Rhonda's A 'Muse'-ing Rambles

Life and Times of a Busy Woman

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Archive for the ‘Middle Eastern Stories’ Category

Remembrances

Posted by Range Officer Rhonda on January 2, 2011

I just finished editing and submitting a piece for a new blog, One Woman’s Day, which can be found at http://onewomansday.wordpress.com

My piece is [hopefully] going to appear on this new blog on January 10th, which is/was my mother’s birthday. While writing it, I started to dig through a box of old photos my Dad had given me so that I could find pictures of my Mom and her good friend, May Riley. I’ll post some of those pictures here.

During the writing of this piece, I was assailed by many memories of what our family and many families dealt with while forming our family groups in the Middle East. As many of you have read before, I grew up in a combination of the Midwest [Missouri Ozarks], a Catholic boarding school [Mt. St. Scholastica Academy in Atchison, Kansas] and the port town on the Red Sea of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. My memories of Jeddah and the familes we met are what I want to write about today, just a bit, so that you can understand a little more of the bond my Mom formed with her friends there.

Back in the early 1960’s, Saudi Arabia was a growing third world country in the Middle East that was struglling to assimilate itself into a Western veneer. They had found oil and were trying to find ways to improve not only their struggling, desert economy but their presense as a power in the great old planet we call Earth. A country ruled by Muslims was trying hard to obtain their goals of economic progress while not being taken advantage of by Westerners nor tormented by their Muslim breathren. It was and still is a work in progress. Back then, in the 60’s, American and European workers, with their families, were being brought into that country to help build and train in a variety of industries, including oil exploration and commercial travel.

Where the women come into play was, I think, an attempt to keep the men there longer and keep them happy. While an adventure for many, those western women such as my Mom had a difficult time adjusting to the status of being just ‘an accesory’ for the men. The dress, the language, the freedoms enjoyed, the food, religion and families were basically left behind and it was hard for these outspoken, sometimes lessly clad [not necessarily ‘scantily’] independant women find themselves having to cover their skin, unable to drive and definitely not speak their minds, They became non-people. And so..they learned to adjust. They learned to ‘Make Do’. And they learned to form new family groups to lean on, laugh with and share – replacing, but not forgetting, the families they left at home. Into this hodge podge of mixed families, my Mom formed many new friendships and one of those nearest and dearest [although not the only one] to my Mom was quirky, beautiful woman named May Riley with her English upbringing and accent.

That’s all I will write about today, but in this month of my Mother’s birth, I wanted to remember her with a few thoughts and pictures on my blog.

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Happy New Year!

Posted by Range Officer Rhonda on January 1, 2011

Many people start the New Year out by [after trying to cure the hangover] getting together with family and friends and honoring time proven traditions of eating various types of food. In my past, the men would retire to the ‘Living Room’ to watch some game or to the garage to ooh-ahhh over some new tool or engine or project. If the weather was nice, the kids ran outside to play or perhaps would go down to the basement to start a marathon game of Monopoly.

With the turkey, goose, duck, ham or brisket in the oven, the women in the kitchen would settle in to chatter. I would often sneak in to listen if the weather was cold outside because I didn’t like having to entertain my younger cousins and I was too young to join in with the older kids. I was stuck in the middle with nobody my age. So I absorbed the kitchen lore. Two things I want to talk about from kitchen lore are Whomp ’em breads and Powdered milk.

On the Whomp ’ems – I mean the canned biscuits and such. We seldom had these available to us when we lived in the Middle East but in the late 60’s & early 70’s, these are all my mom would use. And these may be all most people really know, I’m sad to say. We called them Whomp ’ems because to open them, you would peel the outer layer of paper off, find the diagonal slit, then whomp the container on the cabinet to open. Often, you couldn’t just tap lightly, you had to give it a good hard blow – or two! Then, packagers moved on to telling people to insert a spoon in the crack to pop them open. Most modern tubes don’t require a whomp and don’t pop and spill the dough out – boring! However, one particular brand of cinnamon rolls recently gave me a great smile.

