The Lesson

The Lesson

Status: In Progress

Genre: Non-Fiction


Status: In Progress

Genre: Non-Fiction


This is a mostly true story. To protect the women in this story, I have changed some significant facts. This took place in Saudi Arabia and tells the story of Arab and Muslim culture and how in collides with Westerners living in their country.


This is a mostly true story. To protect the women in this story, I have changed some
significant facts. This took place in Saudi Arabia and tells the story of Arab and
Muslim culture and how in collides with Westerners living in their country.


Submitted: May 16, 2018

A A A | A A A


Submitted: May 16, 2018



The Lesson

In my mid teens, my father took a job in a Middle Eastern country. I never lived there full time. I went to a boarding school in the United States and I would return for Christmas and Easter breaks. And for the summer, which was for almost four months.

It was a unique experience and I enjoyed it. It was less so for my sisters and my Mom. The society was restrictive, some said oppressive, for women. They were expected to dress modestly and could not drive. Traveling by themselves was impossible. While they did not expect Western women to wear a veil, the Arab women often did. Only the most liberal of women would show their faces in public. Yet, their head and their hair was always covered.

Many wore a burqa that covered them from head to toe and a veil that could be attached to it to hide their faces. The cloth was a simple black. Some veils ceased at the bridge of the nose and eyes were exposed. Some just had slits for the eyes so they could see. And unless you were family, that’s all you would see of them while in public. Other women wore a hijab,  a large scarf that covered their heads and they would drape it across their face so that only their eyes were visible.

And yet, beneath the layers of modesty, the eyes of Arab women are incredibly expressive. They are often large and have an exquisite shape; a hint of the almond further East. The color of them is an aggregate spectrum of hues: from deep cocoa, to brown, to copper, to a green that will take your breath away. Their eyelashes are beautifully thick and long of which many a Western woman would could kill for. And resting above their eyes, their eyebrows are lush and broad and beautifully shaped. And if they chose to wear makeup, most were modest. 

As covered as they were, the Arab women would not be denied their femininity.

Like most of my friends, summer jobs were the way I made most of my spending money for the school year. I came home with the promise of a good one. And the first summer, it was excellent. I got a job with the company my Dad worked for and made several thousand dollars. Disappointingly, the next summer, they did not extend those jobs to us. So we had to earn our money doing odd jobs and chores. Had I known, I would have stayed in the States.

The jobs were sporadic and varied. There was no grass, so there was no lawn mowing or yard work to speak of. But, they tried to find us jobs chaperoning younger kids, we could drive their cars to pick up things, or fill them up with gas, run errands. And since women could not drive outside of the compound where we lived, running errands was often helpful. I cleaned out garages and scraped barnacles off of boats as we lived on the Persian Gulf.

Sometimes, when there wasn’t any work, we took the bus to the clinic about an hour away and donated blood. For whatever reason, the Arabs did not donate blood and they paid almost $200 for a pint. Some of my friends donated more frequently than they should have. I did it twice that summer.

My Mom was good about telling her friends and co-workers that I did odd jobs. Sometimes she volunteered me for them without telling me. I had to dress up as a clown for a kid’s party once and felt ridiculous driving around looking for the house in costume. This annoyed me. But, I did, like most, whatever came up.

And it paid well. I would usually get the equivalent of $100 per job. Sometimes more. $100 here and there wasn’t bad. Some weeks I worked every day, and some weeks just a few.

We lived on a compound that was isolated from the rest of the country. It was gated and had guards. They tried to make it seem a lot like the West and it looked not unlike a neighborhood you would find in Arizona. Most Arabs lived in nearby towns. If you were high up in the management of the company, Arabs families could get a house on the compound. And some did, particularly the ones that wanted to be more Western or to have their kids go to the American school.

One of these families lived not far from us. The husband was in maintenance and public safety. His wife was an Egyptian woman who had been a nurse and she was friends with my Mom. The Egyptians were more Westernized than many of the other Arabs. But they are Muslim to the core and very conservative. The Egyptian women tended to be more educated compared to the Saudis, at least at that time. She spoke very good English with a British accent and she would take my Mom shopping in the nearby shopping town and get her good deals.

She had heard I was doing odd jobs and said that she and her husband had some work for me to do. I knew it was a favor. She had a little boy about four years old and he liked me. He was a cute little kid. Even though he didn’t speak any English, we got along when I would see him. We would watch the Arabic version of Sesame Street called “Iftah Sim-Sim.” Part of my job was to play with him and keep him occupied, When he was napping or at his grandmothers, I would do chores for them. Cleaning stuff, I painted, I picked up things for them at the nearby town and I filled up their two huge Suburbans with gas, and I would wash them.

