Tuesday, June 22, 2010

When all the little things add up to One Defining Moment...pt 2

The first week I spent in Bahrain was an eye opener in many ways...and an early indication of what I could expect in the days, weeks and months (wasn't even thinking years at this point) to come.

I'm going to mention a very personal aspect of my marriage here simply because it played such a huge part in my life there. My every day existence boiled down to this ONE thing...or so it seemed to me on my very worst days.


From that very first night, after an exhausting 22 hour flight (all combined), in which I barely had time to take a shower and situate myself...he called me to bed...and for the most part expected me to "be prepared" whenever and wherever he chose for the next 20 years....but more on that later.

I fell asleep with my mind whirling with the "what ifs" of the unknown....only to be awaken by the sounds of a VERY loud cow...or so I thought. I jerked awake completely terrified, and shaking him awake too, trying to understand what that SOUND was. It filled the air and echoed off the walls. I heard myself practically shouting at him...WHAT is that...what is it????

Turns out it was my first experience listening to the fajr (morning) call to prayer, or the adhan. The nearest mosque was barely a stones throw from his house...so it seemed as if the loud speaker was right IN my bedroom. It scared the hell out of me with that first rude awakening...but in time I would come to love hearing it...and miss it when I didn't. Also, with time...it would awaken me naturally...better than any alarm clock ever could.

He woke me up around 7 am wanting more sex and then showered and went off to work...which was the BDF, or Bahrain Defense Force. The Emir of Bahrain's attempt to have a military that did little more than dress up and "play" soldier as far as I could determine (over the years mind you). Before he left he told me to go downstairs at any time...they would be waiting for me.

I showered and dressed...even put my shoes on (had no idea about the "no shoes in the house" thing at this point and old habits die hard) then sat down on the bed and wondered what to do. I considered putting my things away but I didn't really see anywhere to put them and he hadn't indicated a place before leaving. I turned on the little t.v. and flipped through the channels...all 7 of them. 6 were in Arabic (I assumed)....1 was in English but it wasn't broadcasting yet. It was just an audio recording of a man reciting something...eventually I would learn this was the Quran, of which I knew nothing about at this point. I turned off the t.v. and looked for something to read. There was nothing at all. Another thing I eventually learned is that my husband was not a reader. His only dealings with books were auto books that showed him how to fix engines etc. Looking back I can only recall a time or two that I witnessed him reading the Quran. Even during Ramadan he almost never opened one. This discrepancy in our reading habits would also eventually fan the flames of our ever increasing heated relationship.

I opened the door of our bedroom and was greeted with a sun that must have been no more than 7 feet over my head. Bright and hot...sending a burst of light right into my retina. I was blinded momentarily and jumped back into the safety of the room until my eyes adjusted to the glare. I hesitantly stepped out again and got my first good look around in the "light" of day. I could feel the heat tingling my arms and instantly little beads of sweat popped out on my forehead. It was like instant heat..no time to get use to it. One moment I was inside the room...relatively cool and comfortable...the next I was panting for a breath and feeling like a potato baking in an oven...and this was ONLY April. Little did I know that this was still Spring by Bahrain standards.

Around me I could see other roofs of houses. Those that were higher than ours that is. T.V. antennas and washing lines...not to mention the occasional rooster standing on a wall crowing the morning away. I could hear some birds chirping and the ever present sound of traffic. Traffic sounds were something that never ended on that little street. Morning noon and night the sounds of horns, brakes, bad engines and back fires were a constant background noise to whatever else may be going on. It never ever seemed to be totally quiet there. Even at 3 a.m. cars and peoples voices were the norm. Because the streets were so narrow...those sounds always seemed to be right in our bedroom. After having spent years with my father, who tried his best to build a proverbial moat around his family to maintain his idea of proper distance and privacy, this sudden closeness and feelings of having no privacy were overwhelming.

Right outside my door to the right was a small waist high wall. When I looked over it I could see down into the house. All the rooms were are built in a square...one on each wall of the house (3 rooms on 3 walls) and the outside door on the 4th wall...with an open "court yard" type thing in the middle of all this. Though it was barely longer than a large type car and not much wider. This house was SMALL. It was all quiet downstairs even though it was around 10 am by this time. Another thing I would learn...this family never really got started until around noon on any given day.

Over the years I would use this little vantage point as a way to get the vibes from downstairs...if I could hear my name mentioned frequently (though as my understanding of Arabic improved I realized my name wasn't always what they referred to me by) I would know they were upset about something...and could safely stay upstairs and out of firing range. At the moment the only thing that stirred down there was a cat. Not a cat that belonged to the house but a street cat. These cats were quite bold and would enter houses to steal what they could before bolting up the stairs and jumping on our wall and over to another and be gone. They were usually followed by a thrown shoe or other weapon of choice. Bahrain's unofficial mascot seemed to be the street cat...as there appeared to be thousands of them. In later years my children and I would play the game of Count the Cats we would see during an outing...we counted 52 one time before giving up...and that just while leaving our neighborhood.