My son wanted to make some cinnamon rolls and I bought him a can of the kind you pop open and heat up instead of teaching him how to make them from scratch. He seldom, or never, saw me open one of these Whomp ’em-like containers so I instructed him how to peel the paper back and then tap the seam on the edge of the counter. When this can opened with an exceptionally loud POP [for this time period, anyway], he screeched and dropped the container on the counter like a hot potato. I just laughed and laughed and he was all indignant, ‘Why didn’t you tell me it would do that??’ I’m grinning now with the memory. And the cinnamon rolls were great. I imagine my son will use more Whomp ’ems and store bought food when he goes out on his own, but he will know how to cook and fortunately he loves almost all veggies.

And now, on to Powdered Milk. I say that with initial caps because it is once again become a more popular alternative to expensive, fresh milk. With the urge to ‘Go Green’ and stockpile necessities, people are having to learn all over again how to make do with things that have a shelf life instead of buying fresh at their grocer or market. One of the things I often laugh at is some people’s reaction to powdered milk. When I was young and living in the Middle East we most often only had the powdered milk instead of fresh. Growing up on farms as my parents did and living near to them when we children were small, we were accustomed to fresh=from-the-cow milk and homemade butter. Switching to powder was a nasty taste to us but mom tried her best to make it palatable. Although today’s powdered dairy products are much tastier than before, there are still some tips that can make it an easier adjustment for you.

If you are just trying to stretch out your milk, many people will use a combination of 1/2 powdered milk mixture and half whole milk. Or they will only use the powdered mix with their cooking, cereal, etc. If you are going whole hog and trying to drink the stuff, you can use several variations to make a tastier mix blend. Here is my Mom’s ‘secret’ recipe for the best tasting reconstituted milk.

First, sterilize your final glass storage containers. You can do this by dipping them in boiling water or simply using the heat dry on your dishwasher. There are long detailed and scientific reasons why glass works better, but that is not the discussion today. To me, it just tastes better coming from glass. I use carraffes [quart size] and mason jars.

To make one gallon of milk, mix into a small saucepan the following:
1 can of evaporated milk, 1/4 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon real vanilla. I DO use a sugar substitute myself but this works better if you use the real thing. Warm slightly but do NOT boil – just get it warm enough for the sugar to dissolve. Set aside. In a large container or bowl, follow the directions on your box of FRESH powdered milk [not one that has sat around for twenty years] using cool, fresh water. If your tap water has flavor or smell, you may want to consider boiling it first and cooling it down. Powdered milk seems to dissolve well in cool water. Combine the two mixes you have made and chill at least 4 hours before drinking. Store in glass containers.

If you are used to drinking skim milk already, you will soon adjust to powdered plain with no additives. With this mix, you get a fatter, sweeter tasting milk that will make it easier for children and long term whole milk drinkers to adapt with. You may want to start with this mix and cut back slowly to where you are only using powdered milk.

So experiment and find the mix you like. Start by using the reconstituted mix in recipes and gradually work into having your family drink the powdered mix. You will soon find it is quick and easy to use powdered milk instead of making a run to the store every time you run short.

My wishes to you for a Happy, prosperous and healthy New Year! Oh, and restful. Take a cue from my Labrador, Ruby. Grab your best pillows and comfort items and take a nap!

Posted in Daily Life, Middle Eastern Stories | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Two Beautiful Women

Posted by Range Officer Rhonda on August 1, 2010

Where has the time gone? Seems like it was almost yesterday that we were celebrating the fourth of July, our Independence Day. Another thing that happened on the 4th – that is the day that my mom died in 2001. I like to say she went out with a bang, and yes, there was a big bang in my heart when I lost my best friend.

I often wear, in the summer, a scarf Kaftan that one of mom’s very best friends made for her. Wearing this Kaftan, I feel the memories of two beautiful women. The maker of the Kaftan was a lady I like to think of as my second mom. Her name was May Riley, formerly of London, England and married to a US soldier. I first remember her when our families met in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in about 1965. She and my mom became very good friends and that friendship lasted, and grew, until first my mom died and a couple years later, dear May died as well.

The fabric of the Kaftan tells the story of two very different women. One side, the black pattern often seen in Persian and Arab type rugs – very proper, universal and staid. The fabric, a cotton poly blend – sturdy I would say, but comfortable. This is the side I think of as May. She, like the color, pattern and fabric was very British proper, sturdy and dependable. On the other side, the fabric chosen for my mom’s side is a bright green Paisley pattern of a silky material – full of color to match my mom’s green eyes and swirls that show a classy edge.

