Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

Coca Cola and Origami

on January 1, 2014

the twist

Formal diplomatic functions were certainly less frequent than in Paris or Turkey. And all of a sudden, we children were not needed so much any more. No more watching the older kids practice the Twist while waiting to get on stage at the Salle Pleyel.

There was an International Ladies group that our mothers were members of. Mama especially loved networking with the Japanese and French ladies. It gave her the opportunity to show off her fluent Japanese and learn fashion and sewing tips from France.  She actually joined one of the French ladies as her assistant seamstress, and helped her duplicate the latest Paris fashions and sell them to rich Saudi ladies, usually princesses. The first time that Mama attended a function in the palace — Saudi royal parties were either all male or all female — she came back full of stories. The Saudi Queen and princesses had all been dressed in French gowns flown in straight from Dior or Chanel, and the party had been held in the gardens and the entire place smelled very fragrant. It turned out that the maids had been spraying the garden with French perfume! (Air fresheners had not yet been invented, or at least not available in Jeddah.)

One day, the International Ladies held a huge festival. Now, I can only assume it was related to Halloween, because the weather was rather cool and we had all made a huge mistake. For once, we children were involved. We were told to all dress up in national costumes, so we did. Upon arrival and being told to walk onto the stage, we found out that all other children — mostly Westerners — were dressed as robots, doctors, fairies, princesses and so on. No national costumes except the lot of us. The robot won first place.

I loved the Japanese booth, which was a sort of tent hung with dozens of paper cranes made of beautiful gift wrapping paper.  They fascinated me!  One lady in kimono was teaching how to fold them and I learned there and then how to make them.

origami cranes

Once home I started making cranes and hanging strings of them everywhere in the house. That spurred Papa to teach me a few other models: a gorilla, a boat, and an airplane. The gorillas were the best, they were wonderful. They were easy to make, only a few steps more than the “cocottes” we made in Paris, and the best part, they could be used to wage war! We made big gorillas as generals and commanders, and small ones for foot soldiers. We stood them in formation, then used the left over paper to make ammunition: thick paper bars folded in two. With a thick rubber band held tight between the left thumb and middle finger, the “bullet” was hooked in front of the rubber band and pulled back. Releasing it caused it to fly off. The game was to take turns shooting “bullets” at the enemy soldiers. Fallen men could be removed to a shed where they would “recover” for so many turns. If the general got hit, then it was game over, the enemy would win.

Of course, eventually, Abdul Kerim and I would get over excited and started shooting the bullets at each other especially if we felt our general was unfairly hit. Saadia would keep her nose in her book and ignore us.

Saadia hit puberty rather early for those times, at around ten years of age. She later told me how scared she’d been to find blood in her underwear, and how when she finally told Mama, all Mama did was to hand her some pads and an elastic belt with two loops, and said, “From now on, you will have to wear these every month when it happens.”  However, at the time, I had no inkling of all this drama, and could not understand why Saadia stopped joining us in our games and would stay home and read.

Papa’s status was higher in Jeddah than in his previous posts. I believe he was then First Secretary.  So we started hosting dinners at our home. We had moved out of that cockroach infested home which was too far from the center of action, into first the grey boat-shaped apartment building across from the sheep market, and then finally into the pink apartment building a stone throw from the embassy. Papa had requested from the ministry that Saudi Arabia be classified as a hardship post, like African countries. When that got approved, he received an extra US $200 per month. That made us quite rich, compared to others. We had TWO, not one, air conditioning units: one in the living room for the guests, and the other in my parents’ bedroom.

Dinner parties meant Coca-Cola time. Mama bought them by the case. These were luxury items, and so we were not allowed to drink them normally. But during dinner parties, we opened an untold number of them and served them to the guests. Mama allowed us to drink some too, so we would gorge ourselves on that sparkly little black drink and keep opening swirly bottle after swirly bottle.

coca cola crate

Mama started hiring help as well. I remember in the grey building, we had an old Yemeni lady with sagging empty breasts who would invite her own friends over whenever Mama was out. She would open Coca-Cola bottles and serve them to her guests. We were shocked. She was eventually fired.

Then in the pink building, we had a young Yemeni boy named Ali. He was a part-timer and would be especially there on days when we had company. I loved that because doing the dishes had been my duty up till then. I had gotten it down to a science. I would make sure to empty and soak everything, with plates, bowls and large serving dishes separated and piled together. Utensils would soak in the pots. Then I would soap a pile at a time. I got very good at rinsing with one hand while placing on the rack with the other. Pots were the best because I could pretend they were cauldrons and the yucky liquids in them were various magic potions.

Every time I invented some new labor- and time-saving trick, I would demonstrate it to Mama. “Mama, Mama, look! See, I can carry ALL the plates AND ALL the bowls at the same time this way, all in just one trip!” Mama would glance up and make always the same remark, “Lazy people come up with lazy ways.”


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