I walked around the corner of the roof...it was shaped like an L...to the far wall. The wall was about 6.5 feet tall so I couldn't see over it...but there was a small ledge I could put my toes on and by grabbing the wall I could pull myself up and look out into the street. I looked down at my first morning in Bahrain and saw children running and playing...men on bikes (eventually I learned most of these were Pakistanis or Indians) and the occasional car speeding by...which was amazing considering the street was barely car width wide...and the doors of houses opened directly onto the street...plus the children and men on bikes in that space...but that appeared to be the normal speed of travel in Bahrain...full steam ahead regardless of the dangers.

I stayed perched on that ledge until the heat of the sun made the wall too hot to handle...but not before I noticed others noticing me. At some point some children saw me and stopped dead in their tracks, open mouthed and silent...watching me watching them. I could imagine the sight I made...a head barely visible over the wall...with red hair and fair skin. As yet I had not seen another soul that had anything but varying shades of brown....hair or skin. The interest of the children caught the attention of some passer byes and they too looked up to see what was so interesting....and stood equally silent and opened mouth. I pictured myself throwing peanuts down into their open mouths as my sisters and I use to do...and that made me giggle. My first humorous thought since I had arrived...things were looking up.

Being stared at by the children didn't bother me at all but watching the half dozen men gathered standing there so openly staring at me was rather disconcerting. They didn't seem to comprehend what they were looking at. A complete look of amazement covered their faces. Hadn't they seen a woman before? Well of course they had...hadn't they seen a foreign woman before? Who knows...maybe not.

Eventually I would learn (as always) that they were probably struck more by the nerve I had to be looking down into the street at all. Women didn't DO that. Then again...I had very short hair then...they might have mistook me for a boy...just an odd colored boy compared to everyone else. I was 18 then but I could pass for 14 and I was very boyish looking according to some...then and now actually. I've never been a very girly girl.

Eventually I grew tired and hopped down but I would eventually spend many many hours balanced up on that tiny ledge...holding on so I didn't fall and just look down into the street..it wasn't much of a view but it was the only one I would have...for many days at a time it was the only view of the "outside world" that I would get. Until his father "caught" me one time..and sealed it off so I couldn't do even that.

It was very hot and my skin was already glowing red...a sure sign of impending sunburn..something I had been forced to deal with all my life. I burned at the slightest bit of sunlight..and now here I was in a country that seemingly did nothing but radiate UV rays All day Every day. ugh! Talk about irony. Again...you bitch!!

I looked downstairs again and heard some voices but was too shy to go down there. I retreated to the room and shut the door...and wondered what I was supposed to do with myself now that I was here. I went and opened a suitcase and pulled out some books..and went and laid down on the bed to read.

Suddenly the door burst open and my husband strode in. I was happy to see him simply because I was bored to death...and rather scared to be alone so soon after arriving. He kissed me in greeting them told me he was in a hurry...he had made up an excuse to leave work (aka military) and had come home with one purpose....to have sex with me. And he did. When he finished he zipped his pants and advised me to go downstairs again before hurrying out the door with a slam. This particular scenario would be played out many many MANY times over the course of the years. He would pop in out of nowhere...quickly have sex with me...then be gone. Many times I had to do little more than bend over for him until he was through...then a light kiss and he was out the door again. Might I remind you of my earlier statement pertaining to what I though was my actual "purpose" of being there. This was one of the many reasons why I felt like that. It seemed he viewed me as little more than a receptacle for his sexual urges...that could strike at anytime of the day...or night. It seemed he also believed those urges should be met WHEN they occurred and not a moment later...hence his coming home from work at all hours..or waking me in the night...nearly EVERY night of our marriage. He never seemed to get enough sex....more on that later.

About 10 minutes after he left there was a knock at the bedroom door. His sister was at door holding a tray with some food and milk on it. She greeted me with "good morning, Layla"...Layla? Who was that? set the tray down and left. On the tray were eggs and kobuz...or fat torteas when I described them to my mother at some point....and a glass of warm milk. Warm? ugh! Who drank warm milk? For the next week she would bring me that same breakfast...and I would eat the eggs and kobuz...but would pour the milk down the sink. I would note later that not another person in that house drank warm milk...not to mention, I told my husband to tell her I didn't like warm milk...so don't bother to give it to me...so I have no idea to this day why she kept bringing me warm milk. Did she think Americans liked warm milk? I have no idea.