Each time I look at the two sides of this beatiful Kaftan, I see my mom and May. I know the love May spent in choosing the fabrics and hand sewing the garment for her great friend. I feel the arms of two beautiful women, friends for life, wrapping around me each time I wear this. I will never forget my two beautiful moms, both taking their places now as Angels in Heaven and watching over me. Tonite, I think I will let these two beautiful women hug me to sleep and bless my dreams with sweet memories of them.

Posted in Middle Eastern Stories | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Cold & Flu season

Posted by Range Officer Rhonda on January 28, 2010

As I sit here at my desk, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, a light bulb flashed on. You see, all these years I used to think my mom suffered from some kind of OCD [obsessive compulsive disorder] – but was some of it mainly good sense?

I never questioned her methods when I was a child, but one of the things I remember intensely when we lived in the Middle East is how my mom treated our food from the local markets, stores and Souk. When she would go to the store, she would often wear a pair of gloves and use her gloved hands to select items from the shelf. Then, when we got home, there would be a couple of routines she would follow.

First, with the fresh veggies, she would boil some water, add a small amount of bleach to it, then rinse all the vegetables and fruits, first in the bleach water, then in some clean boiled water. I understood that one and often helped her with the chore since people had mentioned there were a lot of dirt and germs on the fresh produce. OK, I bought into that and still to this day at least use my tap water to rinse all my produce.

Next was the boxed and bagged goods that had grain products. We would shake out all the cereal to make sure there were not any weevils and we would sift the flour through a fine strainer and remove any ‘dark’ splotches that often WERE weevils and such. With this, mom always mentioned that there always were bugs in the grains and sometimes they hadn’t hatched yet when they were packaged. Again, to this day, I have a tendency to sift through my flour products to remove that extra ‘protein’. Not much like that happens anymore [finding the little buggers], but still, once  in a while, I will find them.

Now, the last one, the idea that struck me today. Mom always wiped the boxes, cans and bottles before she put them on the shelf or in the ‘fridge. This is what I mistook as an OCD type behavior. Maybe I was wrong? To get back to my current snuffling: While I can probably blame some of it on the ever-changing weather in Texas and the current allergy season, what if my cold like symptoms came from the store? Yesterday, while going down the Soda aisle, a gentleman that was stocking up a very popular soft drink starting with the letter ‘D’, I noticed the man sneeze [hard to miss that huge honking blow!] Immediately, I decided I was not about to put that snot sprinkled product in MY cart – nor the products to either side. fortunately, the one I wanted was way down at the other end and I had no problem putting it in my basket and getting to a sneeze free zone. I thought nothing more of it – until just a few moments ago. Who are the people who handle the boxes and cans and all other products they stock on the shelves at your local supermarket? There are people packaging the products at bakeries, factories & canning facilities. Then people who move them around the warehouse or stack them on the trucks. Then unload the trucks at the store followed by placing them on the shelves. Some people walk around and pick up a can or box, read the label and put it back. Kids are sneaking things into their parents carts and mom or dad will surreptitiously sneak it back on the shelf. They are people just like you and I and THEY GET GERMS. And sneeze, and rub their noses, and possibly, don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom [oh, don’t go there!] So they may sneeze, put up some great cereal boxes. Then cough over the display of cans they are arranging. Or let a dribble nosed toddler carry something around until it gets tired of it, then place it back on a shelf for some unwary clerk to take back to the shelves.

My mom wasn’t OCD, but with the way germs are spreading, perhaps I should be! Maybe that soda delivery guy got one little germ on my twelve pack of sodas and I brought it home. Now, I am not suddenly going to become obsessed with this, but maybe I will be a little more cautious and careful. Already I am thinking of the hotel I will be staying in next week with people from all over the country attending a writer’s convention. Should I take my can of cleaning product and some hand sanitizer? Wear a mask when I enter a room full of people? Yea, the mask probably wouldn’t match my socks, so I’ll skip that accessory. But it can’t hurt to be a little more careful with the everyday items we bring into our homes. I am not a domestic goddess – far from it in fact, so these extra little steps are going to require some work, but I definitely will put some thought into it, and you should as well.

