Do You Want to Hear a Cockroach Story?

“Do you want to hear a cockroach story?”

This is the way my friends and I would sometimes begin phone conversations. We were all Western 558263906women, stay-at-home moms married to Arabs. We were happy with our families and our status as expatriates in Saudi Arabia, with the exception of a certain issue —the country had a cockroach problem.


When I first arrived as a single woman, I had lived in a lovely Western compound. The only roaches I ever saw wiggled respectfully out of the way as I walked along the sidewalk. I didn’t even know how to say “cockroachin Arabic.

Only after I “went native”, married an Arab and moved into the city, did I realize that cockroaches claimed carte blanche in Riyadh households. I carried a rolled up newspaper with me from room to room, ready to strike. My husband objected to this method because of its fallibility. Cockroach bodies are hard and elastic; they don’t squash easily.

“Here!” he said, “I’ll show you how to do it.” He grabbed a shoe which was parked next to the door, and brought it down with enough force to make pudding out of the roach and all its cousins.

“That’s disgusting!” I said. “How are you going to clean it?”

My new husband didn’t care. The roach was dead, and he was calm. He knew he wouldn’t have to clean it up; I would!

I continued to use my newspaper method, which didn’t always kill the wretched creatures, but at least didn’t leave roach pudding when it succeeded.

“See!” I said to my husband, “you can kill them without making a mess.” I slid the body on a torn piece of paper and dumped it in the garbage.

“It will come back to life,” he said, and sometimes it did.

We moved into a newer apartment, at my insistence. Our new home was clean, and I kept it even cleaner, yet roaches appeared as if by spontaneous generation. I wondered if some of them hadn’t crawled into the boxes we’d brought from the old apartment. Someone once told me cockroaches like cardboard boxes. I would not have seen so many had I not looked, and I blamed myself for psychically attracting them, so diligent was I in my campaign to eradicate them. Then one day, a new friend phoned me and said, “Would you like to hear a cockroach story?”


My goodness! I was not alone. Suddenly, I wanted nothing more than to hear a cockroach story. I had been so ashamed and so reluctant to talk about the problem because I thought it was my fault. Even though I saw many different brands of roach killer in the stores, which should have tipped me off, I felt somehow inferior because I did not have a maid to help me with housework. Now, my new friend, who lived in a squeaky clean villa, with a maid, not only admitted to having cockroaches, but wanted to talk about it!

She then told me that the previous day her toddler had been spending more time in the bathroom than necessary. When Asma investigated, she found the child chasing a huge roach all over the bathroom, laughing and trying to catch it. “My kid is going to grow up with roaches! I don’t believe it. This is definitely something I can’t write home about.”

Yes, indeed, one did not write home about roaches, but with each other, we spoke about them all the time. It wasn’t long before I felt comfortable enough to phone one of my friends and say, “Would you like to hear a cockroach story?”

“Yeah, I’m listening!”

“Well, this morning I was mopping up the bathroom floor, and I was slopping the water down the drain. I felt a tickle on my leg, but I ignored it, thinking it was a drop of sweat, but the tickle traveled upward instead of downward…”

“Eeeuuuuu!!! Grrrosssss! DisgusSSsting!” my friend replied indulgently, but I later learned that this particular story was not unique. Turns out that most women in the same circumstance experienced the same indignity when they first opened the circular drain covers on Riyadh bathroom floors. What seems at first like a wonderful way to mop up a floor turns out to be a wonderful way to let roaches into the house. From then on, I opened the drain cover with care, stiff broom at the ready. I learned how to slop them back down the drain as fast as they came up… Drain roaches were particularly large and active. In fact, bathroom roaches in general were the most aggressive.

Little roaches occasionally entered as passengers from the vegetable suq. The little, light brown ones had an affinity for green herbs. We, too, liked green herbs. Fat bundles of coriander, parsley, dill and mint made such a wonderful aroma in the kitchen, but I learned quickly to shake them out with care, in the sink, rolled newspaper at the ready.

