Judge Me if You Can

Judge Me if You Can

Sami Sabet



Format: 13.5 x 21.5 cm
Number of Pages: 130
ISBN: 978-3-99131-023-5
Release Date: 09.11.2021
A battle between the autocratic Post Office and one of its franchisees ends in total destruction. The author invites you, the reader, to take a walk in his shoes and hear his story. Only then will you be in a position to judge. Your judgement may surprise you.
“Who Am I?”
A day I can never forget, the one that signified the start of events that turned my life upside down: Monday the 17th of March 2008. I was sitting in my home office in shock, not knowing how this would end. Two men from Post Office Limited’s (POL) investigations team were searching my desk, drawers, cupboards, and shelves for large amounts of cash or excessively high-value assets. They sifted through paperwork, looking for anything showing financial transactions, and placed objects into boxes as they deemed appropriate. Every so often, they came across a document to do with banks, or communications related to monetary transactions, and looked at each other before placing it in one of the boxes. Their expressions implied corroboration of wrongdoing and probable chastisement.
Looking around the room, I could not help noticing the lovely furniture, ornaments and paintings that adorned it. My gaze travelled out into the hallway, and I started to form a picture of our large, four-bedroom house, with three reception rooms and a big kitchen and breakfast room. Outside, at the back of the house, was a large, multileveled, decked garden with a very spacious art studio for my wife. My thoughts reminded me that, over the years, I had achieved a great deal, and become the envy of many. So, what led me to this predicament? Feeling frightened and very anxious, I found myself questioning who I really was, my past, work and social experiences, actions, and achievements. What had I done to get here? Would I be disgraced, humiliated, or worse? Did I deserve this?
Born in Egypt 53 years ago, I was the second child of what became a family of two parents and four children. My father, who was a dark-complexioned, always elegantly dressed man was born in Egypt. He graduated from Cairo University with a Medical degree and was intelligent and extremely sociable. During his post-graduation days, he worked as a gynaecologist, until he found his calling in Psychiatry. Actually, it was he who delivered my older brother, sister, and me. My mother was a young, beautiful, fair-skinned housewife who, like most women in Egypt in those days, had completed her high school diploma, but was persuaded not to continue her education. I believe, and indeed throughout the years she had proved, that she was more than capable in the field of finance and management, by the way she succeeded in the upbringing of four children and running our house. She instilled in us a kind, honest and caring attitude. Not only do I think she was the ‘best mother,’ but, also, an angel, putting everyone else’s feelings and needs before hers.
At that time, we lived in a small flat, just around the corner from my paternal grandparents, in what was then an upper-middle-class suburb of Cairo. Their apartment was spread over two floors of a building and was huge, which is not surprising, as it housed a family of nine. There were two beautifully covered balconies overlooking the main road, approximately one mile away from the newly deposed king’s palace.
My parents always thought that my sister brought luck with her. Very soon after Snats was born, my father secured a position as the first psychiatrist in Taif, Saudi Arabia. He had to travel there on his own to settle into his new job and arrange accommodation for us all to join him. Three months later, we were on our first-ever flight, heading from Cairo to a tiny airport in the coastal city of Jeddah. Along with one runway and apron, it had what looked like a large shed, built from corrugated steel sheets, as its terminal.
When we arrived, Dad was there to meet us. Our luggage was loaded into the back of a pickup truck, while we all sat in the front. He had brought this vehicle due to its luggage carrying capacity and its ability to endure the rough, very bumpy dirt road ahead. It was dark, but there was a full moon enabling me to see huge mountains around which we meandered. After a very long journey, we started to climb a mountain until we reached the plateau on which the city of Taif was built. Due to its high altitude, it enjoyed generally cooler temperatures than the rest of Saudi Arabia, a cleaner environment, and lots of greenery. The pleasant, inviting surrounds made it an ideal location for the king and royal family to spend the incredibly hot summers. Not only would they move to their residence there, the Government and administrative staff would also relocate their offices for the duration of the season.
We stopped in front of a large, detached bungalow, built on a substantial plot of land, enclosed by a brick wall; this would be our new home. As we got out of the truck, my father told Semita, my older brother, and I that he had a surprise waiting for us inside. Excited, we ran into the house to find an enormous room with a large rug in the middle of the floor. On two opposite corners were several toys for both of us. I was so thrilled I quickly forgot about the upheaval, the long and arduous trip and all that we had left behind. We were to spend the next few months in this house, which was divided into a private residential area for us, and a fully equipped medical clinic for my father.
