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Life and Times of a Busy Woman

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Jeddah Brats – 2 teaser

Posted by Range Officer Rhonda on September 13, 2009

For those of you that enjoyed reading the little teaser chapter 1 of my Saudi Arabia memoir, I offer you now the teaser for the 2nd chapter. Alhough the posts here may not become the actual 1-2-3 chapters of the book, they do give you an idea of the story that is unfolding. So sit back and read on withing this story of my memories from Jeddah…

Chapter 2 – Houseboys 

Most of the American families, and I’m sure the other countries too, had in their services a ‘houseboy’ that came in a few times a week to clean around the house. They would sweep the floors and patios, water the plants, take out the trash, generally just about any chore to help the ‘mem-sahib’ around the house. 

Our first house boy was a novelty – we had never had anybody to help us out in the house before and didn’t quite know how to treat him. But once we got used to the idea and didn’t spend all our time cleaning the house before he came over to clean, well, life got a little easier. 

Our houseboy (Achmed) seemed very pleasant and spoke only a few words of English. We couldn’t fault his work and his friendliness overcame our hesitance to trust someone in our house. He was mostly unfamiliar with a lot of the chores we wanted to do and the words, but it became a learning process for both he and ourselves. We would point at something and he would say the name in Arabic, we would tell him the English name. He was learning, with patience and pantomime, the words for wash, sweep, mop and the common chores, but we seemed to all be learning the words in Arabic much more quickly. I don’t know if he was slow, a little lazy, or just didn’t want to admit that he understood us. That was a common trick with some peoples, to learn our words and pretend they don’t understand. 

I don’t think Achmed ever understood why we had to boil so much water, but it was something we did every single day and one of the chores he was going to be in charge of. He would look at us funny, then go ahead and do the job. He was especially confused when we poured boiling water into ice cube trays, or poured it into the sink added a little bleach and then dumped in all of our vegetables to be washed. I don’t know if our family was more cautious than others were, but we did take notice of all the warnings we had been given when we moved into the country. As the saying goes, ‘an ounce of prevention…’ and all that jazz.

Christmas was coming and the house was sparkling with decorations and great smells. Although he didn’t seem to understand, Achmed helped us set up and decorate an artificial tree. A few presents were under the tree, but most would come from Santa Claus. Achmed seemed to get into the spirit of things; we even had a small present under the tree for him, which seemed to make him feel like he was one of the family.

 When Christmas arrived, it was everything we could possibly want. Toy guns and cars for my brothers, clothes, of course, some beautiful gold jewelry for my mom and for me what I remember most was the glistening green accordion and the red plaid suitcases! We opened our presents with glee and left the one for Achmed because we had told him we wouldn’t need him that day. Then we all packed into the car and went to visit some of our friends to spread good cheer and exchange gifts. It was a wonderful day, but we couldn’t wait to get back home and play with all the presents we had left under the tree.

When we arrived back home, we walked into a room expecting glitter and gifts. Instead – it was all gone. Everything…the tree, decorations, cookies, and most importantly, all the gifts. We knew we had been robbed and we all cried, even my dad. He had tried so hard to make things nice and normal for us and we had only been in the country less than a year, and then to have this happen! He called a friend at the embassy and they came over to help us deal with the local police. We had no suspects; none of our neighbors had seen a thing. But someone had stolen our Christmas. 

The following day, our houseboy didn’t show up at his regular time, but at first it didn’t seem odd. We were still devastated by our loss. But as the day wore on, it became obvious he wasn’t going to show and my father suspected the worse. Again, a person from the embassy was contacted and a description with all the information my father had as to the name, relatives and address that we thought belonged to our houseboy.

As the week continued, we heard no more but we did make a visit to the Souk to buy a few trinkets and books to make up for our missing gifts. Friends were wonderful; they would send things to my father at work or stop by the house with food, gifts and companionship. We were well on our way to forming our Saudi family group and this helped to cement the relationships. Most of the friends we made then are still our friends now, so we were actually blessed by this incident. 

The following week, an amazing thing happened. The police showed up at our door and with them came most of our missing presents! (That includes the tree.) We kids had a wonderful reunion with our gifts and the ‘gentleman’ who had brought them back took my father into another room to have shay (sweet hot tea) and discuss the events that had happened. Later, as we were having dinner, dad told us most of what had happened. They did find our houseboy with most of the gifts in his home. He was going to sell them at the Souk for a little extra money but hadn’t either found someone to buy them or had the time to carry them all down there. He did already sell the gold jewelry though, which was a major loss to my parents. 

When asked what would happen, my dad said that he would be taken to Chop Chop Circle (I believe that is what it was called) and there he would be punished. We wanted to know what the punishment would be – a fine, jail time or what. No, we were to find out, we were way off base. He would be having the fingers of one hand cut off in public! The way my father explained it, since it was Achmed’s first crime, he wouldn’t lose his whole hand, but he would this way be branded a criminal, a thief. My dad was invited to the punishment circle, but I never found out if he went.

I don’t recall if we ever had another houseboy or not after that. We said our prayers for him and I believe we all forgave him. And every time we drove by the circle where public punishment was dealt, we would crane our necks and try to see what was going on. Our parents never let us get close enough to see, and I am not sure I ever would want to.

Another houseboy story 

Many stories float around about houseboys and the funny or terrible things that happen with them. In one case, there was a tragedy. 

Dad came home from work one day and told us that an Asian family (I don’t want to say which Asian country we were told of, so as to avoid any bad stigma) down the alley was very sick and we had to stay away from them so as not to get sick too. Two of the family members were so sick they had to be taken to a hospital. I think you had to be near death to go to a Jeddah hospital! This was in the 60’s by the way, and much has improved by now. 

The way the story developed, the father and a child has some kind of food poisoning and the doctors were confused because they couldn’t determine the source. Then, as other members of the family became ill, they went to their home to investigate. They questioned where they had been eating and where they bought their food, even how they prepared it. This had to be solved and quickly before it spread or one of the family members died. 

Finally, they searched the freezer and were testing the meat in there. To their horror, they found chopped up pieces of a human body. When questioned, the family finally broke down and said there had been an accident and the houseboy had died. Instead of reporting the body or taking it away, they had cut him up and were using him as food. 

The family was taken away, to where we never knew. They could have been deported, or worse, subjected to Saudi punishment. We never learned the truth about them, and we never saw them again. I hope they were just deported back to their own country and made some kind of restitution to the boy’s family. We prayed for them, but most especially for the boy who had died. He got his revenge though, didn’t he?

 And we thought eating road kill was bad!


3 Responses to “Jeddah Brats – 2 teaser”

  1. You have such wonderful stories, such a rich background. I love hearing about your life in the Middle East. And I’m doubly blessed because I also get to read your stories in SCN. Lucky me to have you in my life! One of these days, I know I’ll be able to say “I knew Rhonda back when…”

  2. Dee said

    I also lived in Jeddah in the 1960s. What fun it is reading about old times and places.

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