3677697364The problem was unavoidable in that hot climate, and did not indicate particularly filthy conditions. Even my friends with drivers and maids had houses full of roaches.

“Do you want to hear a cockroach story?” It was a morning question, to be asked after the husbands had gone to work and the kids to school.

Asma: “I caught my daughter in the bathroom again, laughing and trying to catch a big roach. She cried when I pulled her out of there. My mother would roll over in her grave if she knew my kid was in the bathroom chasing cockroaches.”

Layla: “I’ve gotten used to them. They’re like relatives. You cannot escape from them, so you might as well embrace them.”

Sara: “I picked up a roll of toilet paper and felt something tickle the palm of my hand.”

Maryam: “Just as I turned out the lights, I caught a glimpse of a huge cockroach running across the floor. It escaped into my closet. I couldn’t catch it, so I tried to sleep with the light on but my husband got mad and turned it off.”

Sharon: “The cockroaches have already moved into our new villa. We met them last night at the construction site.”

Me: “My daughter and I were cleaning the bathroom when a huge cockroach flew directly at us. We backed up so fast we got stuck together in the door. We squeezed through just in time. I barely pulled the door shut, and it slammed into the other side.”

After several years of this, Asma and I decided to write a book entitled Cockroaches I Have Known —with chapters for The Albino Cockroach, The Hissing Cockroach, The Flying Cockroach, etc. Our favorite movie was Joe’s Apartment.

Those days are gone, and we never wrote the book, but I 3677697364still watch Joe’s Apartment from time to time. I still laugh like crazy, remembering our efforts at eradicating the disgusting insects. My method worked best; I developed it myself, and it will be the subject of another post.

For Aafke, and Horse Lovers All

  For Aafke, and Horse Lovers All


Swaying, rhythmic roll


Heaven in green, brown and blue


A toss and a snort




Tagged by Hning,

Here are the rules:
1. Link the person(s) who tagged you.
2. Mention the rules on your blog.
3. Tell about 6 unspectacular quirks of yours.
4. Tag 6 following bloggers by linking them.
5. Leave a comment on each of the tagged bloggers’ blogs letting them know they’ve been tagged.

Six unspectacular quirks:

1. I never use an alarm clock, and never will. If I don’t wake up naturally, I sleep until I do. This is one reason I cannot work day shifts.

2. I am a compulsive reader and writer. I am also a compulsive eater, and that’ not as healthy.

3. I do not wear clothes with any kind of advertising, brand logo, cartoon or message.

4. I love Lapsang Souchong tea. I’ve never met anyone else who can stand even the smell of it.

5. I still think about horses every day, though I haven’t ridden in twenty years. I still watch horse videos, and imagine myself galloping across a field.

6. I hate ball sports. That means football, baseball, soccer, basketball, and any other ball sport not mentioned.

I tag:

Call for Submissions on MotherVerse

Blogger Mamas,

Many of my readers are moms who blog, and care about the quality of their writing.

Some of you may be looking for a wider audience, or simply an additional venue for your work. I just discovered this publication ten minutes ago and had to share it with you. Some may wish to submit to the proposed anthology:



Learning Tajweed, Part Five

 Learning Tajweed, Part Five

My tenacity brought a big blessing. I inserted myself firmly into that madrassa, never missing a day, and always fully prepared for the lesson. I was surprised to discover that most of the ladies had no problem learning the special rules of tajweed, but all of us had problems discarding the accents of our native languages.

The other women were Arabs, but from various Arab countries.  A Pakistani or two, an Indonesian, and I, rounded out the group. As you know, the various dialects of Arabic are different from one another not only in word usage, but in pronunciation of letters. The two letters most distorted by dialect are Qaf and Geem. The dialect furthest from classical Arabic is the Egyptian dialect, and half of the ladies were Egyptians.

So, I did not feel as odd as I expected I’d feel. My pronunciation issues were not more severe than theirs.

I practiced every day at home, when my husband was at work and the girls were at school. I derived an inner contentment from reciting the Qur’an, as opposed to reading it, or reading the translation of it. I started paying attention to the various recitors; some were easy to understand, and some had melodious voices.