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The Souk

Posted by Range Officer Rhonda on January 11, 2010

From time to time, I post little teaser chapters from my memoirs [Memoirs of a Jeddah Brat, self-published 2007] that are, thus far, an on-going and updated project. Here, in the unedited version, is the chapter summary for the Souk.

 Some of our most pleasant memories of Jeddah were our visits to the Souk. Good or bad, it was an experience that delighted us every time. The Souk Al-Alawi is one of the better known Souk’s of the world. It extends from the Old city of Jeddah and rather than building over the old city as many cities have done, instead, the Saudi’s have built out and around the old city. Nowhere else on earth can you find such a vast array of beauty and desolation.

When you first venture into the Souk, you would think you had entered a bomb-scarred city that was in an ever-present fall to decay. The streets were prone to flooding during the rare rainstorms and filth trickled in the streets in little puddles and rivulets consisting of what you probably don’t want to even think on. There is no visible drainage and you have to step lively and pay sharp attention where you place your feet and what streets you visit.

 One cannot begin to describe the weird and wonderful delights of the Souk. All of your senses were assailed by the differences. The smells, the sounds, the tastes, the noise – all of it can overwhelm your senses. Having probably been there many times yourselves, if you are a Saudi kid, you know what I mean. If you have never traveled to a country and visited a Souk, then here is a very inadequate comparison. Think of a farmer’s market that never quits (and the smell of manure), combine it with a garage sale the size of a football stadium, add in a Mexican market place and toss in a couple of strip malls like what you may find around a tattoo parlor. Finally, add in a throng of dark, swarthy men with the countenance of pirates and the noise of them arguing over something. These men are usually garbed in loose flowing, ankle length shirts known as a thawb with a ghutra held in place by a coil about their heads. Now you just have a bare glimmer of what it was like. If there were women about, it was seldom other than Americans or Europeans. Most women were covered head to toe so as not to show any skin, even the foreign women. The Saudi women are usually covered with a black cloak and veil (abaya) when they leave the house, but foreign women usually can make do with a long dress and especially must wear a scarf covering their hair. Children were well tolerated and even blessed by the Arabs. 

As an aside, as a teen I was once whipped by the religious police with a whip similar to a cat-o-nine-tails, simply because my long granny dress still showed a little too much ankle. I quickly learned to cover myself fully before venturing out into the streets and markets. And MANY times I was pinched hard enough to bruise when in a crowd; heaven only knows if this was an attack or warning. I always thought it was dirty old men getting a cheap thrill, but it could also have been a warning from the more religious group to be more modest as is the station of the woman in that country.

 I liked most about the Souk the ability to bargain for what you were buying. It was fun to shop, no matter what you were looking for. Never pay the price they first ask for, but go through a series of bargaining ploys before you cough up your hard-earned riyals! It was like a game every time you played with masters in every shop. And they had everything. Mostly we stayed in the ‘American’ part of the Souk where each street was laid out with a particular type of goods. You could watch the brass workers making coffeepots, rug and tapestry makers displaying their current work in progress out front while behind them were piles and rolls of rugs of every size and shape, some stacks towering above your head. The woodworks area had finely detailed delicate tables with leaf and scroll works inlaid with ivory or intricately carved window coverings similar to storm shutters in function only but far surpassing them in ornamentation and decoration. Other fine art in the wood area included the painted trunks of which the area was famous for. The were streets of jewelry makers and sellers where you buy raw gems, coins of any nation, hand worked gold bracelets, watches of every make and model and other fine works of jewelry. The price of gold was then much cheaper than in America and often of a much better quality. 22karat and 24 karat gold were predominant and much prized by girls and women of all races. Especially the bracelets. In walking down the spice aisles, you could find incense and spices from around the world. Sandalwood and cloves were always burning and the smell grew on you so that if you were like me, you became addicted to the pleasant aromas. In addition to the many fine and custom perfumes were vials, jars and bottles of hand worked glass. Some of this even would be edged in gold and delicate enough to grace any vanity table. You could find brass tables that shone like gold and were carved or painted with such intricate detail, it would take your breath away. Ornamental wrought iron tables were made on site and in addition to the usual kitsch and junk you could find finely carved wood animals, vases and other artwork. Camels and elephants predominated here, and what home didn’t have a brass or wooden camel in it?  And of course, for some strange reason, there was always a little plastic Santa Claus hanging around somewhere, year round.

