Our Saudi home was in a gated community on the outskirts of Dammam, close to Kateef. It must have been built in the early sixties. It housed two larger double story homes, and forty some mid-size homes.  It was gated in by a palm tree branches (sa3f) fence.  The gatekeeper, an older Saudi man lived in a single room near the main entrance.  He was missing an arm and had one functioning eye.  His abode had a ceiling fan, a rug on the ground and a black white TV with V-shaped antenna.

We started out in a 2 bedroom house, and over time expanded to a four bedroom, taking over the semi-attached villa next door.  Entering the gate to our home, you would see to your left an area of palm trees, straight ahead a few steps that lead to a netted porch, and to your right a long walk lined by bushes and a few trees, leading to a raised swimming pool. We leaved here for 8 years before moving to a larger villa in Alkhobar, close to our school.

That little garden felt like a wonder world; rich with insects, spiderwebs, geckos, and stray neighborhood cats. In the summer heat, it smelled of dates fermenting on the raw soil. In the fall, the smell of the single citrus tree filled the walkway to the pool.  The tree carried a very aromatic sweet thick skinned orange sized, lemon colored fruit الأترج.   Another tree Indian Almond had large leaves, carried date sized green fruit that turned to a dark red color.  The fruit was sour fibrous and stained the teeth and mouth red. Wild jasmine bushes grew around the garden.  I learned early on to pick the long stemmed flowers, and suck the sweet tasting syrup from the stem.

Ants were abundant.  All around the garden, in the sandy patches or between the tiles on the walkway, ant colonies thrived. Spiderwebs seem to form everywhere we didn’t walk through for a few days.  I didn’t mind ants and spiders; I was terrified of geckos. The net enclosing the porch offered no relief from geckos; there were tens of them above the doorway day and night. Coming home from school, I would stand a distance from the porch and yell to my mom to open the door. When she did, I ran into the house, fearing one of the geckos would fall on my hair and “attack” me.

One day, I was helping mom clean out a raised built-in closet (s’eefeh) in my room.  I walked up the ladder, opened the closet door and sat in it handing mom who stood on the ladder stuff she had stored in there.  I was wearing shorts, sitting facing mom, moving boxes from my right and handing them over to her.  As I moved one box, I saw a gecko drop from the box, and run across the closet, over my legs. I screamed and in a panic jumped onto mom. Thankfully the bed was behind her, the two of us fell back onto it.  I was certain the geckos offered no purpose in life other than to scare children like me.

More on the compound in Saudi…