Ahmed Al-AJami became very popular at that time, but I knew people who did not like his style because they thought it was too close to singing. I must confess, I liked his style for that very reason!

During  the year, I discovered that my one and only neighborhood friend, an Egyptian woman, also studied at the same madrassa and was enrolled in the highest class available, with the best teacher. This was the class I wanted to enter, but the waiting list was long, with the requirement that you finished all the other classes first.

My friend spoke to the teacher about me, and I was allowed to sit in. Then I was allowed to read for the teacher, and she invited me to join the class!  I’m not sure she was  comfortable with me, but she  recognized my diligence, desire, and accomplishment to date, thanks to Allah.

I spent the entire next year in that class, learning more than I’d ever expected to learn. To this day, I thank Allah for the blessing of putting me in that class. I am not worthy of it, especially since I’ve neglected the Qur’an since repatriating. The good news is that my solid foundation still stands.


Tagged– Let’s Hope

I was tagged by Aafke of Clouddragon:

The rules:

1. On your blog, post the Rules & 10 things you have HOPE for in your life.
2. LINK Tag 10 people (we want hope to spread to people!) and LINK the person who tagged you.
3. Comment/Notify the 10 People they’ve been tagged.

I’m late responding to this tag, so most everyone I read has already been tagged by someone else, so if you haven’t been tagged for this, be my guest.

Ten Things I Hope for— Not in Order of Importance   


1. I hope I can regain my good health and strong physical condition, to stay active, and maybe even ride horses again.

2.. I hope to remain helpful and influential in the lives of my daughters and grandkids.

3.  I hope my family stays strong in the wake of my father’s passing, and that we continue to support one another as life takes its inevitable course.

4. I hope I can retire at the earliest predictable opportunity , five years from now, if  not sooner.

5. I hope neither I, nor any of my loved ones, will be struck down by crime, massive epidemic or  natural disaster.

6. I hope I will become a good, active, and effective leader for Progoff’s Intensive Journal

7. I hope I will see the peaceful resolution to the major conflicts in today’s world.

8. I hope I will become proficient in both Arabic and Italian, and resume an international lifestyle.

9. I hope I remain economically sound and able to live comfortably without financial worry.

10. I hope I will be blessed with Allah’s mercy and forgiveness on Judgment Day, and that He permits me entry into Heaven.



Father’s Day in the USA

First Father’s Day Without my Papa 

Since I can no longer express my love and appreciation for him directly to him, I’ll do it here.

The following poem epitomizes my father’s lifelong attitude, a guiding principle that he applied to his own life and taught to everyone he mentored. We made remembrance cards, with his photo on one side, and the poem on the other side, and gave them out at his funeral.


                 Don’t Quit         


 When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,

When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,

When the funds are low and the debts are high

And you want to smile but you have to sigh,

When care is pressing you down a bit

Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,

As every one of us sometimes learns,

And many a failure turns about

When he might have won had he stuck it out;

Don’t give up though the pace seems slow–

You may succeed with another blow.

Success is failure turned inside out–

The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,

And you never can tell how close you are.

It may be near when it seems so far;

So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit–

It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.



Learning Tajweed, Part Four


At home, we poured out the whole story to my husband, who then said,”I know the husband of the mudeera. I will go pray Isha with him and find out what’s going on.”

He was gone longer than usual that evening, but we were waiting for him at the door when he returned.

“Everything is OK now,” he said, “they will phone you tomorrow and ask you to come back.”

What?!”  For the second time that day, I was in shock.

Turns out, one of the madrassa teachers recognized my girls as daughters of an Egyptian woman who had been a teacher several years ago. She told the mudeera, who was then suspicious. Why were these Egyptian girls coming with an American woman who pretended to be their mother, and they pretended to be her children? Stranger yet, why did this American woman read Arabic but did not speak it very well? And where was the real mother of these girls?

The mudeera decided that I was a spy for the government, though for which government, she did not know. However, that was the most plausible explanation. So she kicked us out, not wanting any trouble.

