No one stopped me from stepping off the curb and climbing into the backseat of the dark green Suburban. No one yelled or told me to go back. No one was on standing on the curb hailing a cab or waiting for a loved one to escort them home. It was twelve-thirty in the morning in Dammam, Saudi Arabia and the international airport was deserted.
I adjusted my black abaya as I had managed to twist it around myself when climbing into the backseat. A door slammed. The driver turned the key and started the car. As he pulled away from the curb, I stared silently into the night. Inside my mind, my intuition was screaming at me to return to the safety of the airport. The core of my being was doing flip flops while the rational side staged a coup to overtake the irrational part that controlled my body. Exhausted, I wiped my mind clear of all thought, the screaming voices fading into the background and stared out into the blackness.
As the man drove, I slipped my Claddagh ring onto my ring finger and adjusted my bright blue hijab. In retrospect blue was not the best choice as it accented my blue eyes, and in this country, any attention drew suspicion, which drew judgement and possibly worse.
The man began a conversation. I contributed, knowing that this was haram, or ‘forbidden’. I answered using monosyllabic words. The answers were short without being impolite, or so I thought. I was thinking like an American, not a foreigner traveling in a country where women never travel alone.
Once I opened my mouth, there was no going back and deep down I knew it. In Saudi Arabia all unrelated men and women shall not interact with one another. It does not matter whether the persons in question are Saudi or non-Saudi. It is law. Should a driver, who is a man, strike up a conversation with a woman who is not her father or her husband, it shows he does not respect her. It does not matter if he is Saudi or not; it is law.
When he asked if I was married, I told him I was, to a Muslim man, and I was converting to Islam. I also mentioned that we were trying to have children. A married woman adds a layer of protection to herself when she is trying to conceive. A woman married to a Muslim man adds another layer. Stating that I was changing faiths added the final layer. What removed me from all protection however, was that I had willingly stepped foot into a taxi without my “husband.”
My “husband” was an ex-boyfriend I had dated on and off for five years. He hoped I would ‘come for a visit’, which ultimately translated into my marrying him in a ceremony that he had been planning as a surprise upon my arrival. When I learned this, I turned him down. Everything else fell apart and the relationship ended, badly.
To help heal, I took myself on vacation to one of my favorite islands off the coast of Thailand, called Koh Mak. I even booked the honeymoon suite, although that was accidental, and no less ironic. And now, I found myself lying my ass off in the back of a Suburban.
I am a horrible liar as it shows all over my face and yet, in the protection of darkness, the lies poured out my mouth. I hoped the driver could not see my face. I silently prayed for protection and that whatever intentions he had, he would act honorably.
It is a stereotype to believe that everyone does bad things, and it is possible to believe that this man was acting honestly, but stating that I was married was my only protection. Had I said I was single, I would have been in real trouble because his perspective would have changed and there would have been nothing I could do about it.
For the moment, I was safe.
My experiences in The Kingdom are being adapted for this blog from my unpublished manuscript, ‘The Colors of Sand’. It was a harrowing four-months, but along the way I learned that nothing is ever what it seems. Stay tuned for more entries about my experiences in Saudi Arabia.
Any grammar and mechanical issues are the responsibility of the author, and even though she’s an English teacher and does proofread, there may be some errors.
If you find yourself in Central Massachusetts, drop by The Shrewsbury Public Library on the third Saturday of the month and join us for a writers’ workshop. You do not have to write anything to attend. https://www.meetup.com/Shrewsbury-Library-Writers-Group/