stop acting like that, you are a girl.

Nadia: This is stupid; I am as free as you. I am even better, I know what you do with girls, and everyone in this house knows what I do. Mama knows all my friends. I give details of all places I go to. I call before I get late. You don’t.

Khaled: I am a boy.

me (looking at him defiantly, bitterly and non-convinced): ………

Baba (in an unusual calm voice): Khaled, why do you claim yourself the right to be late and your sister not? The has to be some rules in coming back to the house.

Khaled (with his eyes raging): Baba, you’re talking to me and leaving her?! This is such an insane house! But look Nadia, I am telling you I am not like Baba and if you ever came back late again, I would beat you …

After each argument, both of us would leave the room; Khaled to his usual meetings on the cafeteria with friends and I went to my room where I sat alone with the lights off and tears trickling down my cheeks.

Darkness was a must whenever a relation had to happen between me and hubby. I never felt at ease when he looked at my body with the lights open. Not that I had a bad body, not at all. But something in me shies away. I would hunch my shoulders, try to cover my chest and stand with an angle so that he was never able to see full picture of my privacies. A candle was my perfect haven for this job. I liked that we did some sweet talk before the action began. But he, as an Eastern man, loved the action to begin and the talk to die and bury. He did the gentle touches, played some tricks for some excitement, but he never asked me if I was ready or wholly aroused to proceed to the second part. No wonder then I hadn’t reached orgasm but very few times.

I have reached orgasm in other aspects though. Whenever my husband or my brother told me I couldn’t choose because I am a girl. Whenever either of them laid his hand on me, I would turn into a zombie. I would lose control. I would forget my abilities or strength. I would forget about the whirling storm inside me and just attempt to lay my hand on him the same way he did. That was me.

Chapter 1

Fragments (speaking for her)

2013

The high heels clipped on the floor of the house where only sounds of fights, negotiations and loud laughs sometimes took place. Half naked she came out. The prudent veiled Muslim lady has decided to come out in a dress above her knees. She chose a black long sleeved dress with chiffon covering the part upper her chest. She loosened her short hair reaching down to her shoulders whilst the shorter layers flickered slowly at the sides of her face with each echo of her heels. Everyone looked up puzzled, frowning and rather disapproving. But her looks were so defiant that no one dared to talk or object. She sat there in front of him but barely looked at him. She searched in the air bits for some fresh air but couldn’t find any in the huge smoke fog made by the males in the room.
She remembered her American friend Salma saying with a big sigh in one of her visits to Egypt ‘Egyptians are very complicated people; very nice, very bad, very shy, and very interfering. How could people live like that?!’
She flashed back to scenes of her past life.

She remembered in her childhood how pictures of pregnant women drew most of her attention. She would spend hours in her pretension play stuffing her wide jalabya with a pillow and taking the pleasure of feeling that she is a plump female. She was actually a typical female loving all that the media broadcasted about stylish beautiful princesses; how they dressed, acted and ate … etc. She would play for hours the passive princess who waited for the prince to fight the world to gain her; for she was so precious and worthy. She would take a pencil and color her nails for a nail polish. She would take the school clay and shape long artificial nails on top of her own trimmed nails (they did not allow long nails in school. Although Fatima, her friend, had her own trick to grow the nails of her thumb fingers by tucking them down her palms while showing the rest of her nails to the teacher each Saturday checkup.) She could not do Fatima’s trick, she was far more honest than that.

She was shy too. Too shy in fact. In her wedding day she planned a white maxi lingerie for the day for the only man she admired and chose on top of all the other suitors. After the wedding where both families and friends gathered, she went with him to their hotel room. She requested that he goes out of the room and gently he did. She picked up her lingerie and put it on along with its long sleeves chiffon made robe. She looked at the mirror to see how sexy and fiminish she was. But she blushed. How come she would come out in front of him with breasts popping out like that! Hurriedly, she remembered they would have to pray before anything happens. This is the Muslim Sunnah from Prophet Mohamed (PBUH); to pray before the first ever sexual relation. And she breathed in relief while she put on her Isdal (a long gown for prayer). Now she is covered. She went out. His eyebrows rose in astonishment and she thought he would have said “What the hell are you putting on in our wedding day?” He was rather so polite and ginger with her. He changed his black suit that had a shiny satan on the collar and a small white flower pinned to the left side of the collar. He put on a shirt and trousers. They prayed and sat on the bed. She sat at the very far edge. “Aren’t you going to change the Isdal?” Shyly, she nodded. She went out of the room and took off the Isdal. She came back and hurriedly tucked herself under the blanket before he could take a glimpse of what she was wearing. He approached her, touched her hands and kissed her cheeks and …
How dare an Egyptian woman speak about sex?! Hushshshsh.

Playing in silence was her favorite toy as a teenager. And dolls have served that best for her. She never loved those plump big headed dolls. She never also loved the dolls that looked like babies. She would rather choose the Barbie shaped dolls; for Barbie was idiomatic for beauty. Barbie is the shape every lady should be; with the tiny nose, neatly drawn lips, blond hair, white face, red lips, well shaped body like two hearts attached together; simply she is the embodiment of perfection. But she never had a real Barbie though. Financially her parents were not able to do that. So she chose the other fake second copies. She used to make dresses out of handkerchiefs when she got bored. She would attempt to roll the handkerchief under the doll’s armpits to make a tiptop dress and would lean gently with her tongue out damping the edges of the tissue and attaching them together. Sometimes, this worked others scotch tape worked better. She was quite creative and patient.

She was romantic too, boringly polite and highly principled. She did not know the meanings of insults (like ‘bitch’, ‘fuck’, ‘piss off’ … etc as well as their counterparts in Arabic) until very late in life. And she was so pissed off to know that people could say that to each other no matter what was pissing them off. She took much delight in creating the Utopia of Plato on Earth. She created a huge circle of acquaintance. She would call her friends and arrange for dates, cinema, coffee and chats. Her heart would break if she didn’t manage to get everyone into a gathering. She was the one usually starting calls after disputes either to apologize or tell the other party how much pain he had caused her by doing an act. She would listen eagerly, split herself into two as she talked (the one doing the talk and the other monitoring it) and in the evening count the mistakes she did worrying if tomorrow her evil self wouldn’t allow her to be better.
‘But was life as good to me?’ I thought …