A few hours later the youngest niece, around 11, came and timidly knocked on the door. She knew just a few words of English..."good morning, Layla"...yet again. Why were they calling me Layla? I told her my name was Lee Ann but she just smiled at me and told me to "come"...then went downstairs and looked to see if I was following. Swallowing a huge lump in my throat I went down.

She led me into the majlis...I stepped inside and was immediately shouted at...I had no idea why..not understanding Arabic...but I know when I'm being shouted at. Turns out I had my shoes on still...and was making his mother upset that I hadn't removed them. I stepped back and slipped them off...then came inside...burning with humiliation. The niece indicated I should sit down on the only piece of "furniture" in the room...other than the bed and cupboard. It's called a doshag...and is little more than a long thin cushion...with pillows leaning against the wall. There are more elaborate ones...with thicker cushioning etc...but ordinary ones are pretty basic. In America we generally are not comfortable sitting on floors. Yes, kids will sprawl on the floor during slumber parties...and home work sessions...but for adults to sit on the floor during a time of socializing...doesn't happen too often...so getting used to sitting on the floor was a habit I never really acquired...just hurt my bottom and back too much. Not to mention when I was pregnant, made standing up nearly impossible....but I sat.

The mother and 4 nieces were there...the sister was in the kitchen preparing lunch. Nobody said a word. I was busy trying to not notice the smell and dirty look of the place...wondering silently what my mother would think to know I now lived in such a place. Ironic considering the number of times my father had pulled me from sleep to clean yet again an already pristine bathroom or kitchen. His house had to be military clean...so now I was wondering what my FATHER would think of this much less my mother. Irony seemed to be my constant companion now.

The nieces ranged in age from the oldest, around 16..to the youngest...11. I noticed one of the nieces sat in the corner...her hair a wild mess...her toenails and fingernails were inches long...her eyes rather crossed. She stared at me, and would continue to stare at me whenever I was around...for years and years. I learned she was mentally disabled...but would also learn that they treated her as if she were completely incapable of even the smallest task...and she wasn't.On a scale of 1 to 10...10 being completely dependent on others...I would say she was a 5 or 6. She could learn...if anyone took the time to teach her things. Through the years I would take that time...taking a risk in the process. For she would also be the cause of several of my "dramas" in the house...she didn't like me then (though her dislike would often disappear at times)...or ever.

We sat in complete silence for about 10 min until the sister brought the lunch. A plate of sandwiches...as well as the usual Arab food...rice with some form of meat or chicken etc. After it was all set out on the floor (another thing I had to get used to...its not really easy for me to sit on the floor and eat from plates on the floor...again..especially while pregnant)...I reached out and took a sandwich..again his mother seemed hostile about something. The youngest niece quickly took the sandwich from my LEFT hand and placed it in my right. I looked at her puzzled...and she just smiled at me. His mother continued to complain (so it seemed)..and I found I wasn't quite able to continue eating with them after that. It all seemed so tense and unsettling. I knew I had made a mistake of some kind..but no idea what. I did little more than nibble on my food before I excused myself and fled back to my room.

continued in next post

© Lee Ann Fleetwood, 2010


janice said...

Oh CoolRed, I would have been scared to death.

Can't wait for the next installment.

AlabasterMuslim said...

While reading this, I couldn't imagine anything else but me screaming and screaming and screaming at those people.

I don't know how you did it CoolRed!

...also looking forward to the next post.

coolred38 said...

Janice...after living with my father all those years...he DID terrify me as nothing else could. I was scared now..but more in ...anything could happen to me and who would know...kind of way. A whole other kind of scared for sure.

Alabaster...eventually I would reach a point where I would want to scream as well at them...but I never did...can you imagine?

Susanne said...

I'm glad you are sharing this story. I hope it is helpful to you somehow as you tell it. I hate to think of someone who was abused by her father's rigid control being in a situation like this. You are one tough cookie!

Suroor said...

Coolred, I began reading and couldn't and came back later and couldn't. This is my third time. I have read it and it will stay with me forever.

You are such an amazing woman. Very brave and sweet and someone who has gone through A LOT in life. See, this is what makes me wonder if God really intervenes.

I'm so sorry. I don't know what else to say but to say sorry for all that you went through in life because human beings can be such effing dogs.

I send your way my warmest and best wishes, much love, and pleasant thoughts.

Am waiting for the next episode with a hand on my heavy heart.

Photo Cache said...

Can't wait for the next installment too. How did you manage to live there is beyond me.

Considered putting this in a book?

coolred38 said...

Suroor...thank you sis. Your words are tender for the heart. True...people are effing dogs...and it always makes me wonder...Why? why do they have to be that way when they clearly have a choice not to be?

Photo...I lived there simply because i had no choice. I took it one day at a time..sometimes one hour at a time...and on my very worst days...one minute at a time.

book? yes. when? hmmmm?