 When you needed a breather from shopping, you could sit outside at one of the many coffee bars (where they usually served tea – shay – and cokes instead of coffee) and sample the food of the area. My favorite, and a must during any visit of the Souk, were the Shwarma sandwiches with Fuul (fava beans, garlic & spice). Also sitting nearby, you could usually find some men sitting on the ground sipping at their hubbly bubbly pipes smoking with tobacco, hashish or other aromatic herbs. Going to one of the coffee bars is a good idea if you hear the callers from the minarets sound the call to prayer since you won’t be able to do anything during prayer time. If you happened to be in the Souk during one of the five daily calls to prayer, you would see the shops close up and men lay down their small prayer rugs, face towards Mecca and pray. Women would virtually disappear. The Islam religion tolerates the presence of Christians fairly well since in the Islamic religion, Jesus is considered a Prophet of Allah and Christians are fellow ‘People of the Book’ as dictated by Allah in the Qur’an. But while they tolerate the Christians, they also expect the Christians and other foreigners to ascribe to their social norms and not violate their modest beliefs and practices.

 In retrospect, I often romanticized my visions of the Souk, but harsh reality soaked in during later years as I realized the many beggars who would clutch at your sleeves asking for baksheesh were women who would stick their babies with pins or pinch them to make them cry to play on your sympathies, or street gangs of poor children looking for a few gersch to supplement their income derived from pick pocketing. The more enterprising youths became basket boys and for a mere pittance would follow you around faithfully (and usually honestly) carrying your purchases until you were ready to leave. Often when you arrived at the Souk, there would be a line of basket boys waiting and word would pass among them until one of your regular boys would suddenly appear and ‘take charge’ of your shopping. These basket boys would chase off others vying for your business, recommend good shops to go to for your various quests, and often ward off the beggars for you. Having a basket boy always enhanced the experience of shopping in the open markets.

Posted in Middle Eastern Stories | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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!

Posted in Middle Eastern Stories | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Jeddah Brats – Chap 1

Posted by Range Officer Rhonda on August 17, 2009

Where did it all start? Here’s a sneak peek at a cut down version of Chapter 1 in my memoir, with the working title of “Jeddah Brats”

Chapter 1 – Travel to a Foreign Land

 The first time I remember hearing that we may be going to a foreign country is an easy memory to recall. Here I am trying to learn to eat with a fork stuck out of the end of an arm cast; when my parents bring up the subject of moving to another country. Let me back up here already, why did I have a cast on? It doesn’t have anything to do with the story, but it adds a little flavor to where my mind is set and a little later you’ll see how this relates to the story.

 My name is Rhonda, and at the time I was a very rambunctious eight year old tom boy going into the 3rd grade. I have 2 older brothers that I often tagged along with and I also had a history that would continue to the present day of getting hurt in unsual ways.

 That particular summer, my brothers were playing on a team at a baseball game and while mom eagerly cheered the boys on, I played on the jungle gym. Back then, people who made play grounds hadn’t yet discovered that pea gravel and deep sand could prevent or lessen injuries. Remember I said I was accident prone? Up to that point in my life, my folks had only had to make maybe two trips with me to the clinic for emergencies; a broken collar bone at just under age two and a knocked out tooth that bloodied me up from another jungle gym in the first grade.

 Now – back to the ball game. It was a very hot June day and I was playing on this great jungle gym that just so happened to be set in a sea of asphalt. No sand – no gravel. As I got hot and sweaty, I got more daring and began to hand walk across these monkey bars. Before I knew what was up (not me), my hand slipped and I was falling straight down to the asphalt. I think I screamed, I don’t recall, but I do remember putting my hands out so I wouldn’t plant my face in that mean black surface. Mostly it worked, but I hurt real bad and had a nasty gash on my chin with plenty of blood. Kids screamed, parents came running, and mom found me, as usual, in the middle of the mess. Did I tell you mom was a nurse? Somehow, I ended up in the front seat of the car with my arm propped on a Sears catalogue and a bloody T-shirt held to my chin as we sped down North Oak Trafficway to Doctor Hall’s office. They took us in immediately and set to fixing me up. Here’s the important part that you probably thought I would never get to: I had cracked my jaw bone and had a nasty gash. Did I mention I hated shots? The doc said he was just going to ‘clean up’ my chin a little and soon it would feel and look better. The doctor said it wasn’t going to hurt as a nurse draped a cloth across my face so I couldn’t see anything. I asked them if it would hurt and the doc said no; then while my mom and the nurse held on to either side of me, the doctor STUCK A NEEDLE IN MY CHIN! I screamed and was up off that table in no time, but they did finally calm me down, I suppose, as my chin got numb. I left that day with two more shots, both in the butt – tetanus and something for infection, a cast on my right arm and 17 stitches in my face. After a restless and painful night, I had to return the next day for more x-rays and they were surprised to discover I had also broken my left arm and my collar bone. I now didn’t trust doctors and had a morbid fear of needles that would last into my thirties.

