Rhonda's A 'Muse'-ing Rambles

Life and Times of a Busy Woman

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Posts Tagged ‘Saudi Arabia’

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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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!

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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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Christmas Cooking

Posted by Range Officer Rhonda on December 14, 2008

Potato Soup

 

One Christmas tradition we always had at our house was to enjoy, the Night before Christmas, a large heaping bowl of potato soup. We always had a huge family dinner on Christmas day that rivaled Thanksgiving and had been baking for days, moreso than even before because we added fudge, divinity, peanut brittle and tons of cookies. For years I never understood how my mother made such a wonderful soup. It seemed easy, but I just could not match the flavor or quality of mom’s soup. Several years ago during one of my annual trips to see the family at Christmas time (an 800 mile drive one way), I was pleased that my mom was going to be making the annual Christmas eve soup. I discovered I had been making just a very simple error and since then I’ve definitely gotten the hang of it – What a dummy I was! While we were cooking the soup that Christmas Eve, mom and I enjoyed some quiet time and I brought up the subject of the one time we were in the Middle East and had a somewhat ‘different’ potato soup that year. Mom was always determined that wherever we happened to be, we would try to maintain a semblance of our stateside lifestyle. And that included comfort foods such as potato soup on Christmas Eve – even if it was 120 degrees outside with the wind blowing sand under the door faster than we could sweep it out! This particular year, mom had sent dad to the market (souk) for the groceries and had mentioned she needed more potatoes. I have to remind you at this point that A) Dad grew up on a farm and spent many years in the garden hoeing his share of potatoes and B) food shopping was often a hit or miss deal in the Middle East – more like a treasure hunt. Well – dad brought home potatoes – but they were sweet potatoes! Whatever were we going to do? Mom was great at something I called her ‘make do’ mode – so we were going to make, yep – Sweet Potato Soup! We had always made SP bread, SP pie, just SP’s with marshmallows, SP casserole – so we could do this! It turned out great of course, but never became a staple at our house. But the story, of how dad went out to get some Red potatoes and came home with the sweets, stayed around for years. I decided to learn to make it all over again, using trial and error and some left over sweet potatoes from our Thanksgiving dinner – now I make it whenever I like, and YES – I like! I hope you will like this as well.

 

Sweet Potato Soup

 

Peel three large sweet potatoes, cut into small chunks and boil until mushy with a teaspoon of salt (about 20 minutes). Drain, reserving 2 cups of the cooking water. Mash or puree the potatoes. [Hint: I like chunks in my soup, so I reserve 1/4 of them and cut into little slices to add at the last] [Hint #2 – you can cook the potatoes days in advance or use leftovers!]

 

Gather your ingredients:

1 Tablespoon Arrowroot (flour works as well)

1 stick of sweet cream butter

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 cup cream (heavy whipping cream is best, Half–n-half works OK)

½ cup brown sugar

½ Tablespoon grated fresh ginger (or ½ tsp. powdered)

½ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ ground cloves

1 Tablespoon cooking sherry (optional)

 

In a large pan, sauté the Arrowroot and butter until you get a light brown roux. Add 2 cups of the reserved water from the potatoes, the sugar and spices. Bring this to a light boil, and then add the precooked, premashed potatoes. Simmer for about 15 minutes, then stir in the cream & sherry; then continue cooking for 5 minutes more. If you prefer a very creamy soup with no lumps, you may want to puree once more. If soup is too thin, simmering for a longer time will reduce moisture and thicken it up – or you can cheat and add a little cornstarch or arrowroot. If you like the chunks, stir them in when the soup is complete and heat thoroughly. This soup is great served hot or chilled (like I had it once on a cruise ship in a prior life) and makes 4 large servings. You can garnish with a dollop of whip cream or even float a few marshmallows on top.

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