It has been 19 years years since I last heard from her. Our last communication was in 1990 when she sent me a letter together with a Sanrio notepad via my father, 6 months after my Mom, my brother and I left Riyadh for good. It was our last exchange. She migrated to the US with her family in 1991.
When I was 4 years old, my blissful barriotic childhood was abruptly interrupted by my family’s sudden move to Riyadh,Saudi Arabia because my parents were both hired to work at the King Abdul Azziz Hospital. I was too young to feel loss or separation from my playmates because my mind was more preoccupied about riding a huge plane and seeing the desert.
I don’t really remember the first time I met Ailene.I think it was in a party for the laboratory employees where her parents work as well. We were introduced because we enrolled not only at the same school but in the same class in kindergarten.
We shared the same carpool, forever seatmates from class, in the school bus and in all our class pictures. After school we were always the last to be dropped off , together with my brother Nikki and her older brother Allan. We were buddies with the driver and when only the 4 of us were left on the bus he would stop at an ice cream parlor and treat us all. For the four of us nothing could be more perfect than free ice cream after school in a hot Arabian weather.
On weekends, we spent hours playing in our flat because my parents had this bright idea to convert one of the rooms in our apartment to an exclusive playroom—the only room in our flat where we were allowed to scatter our toys and have our own corner. Ailene and I spent endless hours in that room playing with our dolls, constructing Lego houses, creating imaginary friends and gossiping about our classmates. We watched Annie together hundreds of times, memorized the theme song and filled our apartment with our out of tune rendition of “Tomorrow” and once had a trivial fight about who is more fitted to play the part of Annie. I almost wished I was born a redhead with curls and freckles.
In school we were inseparable like conjoined twins. We shared crayons, Ladybird storybooks, lunch and defended each other against bossy classmates. That’s girl power in early childhood.
I have been looking for her since Friendster was created but no profile of her existed. Last week, I created a Facebook account and searched her name first.
We have exchanged long emails since.
She still remembers our childhood antics in and out of school.
We were both nostalgic about our childhood in Riyadh.It’s amazing how we had so much fun memories even in such a restrictive environment.As children we knew no limits, oblivious to the gender inequality and the strict Sharia laws in the country. All that mattered to us were the games that we played, going to school at the Philippine Embassy School in Riyadh (PESR),watching cartoons after getting off from school and the huge toy stores we visited every weekend plus the endless supply of chocolates.It was fun because we were kids; it wouldn’t have been the same if we were in another stage of life.
The photo above was taken one afternoon, after we got off from the school bus outside our flat. 🙂