Anthrogeek10 said...

I lived in the poor area as well. I too remember how narrow the streets are and the loudness 24/7 now matter what. I also, like you recall hearing the fajr for the first time.I bolted out of bed and screamed, "what the hell WAS THAT"? J said, "PRAYER"! SIGH..How was I supposed to know? I grew to love it and still miss it.
I also remember walking into the apartment, into a kitchen with no stove or fridge and roaches everywhere. I had alot to keep me busy the first few months.

Looking fwd to post 3.

oby said...

Thank you so much for being so open about your experiences and sharing your life with us. I can't imagine how you coped at such a young age. I was in my early 30's when I got married and I remember stepping off the plane in India alone to get married. I was so much older and yet I was scared! A man I didn't even know was sent to pick me up and bring me to the guest house where I was to stay until the marriage...I just trusted the guy that called my name at the airport hoping he didn't have any bad intentions. In the back of my head I kept thinking "what the hell have I gotten myself into?" as I rode along in the back of that weird looking taxi cab in the dark night in a country so different than my own that it seemed like another planet entirely.

Your left handed sandwich story made me smile however...been there myself and kept making the same mistake over and over receiving the requisite stares and glares until someone took pity and explained it to me.

Waiting with baited breath for part 3...

Anonymous said...

Hey Red,

Does the english department there offer a creative writing course? A mentor could be helpful at this stage, help you to organize your story into a marketable framework, eventually steer you towards an agent. I do think you have found your voice, this is compelling.


Angel Darling said...

Once again... so vivid in details and descriptions. Wow! You were so young... I can't even imagine what all of this was like at 18. Can't wait for the next post.

coolred38 said...

anthrogeek...been there done that. LOL stay tuned about roaches...ugh!!

Betty...not much of one...just a sort of Journaling course. I will try and prevail this time and get a "rough" draft out of sorts....Lol. After that..who knows.

oby...it is strange how we are almost forced to trust strangers...a whole family of them really...in this situation because your thrust among them without much fanfare. I was so young...its hard to imagine that I was so young at the time...and felt so alone. It was hard...the loneliness. Im glad it worked out for you...*it did work out right*

angel...thank you.

yasmeen said...

.. would love to see a picture of the mf.. (your husband lol)
sorry for the strong language but Im sure you have called him worse! lol
hope writing about it is cathartic..
good on you and take care sister

coolred38 said...

yasmeen...thank u and ur wish is my command. Go to...


there he is in all his "glory"

Chiara said...

Hmmm. Too bad the title "Book of Revelations" is taken.

Loved the 1st 2 parts, and looking forward to many more! :)

Double hmmm--captcha word is "exhab" some combination of "ex-hub" who needs re-hab or something? :P

Stephanie said...

My God how did you manage to survive all those years over there? I've been lurking here for quite some time...I echo the other commentators when I say your writing is very powerful and captures the emotions so well.

coolred38 said...

Chiara...a good name never goes out of style.

Stephanie...thank you.

yasmeen said...

hi coolred,
thankyou for posting the link of the devil incarnate...
I did go to that website and really it was so hard to listen to your daughters emotionally charged and tearfull voice.
It is so sad..
all I can say is I hope your lives are better now and I hope that website shames this man and makes his life hell.
all my best wishes to you and your kids xx

San Antonio Cicily said...

You really should write a book I would be the first one to buy it! Why did the ex decide to start a blog? I struggle to believe he is sincere and shocked at his confession, how does his family feel about this do they still blame the kids and you?

San Antonio Cicily said...

never mind lol I read the comments I think I understand that he is saying that he did not write any of that and it is not true! Doesn't matter the guys an asshole I hope he burns in hell!

coolred38 said...

yasmeen...listenting to her that night nearly sent me over the edge...it was heartbreaking. We are definitely much better now..thank you.

san antonio...actually Im the one that made that blog...as well as printing out a 100 or so flyers and spreading them around where he haunts. Those comments are not from him as his english is much better than that...not sure who wrote them but Im assuming some member of his family.

I wish he would burn NOW...sans hell.

Rene´s Bare Essentials said...

Im sorry but your in-laws were horrible! Your ex husband and his family lack manners! The way they treated you, taking the food out of your hand and putting it in your right hand or yelling at you about your shoes is Not the way you do things from an islamic perspective. Sadly, most muslims today lack manners and dont think before they act. This is very sad because as muslims we should be the most generous, with the best of manners! Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had the best manners and as muslims we should follow his sunnah (way he did things). There is a hadith how islam will return to the way it once was, as something strange and it appears that we are living that in todays age. Muslims have swapped culture for islam and now confuse the two. Even if these people werent muslim their manners show me the type of people they are. Most tend to be uneducated