Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

Marshes and Mosquitoes

on November 29, 2013


jeddah airport 1964

We made it to Jeddah before the end of December 1964. The entire embassy staff was at the airport to welcome us, right by the airplane, as we came down the stairs onto the tarmac. They were just four families! A long cry from the dozens of families in the embassy in Paris.

Saudi Arabia was indeed a backwater desert land in those days. Oil had been discovered but had yet to be felt or seen in the country’s infrastructure. We did not even have a full official embassy or ambassador there, but a charge d’affaires only. The ambassador in Iran flew in from Tehran once a year to inspect the staff. Charge d’Affaires Chao was in fact the only diplomat sent from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and not even a Muslim in this land ruled by Islamic law. The other three families were Muslim, but only local hires. This explained why my father had been selected to be posted in Jeddah, a formal diplomat and a Muslim.

The capital of Saudi Arabia is actually Riyadh, a city deep in the center of the country. But all embassies were located in Jeddah, a port city and gateway to Makkah (Mecca). They were mostly situated on one street which was nicknamed the embassy street.

We slept in our embassy the first few nights: a two-story whitewashed villa with wraparound veranda. Downstairs were the offices, and upstairs, Mr and Mrs Chao’s living quarters. Our flight had landed in the middle of the night, so the next morning, when I awoke, and walked out onto the veranda to an impossibly blue sky and warm sunshine, I felt we had arrived in heaven. Even Beirut and Jerusalem were cold.

I wandered downstairs onto the paved front driveway and met a little Chinese girl my age. She said her name was Shadia, and did I want to jump rope with her? I did. We jumped rope and then played hopscotch. I only remember that whenever my stone landed on the line, she would call it a foul. But if her stone landed on the line, she said it was in the square. I felt upset and walked back upstairs. “Where are you going? Where are you going?”  she called after me. Little did I know we were to become best friends.

We soon moved into our own one-story villa on the outskirts of the city, a property owned by Mr. Amawi. It seemed that this was a wealthy man and it was oh so posh to live in his property. Jeddah in those days had many marshes in and around the city, which bred mosquitoes like crazy. So Mama soon purchased and hung mosquito nets over our beds. That was such a new and fun thing for us, to have our own little private castles on our beds! These nets were rectangular box-like affairs, white and pretty, with the sides draped all the way over the edge of the bed. At night, once we rolled them down, we had to chase and clap/kill any stray mosquito inside it before going to sleep.

mosquito net

It was in Mr. Amawi’s house that Papa also instituted the nightly tradition of having us write our diary entries before going to sleep. In French, of course.


One Response to “Marshes and Mosquitoes”

  1. sm22281 says:

    Again I am amazed that Fawzia remembers the names of people, Mr. Amawi indeed, ha, ha! I remember arriving in Jeddah in 1964 and living in several different homes. That was a profoundly different world indeed!

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