Arabia is very hot. Most summer days are well over one hundred degrees. One hundred-ten degrees was average. Washing cars is a job done in the morning or late afternoon and quickly. You would have to use the water to cool the exterior of the car down enough to touch it. You couldn’t go inside the vehicle unless you ran the AC for five minutes. Heat strokes were something you had to be aware of if you worked outside. The houses were air-conditioned and most stayed inside during the heat of the day.

In Arab houses there is a room that people who are not family can come in to and the men of the house will meet you there. Much like a parlor in an older American house. Unless you are family or close friends, you will never go anywhere else in the house but that room.  If they don’t know you, you won’t be let in the house at all. At the end of the week, her husband and I would meet in that room and he would pay me. He didn’t say much. I don’t think he liked having to pay me.

I did chores for them for a month or so and I began to notice a pattern: a few Arab friends of hers (who also lived in the compound) would come for visits. I never saw much of them. In an island of modernity, women were allowed to drive on the compound. One of the visitors drove the group of women, even though I don’t think she was supposed to. And in a group, they would go in and visit and then they would leave an hour or two later. Sometimes they brought presents or food. Sometimes I could hear them talking loudly, especially the Egyptian woman. She had a distinctive voice.

They laughed a lot. Sometimes I could hear the television. One day, I was washing one of the Suburbans up on a step ladder. One of the women was carrying something from the car and her hijab had undraped her face. She looked up at me as she passed. She was a lovely young woman and her eyes were stunning. Her expression did not change. She was not much older than me. I was curious.

I asked the Egyptian woman if they were friends or family. She said they were friends and that they came over to visit to get out of the house. She said she was kind of like their aunt.

"I am like the aunt that tells them everything" she told me.

And like the Arab towns nearby, they would come and have coffee and talk. She said one of the women lived with her parents and she was going to be married later in the summer after Ramadan.  

She explained that she was in her twenties and she was getting pressured to marry soon because after her early twenties, an Arab women is considered less desirable. And like an aunt, she had been talking to her about marriage and relationships and sex. She said the girl trusted and listened to her.

I felt as though I knew who she might be.

I thought it was crazy to pressure a woman in her early twenties. But, that was the culture. And on those days when they visited, I did my chores and minded her son when he was there.

One day, while her son was his grandmother’s house, the group of women came while I was working. At first, I could hear them talking loudly and then it became quiet. Occasionally I would hear the Egyptian woman’s voice. As the afternoon progressed, the house began to block the sun and shade the driveway. I decided to wash the cars. It was still hot, and I began to wet the concrete down so I could stand barefoot on it.

The woman came out and I had my back to her. “I am trying to explain something and it’s not working.”

I was startled when she spoke. “Sorry for the surprise. You remember I’m a nurse?”

Composing myself, and confused I said, “Yes, I remember”

“I am trying to explain something to them and they’re not understanding. I’ve tried drawings and it’s not working. I need you to help.”

“I don’t know how much help I can be. I was going to wash the cars” I said.

“Right now, I need to explain this and you don’t have to do or say anything. It will take maybe five minutes.  I’ll pay you extra”

She paused, and in a matter-of-fact but insistent tone said, “You can finish that later, come with me.
I'm paying you.”.

I turned off the hose and complied. As we walked through the parlor area, and to the door I had never passed, she stopped me and said in a hushed but serious voice.

“You can’t look at them or make eye contact. Just look straight ahead and I will talk to them . You are the skeleton in the doctor’s office. You will tell no one where we go or who was here. Do you understand?”

“Yes, I understand. But I don't know where this is going.”

I began to get very concerned. She opened the door from the Parlor. In my bare feet and shorts, the change from the heat of the day to the cool of the air-conditioned room was extreme and I felt as though I was entering a walk-in freezer. The room was large with a manageré of abutting carpets on the floor. The walls were painted a deep turquoise and tapestries hung like pictures. Long, low couches lined the walls of the room in a U-shape. A large TV sat on a rolling stand, its volume muted and no one was watching it. The drapes to the outside windows were drawn.

The couches were of a deep plum colored fabric with large, brightly colored pillows everywhere and amidst them, there the women sat. They did not look at me as I entered. The had put on their burqas and abiyas and one of them was adjusting her veil. There were small cups of coffee and tea on a large brass table. There was a notepad and pencils with some drawings.