When my husband told the mudeera’s husband that he had divorced the girl’s mother and sent her back to Egypt, and later married an American Muslimah, the other man understood, and explained the situation to his wife.

My girls’ dignity had been insulted to the extent that they said, “We’re never going back there!” but I said, “Let’s go back and show those people that they cannot push us around. We want to learn tajweed, so let’s make them teach us.”

The next day, a woman phoned and said, “Well, are you coming back or not?” and I said, “Yes,” and hung up the phone. No salaam, no sorry, just that question. I knew these women were not of a more fortunate social class, but I was surprised at their crude manner and narrow attitude. I needed all my courage to go back the next day and convince my girls to go with me.

We did. We were reinstated and everyone acted as if nothing had happened. That was fine with me. All I wanted was instruction, nothing more, nothing less, and I got it. We stayed for several months, but the biggest blessing was yet to come.



Learning Tajweed– Part Three

Kicked Out!

I spent a fruitful term sitting in the circle with the “literate” ladies.  We read, but the class focused on memorization. That was fine. I wanted more, however.  I knew that tajweed had rules of its own apart from grammar and I wanted to learn them.  My husband suggested I enroll in a new madrassa that was opening in the neighborhood, so I took my girls and enrolled.  There, I was put into a class with barely literate women, but that was fine, as long as we were reading and learning the rules of tajweed. My girls (whose native language is Arabic) went to a more advanced class.

After a few days, the mudeera (director) pulled us aside as we headed for our classes. She said, “We have a special class starting soon, a class for Western women, and I’m sure you’ll feel more comfortable there.”

“Fine,” I told her, and started for my classroom so I wouldn’t be late.

“Wait,” she said, and then gave me a speech about how, as a Westerner, I would want to learn with other Western women, therefore I should wait for the new class to start rather than continue. Something sounded fishy. I knew I was the only Westerner who lived in the neighborhood within a twenty-five mile radius.

“OK.” I said, “but I know how to read. What I need is pronunciation.”

She said I didn’t read well enough to remain in any class other than the special one being organized for Westerners, and I said yes, I do read well enough, “…and I’ll show you.” I opened the mushaf (copy of Qur’an) and started to read. 

“No, no, you must go now. We’ll phone you when your class starts.”

“What?!” I said. “Ask my teacher. She’ll tell you that I am doing fine!”

“No. Please leave!” She got up and herded my girls and I out the door. My girls spoke up for me, but could not soften the will of the mudeera to be rid of us. The girls nearly cried. As we left the building, the mudeera shouted, “Wait! You can’t leave like that,” and threw down three pairs of black gloves.

We put them on and walked home, all three of us in tears.


(Today I am leaving for our family cottage in the nothern part of the state– a mini-vacation while I’m still on medical leave for my hand. I won’t be able to post for an eternity of six days. I’ll have to work off-line, preparing future posts, of course.)



Books by Bloggers– Master of the Jinn

 Author Irving Karchmar is Master of his Craft

What can I say that hasn’t already been said about Master of the Jinn?  All I can do is repeat that this is a most extraordinary work of art, full of action, suspense, well-crafted plot development, and complex characterizations.

As if these qualities were not sufficient to guarantee a deeply satisfying reading experience, the book also accesses timeless themes of spiritual teaching and religious history, all wrapped up in modern language, and narrated by a main character who speaks to the reader in the reader’s own language—- literally as well as figuratively. The book has been or will be published in eight other languages by the end of 2009, insha’Allah.

I might not have discovered this book except that author Irving Karchmar’s blog Darvish,,  attracted me, on several levels. His poetic writing style, combined with an earthy humility, charmed me as it revealed nuggets of Sufi wisdom within the context of  each post.  I found myself checking in with Darvish regularly.


This is not a book to read with a calm, contemplative spirit, at least not the first time around. It’s too exciting.  I literally could not put it down except by an act of will.  I won’t tell you who is  master of the jinn, but I will tell you that Irving Karchmar is master of his craft.