The oppressive heat of Jeddah’s concrete jungle is something I did not miss this past summer during my trip to the states. I spent the whole time in the cool and invigorating Pacific Northwest, surrounded by tall evergreens, wild deer and raccoon, and the beautiful waters of the Puget Sound.
I busied myself with physical activities and chores, many of them performed outdoors – activities I am not accustomed to doing in Saudi Arabia because of the suffocating soaring temperatures and because women here just don’t do outside work.
But my main goal this summer though was to get Adam/Captain Kabob settled in to my brother’s home nestled in the forest - he would be staying on to finish his last two years of high school there with them. Several of my friends’ children here in Saudi Arabia have been sent out of the country for high school to boarding schools in Europe or sent to live with family elsewhere around the world, so it’s not that uncommon for “half and half children” to do this. As much as the International Schools here in KSA try to make the high school experience mimic that of back home, for us the issues of transportation, living arrangements, family expectations, and cultural pressures always seemed to impede Adam’s ability to fully immerse himself into the typical Western high school experience here.
Since our move to KSA in the fall of 2007, my husband’s strict parenting style had tightened even more, and I often found myself stuck in the middle of an ongoing battleground between a hard-headed father and his stubborn son. Trying to magically turn a 14-year-old American boy into a typical Saudi teenager was just not possible in Captain Kabob's case, and it took my husband three years to be convinced of that. Before we moved here, my son and I had never set foot in Saudi Arabia, so all Adam had ever known was of his life in the United States. I thought the move would be a great opportunity to expose him to his father’s heritage, language, family, and culture – and it was.
But the reality of the stark differences in our new lives here proved too much for a teenage American boy to handle. Now I’m not saying that life in the US is better than life here in KSA – it boils down to a matter of familiarity. I’m often surprised at the number of people who ask me which is better: life in KSA or life in the US? There are good and not-so-good things about both, but it’s like comparing apples and oranges. It’s really what you are used to that seems to become your preference. In some ways life is easier here in KSA, and in other ways, it is much more difficult - especially for Western women who are not used to the restrictions placed on women here - and also for free-spirited teenagers who are anxious to spread their wings.
The truth is that I was actually scared stiff for Captain Kabob – he was depressed and would often tell me how he hated his life here in KSA. I was afraid that he would make some stupid misguided decision here in this unforgiving place, as hot-headed foolish teenage boys often do worldwide, that might affect him the rest of his life. What we see as normal socializing in the West is considered a "crime" here in this strict Islamic society. Being alone in the company of someone of the opposite sex who is not related to you is a punishable offense here in Saudi Arabia. And contrary to what one might think - considering the stiff penalties for drug and alcohol possession in this country - these temptations are readily available here. As much as I constantly reminded Adam of the dangers, pitfalls, and consequences of these types of things, I still worried constantly that he might make that one stupid decision that could cost him his future. And my concerns only intensified after Captain Kabob was mugged and physically and emotionally hurt in an incident that happened when he foolishly got into a vehicle he mistook for a cab.
So as soon as my husband came to the realization shortly after his heart surgery back in March that it would be better for his own health if he and Adam weren’t living under the same roof, I made plans for Captain Kabob to leave here. My wonderful family has welcomed him with loving arms and he is now attending high school in Washington State. Every chance he gets, he tells me that he now loves his life.
Adam is happy once again, and that is all that really matters. He got his learners permit to drive and took a driver’s ed course this summer with his cousin. There was no way I wanted him driving in Jeddah, where there are no rules, pure testosterone on the road, and every time we get into the car, I feel our lives are at risk. I’m happy to report that he is extremely cautious when behind the wheel and takes driving very seriously. He is making new friends and keeping in touch with his old friends in Saudi Arabia and in Florida. He’s gone to the movies and attended a couple of concerts, things he wasn’t able to do here in KSA because there are none. And I was actually pleasantly surprised the other day when Captain Kabob told me that he missed Saudi Arabia a bit - but that's likely that he just misses me and his dad and his friends.
With Skype, Facebook, and my handy MagicJack, I’m finding that staying in close contact with Adam is easy. He is growing up and spreading his wings. At this point, because of all he’s been through these past three years, I think his maturity level exceeds that of most of his peers. That shy pubescent boy who first set foot in Saudi Arabia as an awkward teen has blossomed into a confident, responsible, and level-headed young man who is perfectly capable of making good choices. I know it's natural for parents to always worry about their kids and I know I always will, but it is a relief not to feel that added dread that my son might have made a reckless misstep here in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia. Adam became a man here in Saudi Arabia, and I know that the experience will shape his life in many good ways in the years to come.
So, it is a new chapter in our lives for both Captain Kabob and me. Only time will tell if the actual distance between us now and the increased loneliness will prove too much for me, but so far I am coping well, as my husband and I readjust to life as empty-nesters. Then again, I’ve just been back here in the "Magic Kingdom" for two weeks, and I’m taking it one day at a time.
To read more about Captain Kabob, please read an interview he gave to my friend Carol on her blog, American Bedu, that was published in October of 2009.