I tried not to look at any of the women, but I scanned my surroundings. She asked me to help her move the table back, As we did, I caught a glimpse of bare feet from under the burqas of some of the women. The couches could have sat twenty-five people. But there were only the four of them, sitting closely on one of the broad sections. An island of black amidst the color.

She guided me in front of where they were sitting and she talked to them in Arabic for a while. I was getting more and more nervous, confused about why I was there and wanting out of there the longer she spoke. After what sounded like the beginning of a lecture, she turned to me, and spoke in the reassuring tone of a medical practitioner.

“Remove your clothes please … ”

“Excuse me?” I said in disbelief.

And like a nurse about to administer a shot said,

“Remove them please. It will be OK”

I thought about running, but like a patient, I complied. I removed my shorts and underwear, putting them to the side and stood their naked, not looking at anyone. I picked a spot on the wall I could stare at. And I fixed on it as she began to talk. I took some deep nervous breaths as I tried to take my mind elsewhere.

And, yet,  I knew there was nothing sexual in what she was doing. I was an anatomical demonstrative device. She was teaching.

You can say whatever you want to say about Arabs and sex. But they are not prudes. They are
not naive.

And this woman had to make sure her point was understood.

She pressed her hand to the base of my back to make me stand upright. And she began lecturing in Arabic to them again. In my peripheral vision I could see her hand pointing out the various parts of my groin. She continued in the tone of an instructor. Two of the women whispered as the lesson continued.

“I’m going to touch you briefly”

She continued in Arabic and reached down and took hold of my scrotum and squeezed it so one of my testicles protruded. And she did so to the other to demonstrate the symmetry While it wasn’t uncomfortable, she was not gentle in her manipulation and I looked down to see what she was doing to me.

“Look up” she said, and I returned to my spot on the wall and the lecture continued.

I understood a few of the few words of Arabic I had learned.  Occasionally, she would say the medical term for something I had heard before. As she continued, the women began to speak more and what had been like a surgical theater at first became more animated.

This made things worse. The awareness of my nakedness welled up. Focusing on my spot and taking my mind elsewhere became difficult. I was present and I didn’t want to be. The five minutes that had passed seemed like an eternity and I began to think of how I would get out of there and how fast I could do so.
As I considered my options, I heard her say the words “circumcision” and “frenulum” and then, she reached down and with her thumb, fore and middle fingers gripped my penis by the head of it and rotated it over to show the underside.

And with that movement, I started to feel the involuntary response of my body.  I was becoming erect. At eighteen years of age, involuntary erections happened frequently. Most of the time, you could figure out a way to not draw attention to it. But, standing naked, a few feet away, there was no way to distract from what was happening. As much as my mind tried to fight it, I became fully erect.

“Oh no” I whispered out loud.

I could feel my face flush red and my head spun trying to figure out what to do. She must have seen my expression. I must have look mortified. One of the women inhaled audibly and one snickered.

“It’s OK, perfectly natural.”. She chuckled. “It’s actually good this happened”

And she began again speaking in Arabic again. I felt dizzy and frantic. As she moved one of her hands closer to my groin and I blurted out

“I can’t do this”,

I reached down and grabbed my clothes,  covering myself as I ran out into the parlor and frantically dressed. As the door closed, I could hear laughter. I ran out into the garage and then to the driveway. Grabbing my shoes and shirt, I quickly dumped the bucket, put the hose away. I ran home in the heat; the sidewalk burning my bare feet as I lifted them high to minimize the searing concrete. My erection subsided as I ran. Why didn’t I put on my shoes?

That was the last time I worked for her. I never went back. She never called and neither she nor I ever mentioned it to my Mom. I saw her once later in the summer. Her little boy was happy to see me. I didn’t look at her and she said acknowledged me with a perfunctory “hello”.

It came to me how foolish it was of her. And of me.  Had we been found that day, there was no explanation that would have been satisfactory. At best I would have been expelled from the country. Most likely I would have been jailed for a time. For her, she would have been lashed and jailed or potentially killed if tried for adultery. There is no doubt her husband would have divorced her. It was vital that it had never happened.

But it did. I can see the humor of it now.

And as I counted out my money from the summer,  I realized I’d never been paid for that week. I learned to ask more questions. Years later my Mom told me that that there were many rumors about her husband having affairs with other women on the compound. That saddened me.

Her friends would have told her.


© Copyright 2019 John Ornville. All rights reserved.

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