Small town business owner of Keith’s Restaurant, Vilma, compiled a series of (short) stories written by Fonthill locals upon her request. She sweetly asked me nearly seven years ago if I would contribute. And contribute I did. June, 2009:
What a year that was. It was probably the year I first truly got my taste for independence, as ten for me seemed to be the beginning of the end of true irresponsibility, make believe, and all things childlike and innocent. Adulthood is quietly knocking on the door and letting you know it’s time to maybe put the Barbies away, after all, you are in the double digits and there is no turning back.
I have learned over the years that as a Canadian citizen, I have lived a slightly more atypical life. When I turned ten years old in October 1993 I was living abroad in Jeddah, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Life there was comparable to a dream: of course it was a reality at one point but now that existence, place and time, are more fond and distant memories than tangible truths.
I was living alongside and in between my brothers: 12 year old Jason, and seven year old Jonathan. Mom and dad were there too. My father would leave early in the mornings, suit and tie, and go off to work with briefcase in hand. He worked as a civil engineer for a company called STS and at that time was in charge of a CDN $4.1 million project that consisted of making a giant steel Kingdom of Saudi Arabia flag in the middle of a desert – a symbolic site for Saudis. It was the location of where Saudi Arabia’s founding King, King Abdul-Aziz, camped out awaiting the responses from the people of the area to his ultimatum of unifying the lands from Jeddah to Mecca with the rest of the country. A very cool project indeed. He, my father, generally was late for dinner and wouldn’t come home until about 7:30 pm or later. He also worked half days on Thursdays from time to time (Friday, in 1993, was the Islamic holy day, and thus, Thursday and Friday made up the weekend). My mother sometimes came to school with us as she was a grade 7 through to 11 maths teacher. I recall having to awkwardly meet her students at a central fountain on campus, next to the refectory, and bring them home with me for her to tutor.
At this point, we had, and this is normal for Saudi living, a live in housekeeper and driver, Milagros, or Mila as we called her, and her husband, Armando. They were a Filipino couple and had their own small wing of the house we lived at. Mila would do a lot of the cleaning and laundering and even cook together with and learn from my mom in the kitchen. Sometimes she would prepare her own dishes when my parents were out. She was also a friend. There were a few times Mila brought me along with her to her friend’s place on her days off and even made a copy of The Bodyguard soundtrack for me on a tape cassette, which I played along with Ace of Base’s The Bridge incessantly on my powder blue Sony Walkman. Armando was our driver, as women in Saudi Arabia are forbidden to drive, and because my mother was working and needed to get out of the house from time to time, a driver was needed.
We had a few other family members of the non-human variety. Molly, a well trained Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (of the less snub-nosed variety), was a good and loyal friend. Jason was not a fan, and perhaps rightly so. He was tasked with having to walk her twice daily. I would have, she was my dog after all, but being female my parents did not think it a good idea for me to leave the safety of our house and surrounding walls. Fair.
We also had quite a number of cats, something in the mid to high thirties. It began of course with our befriending the hell out of one stray, Katy. She was a white and orange striped slim tabby who decided to become friends with Fruitcake, a very large calico, who then had a litter of kittens, Kit and Cherry. Kit died young (a trauma unto itself), but Cherry had a litter and begot Tiger, Spot, Patch and Bandit. There was a fifth and it kills me that I cannot honour the memory of this dang cat properly. Cherry begot more litters, and as you can imagine, it didn’t take too long for the numbers to increase.
Feeding this army was a frantic frenzy; I may have been slightly traumatized. I would timidly step outside from the laundry room with a small green dish of kibble and nervously shake the dish to allow the bits of dry cat food sound out in to the humid Jeddah air. Good lord, how it did. These cats, and not entirely mine, for they were wild, would run out from under our cars, over our surrounding 10 foot wall, appear out of bushes, and would then proceed to swarm my bare feet and legs. So many dirty, wild cats. I feared daily as though they would turn on me for their meal. It’s likely I prefer dogs to cats because of this early trauma.
To be continued…