 So, let’s get back to the beginning of my story. I’m sitting at the kitchen table with my family and trying to eat with a fork stuck out of my cast, when the folks all of a sudden tell us we are moving to another county. I had never even heard of Saudi Arabia at that point but my brothers were both real excited and exclaimed things like, “Will we live in the desert? Can we ride a camel? Is it true about Ali Baba and his thieves?” I was the book reader in the family, so I had read about the Arabian Nights, but my brothers actually KNEW, as older brothers often think they do, absolutely everything about Saudi Arabia.

 I don’t remember being upset that we were moving, but I could tell that my mom, who was then only 27 or 28 years old, was nervous about something in the deal. I don’t know who made the final decision to go, but soon, preparations were under way. Dad was to leave in just over a month and hopefully, we would soon follow around the time of Thanksgiving. Because of some religious holiday, which I now know was Ramadan, we didn’t actually make it until after Christmas, on December 29, 1966.

 Remember my fear of needles? It was going to come back and haunt me big time. My parents had been very conscientious about making sure we had all our vaccinations as little kids and we had already been through several childhood diseases such as mumps, measles, chicken pox – you name it! But the great American government in its infinite wisdom had declared that we needed to be inoculated for much more. For my birthday in 1966, I was given the first round of shots which was Yellow Fever. Happy Birthday to me! We would go once or twice a week, sometimes getting as many as two shots in each arm, through the middle of August. I screamed and cried through each session, and nearly fainted once when the nurse broke a needle off in my brother’s arm. We had our smallpox repeated, cholera, SPT, Tetanus, Typhus, Typhoid, Yellow Fever and many more. All of this was courtesy of the doctors who worked for TWA on Richards Road at the old downtown NKC airport. In later years, I was to get a job in that very same building, and each day I would shudder and rub my arms as I walked through those doors with the memories of sterile tile floors and SHOTS firmly entrenched in my mind.

 Also during that time, we had to get passports and visas for Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. It took many months, starting in July and ending just before Christmas of 1966 before we could get all the right permissions for our trip. Meanwhile, my stitches came out and the sling and left cast were removed and back to school we went after Labor Day. I learned to write left handed because the right arm wasn’t healing quickly. I started school in third grade that year with one cast on plus sore arms from all the shots. The next few weeks were a blur as we packed up all of our furniture and belongings to be sent in big crates ahead of us. Our house was bare by Thanksgiving and we waited eagerly to get our paperwork. After a tearful Christmas spent saying goodbye to a multitude of cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents, we finally set out to travel half the way around the world. Mom, with three young children, left her family and home and together we traveled to France and then on to Beirut, Lebanon, where we had a tearful happy reunion with dad at the American hotel. The noises and smells were incredible – the mix of people and their dress were astonishing. Amazingly, the hotel seemed pretty modern and treated us well, and mom seemed to be relieved that this wasn’t going to be her worst nightmare anymore.

 Children being the way they are – we soon, or rather, my brothers did – found a way to entertain themselves. Our rooms were about 10 stories up with doors that led to a balcony. While I was still too small to see over the rail, my brothers had no problem climbing up and hanging over. Tired of just looking, they decided to have a spitting contest. It didn’t entertain them too long, so they added more to it. They would time a spit ball to see how long and where it would land below. Then, patiently waiting for the right target to walk by, they’d wait, goober up with a big phlegmy HHHAACKK noise, aim and spit! As soon as it hit someone, we’d fall back and laugh. Finally, one man caught us as a particularly nasty goober got him splat on the cheek. He was angry and shook his fist at us and yelled – then like frightened rabbits we ran back in our rooms, sure that the man would come find us. He never did and I never told on my brothers (I’m TELLING NOW- HA!), so our parents never knew what trouble we had caused. It wasn’t the last time either, and I’ve often wondered these latter years how these foreigners tolerated the Americans or their children anyway.

 On another trip to Lebanon, my brothers showed their neat trick to some kids we were traveling with and they soon graduated from spit balls to girsch coins and pennies. In France, they tormented waiters by puckering up and making kissy noises, then rolling their eyes and saying stupid things like “Ooo-la-la”. I never did figure that one out but it upset a lot of people for some reason.

 Back to the story. The next day we entered the final leg of our air travel. We left Lebanon and boarded a small TWA jet and flew directly to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  When we debarked at the Jeddah airport, we were assaulted by shimmering waves of heat, noxious fumes and a multitude of men in gowns.

 Before we had left the states, mom and dad had carefully gone over a list of forbidden things while packing our luggage. Things like pork, booze, bibles with pictures, books with pictures and Christian ornaments were taboo. It wasn’t a major deal for our family, although I was upset to leave most of my books behind. We took no chances this first trip. My parents knew as we arrived in this new country that we would have to go through customs, where they would inspect the contents of our bags for forbidden items. My dad had been through this detailed search before and friends had told of their experiences, which were not good. We stood in line and watched with growing apprehension as we watched the agents tear through bags. They would even go so far as to take bags, turn them over and dump everything out. They would then paw through, heedless of the items falling on the filthy concrete floor and rolling under the tables.

 Finally, the time for my family’s turn came. I was first for some bizarre reason and we lined our cases up on the table. I had a cute little black patent leather ‘hat box’ style case with a handle strap and pink cats etched in felt on top. A large grubby man in a white thobe and white lace skull cap approached the table and unsnapped the two gold latches on my case. He lifted the lid – and screamed! Backpedaling away quickly as he turned a sort of pale shade, he turned and fled across the room and through a door. Quickly, two men came out of the door, followed by a now more timid agent who was whispering to them and pointing at us and saying something like “LA…LA” The two new men walked up, slowly opened the bag top and peeked inside. Then, they quickly slammed the top closed, stamped our passports and shooed us away with arms waving while saying, “ Yallah, yallah.” Confused, we grabbed our unsearched bags and breezed on out of the customs building.

 “Sis,” dad asked, “what’s in your bag?”

“Just a few toys – oh, and my troll family. Do you want to see my new one I got for Christmas?” I opened my case, and there, lying on top, were mommy and daddy troll, some kid trolls and a couple of baby trolls, each with its own brightly colored unique hair and that hideous gnarled up troll face. Some even had caveman style clothes on.

 My father laughed then and escorted us out to a taxi line. Later, we would all laugh at the incident as we recalled our quick transit through one of the toughest customs checks in the world. Those men were not used to seeing dolls of any kind, and the strange ugly faces of the trolls probably looked like some kind of demon to them. I know the first man will have had night mares from the encounter, but also a great story to tell his buddies. Most stories about customs are bad experiences, but now my dad had a new, funny story to share with his friends. For awhile, people joked about ‘trolling through customs.’ Forty years later, I still have a couple of trolls in my home as good luck guardians; one of which was my mom’s that I never knew she had until she died.

 Another impression from that first arrival was the horrible condition and facilities of the women’s rest room. Mom and I, very alone, and very obviously foreign, walked through a door into a room lined with chairs, then through another door into a smelly, dark, concrete room. I almost threw up. There were four curtains, sort of, and we pulled one open to find an open drain with a concrete ledge around it.

 “Mommy, where’s the potty?” I asked. I’m sure I probably whined a little too. She had no clue what to do either. I’m not sure how we figured it out, but it was our first exposure to open pit toilets with no ‘throne’ to grace our behinds. Awkwardly, we were able to place our feet on the ledges and hike up our clothes and take care of business. Fortunately for us both, I think we only had to do number one as there was nothing to wipe with. Later, we would become more familiar with this type of toilet facility, and it would not be the worst we had ever seen.

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