Living there, I was very happy, playing with my toys inside and exploring new and adventurous activities in the garden. Once a week, my mother would go to the market and arrive back with about five men carrying huge wooden boxes of fruit and vegetables, and bags of general food supplies. One of the boxes, I remember, had prickly pears – shaped like a grenade, with thorns all over their thick skin. On the following afternoon, my mother, wearing gloves, had washed, peeled, and placed them on a tray and into the fridge. Later on, I opened it. There they were, piled in a huge bowl; reddish-brown, they appeared to be crying out for me to take. Delicious! One mouthful followed another and another until I had eaten half the contents of the bowl. I loved them and just could not stop, until Mum caught me. No more fruit for me on that day!
I saw many people arriving at my father’s clinic. Some had companions and were driven there by drivers in big cars. They were wearing long white gowns (known in Arabic as a ‘galabeya’) and a scarf on their heads, held in place by what looked like a black rope joined to form a loop. One day, I was able to walk into the clinic without being seen and heard my father talking to his assistant in a room where the door was left ajar. Peeping in, I could see a man lying on a bed, with the assistant holding his legs and my father standing next to his head. In my father’s hands were two small round probes, attached by wires to a machine. Around the patient’s head was a band, under which the probes were positioned on either side of the head. He asked the assistant to hold the man tightly and flicked a switch while rotating a dial, making the needles move. The man’s body and head turned violently, one way, and then the other. I was frightened, thinking that they may not want me to be watching this. So, I ran out before anyone could see me. I kept wondering why the man tossed and turned so violently. Did the probes on his head and in the machine have anything to do with it? Was he suffering? Much later on, I was informed that the man was a patient who was undertaking ‘electric shock treatment.’ Apparently, the electricity going through his brain was supposed to stimulate and return brain impulses to a stable state. That is, his brain is shocked into functioning properly. As I got much older and read more about the subject, I found this to have been, at best, a very simplistic view.
Although its exact mechanism or action is unknown, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), as it is now known, is believed to treat difficult cases of depression or schizophrenia. It works by inducing seizure activity via electricity in the brain. The treatment lasts for a few minutes, carried out two or three times a week for a few weeks, followed by therapy on an outpatient basis. Although now frowned upon, it seems to have been used as recently as the early 2000s.
A year after moving into the bungalow, my parents decided to distance us from the clinic by relocating to a building, where our private residence occupied the first floor, with its own, separate entrance, leaving the ground floor for the new clinic. We spent three happy and eventful years there.
My parents made many friends, including some members of the Saudi royal family. Father’s Egyptian colleagues were like us, with children of similar ages, and shared a need to feel close to the country they left behind, with its warmth and familiar culture. They would gather at our house, or we would visit them in their homes, and on weekends there would be outings to leisure parks where we would enjoy sumptuous picnics and BBQs.
On one occasion, my father took me to a lunch that he had been invited to by a prominent Saudi. They had prepared a feast at the centre of which was a large round serving dish filled with rice and topped with a whole grilled lamb. The table, with extremely short legs, was placed on the floor in a room which was open to the outside. Plates were placed around the table, as were cushions on which we would sit. Everyone sat around it crossed legged on the floor. However, my father could not do this, so they had to bring more cushions stacked up, enabling him to sit without having to cross his legs. Then came the interesting part! There was no cutlery, and I did not know how I should eat.
They pulled up their sleeves to their elbows, stretched their hands into the dish, grabbed a handful of rice, squashed it into a ball and put it in their mouths. In turn, they proceeded to hold the lamb with one hand while pulling a portion off by the other. They used only their hands to cut, mould and eat the food. It became clear to them that my father and I were not eating. We were not used to eating like this. The host asked the servants to find and bring a knife, fork and spoon for us. After the meal, I was allowed to explore the ornamental courtyard while the men talked and drank Arabic (Turkish) coffee and talked. Eventually we thanked our guest and took our leave. It was my first experience of lunch with company lacking in women, and men eating without utensils. Why exactly did they do this? I could not understand. However, I was informed that the proper way to eat like this was to use one’s thumb and two index fingers to manipulate the food and place into your mouth. More importantly, you should do this using only your right hand.
At home, we had modern furniture, including a normal dining table with long legs, allowing chairs to be placed around, and be pushed, under it. We did not sit on floors. Mum had asked for a second, smaller dining table, with chairs, to be made shorter, especially for me and my brother. It was made to measure for our small sizes and heights, with appropriate chairs. We even had a ‘child size’ water jug, glasses, and cutlery.
There were several gatherings at our house, with friends being invited for lunches or dinners. They were fun, as we got to share our toys with other children. However, my birthdays were very special, when my parents held lavish parties. They included not only the usual feast of food and large birthday cakes, but also a cinema projector displaying the most recent films brought from Egypt. Mum spent days cooking and, with the help of a maid, arranged the seating to segregate men from women. The reason for this was because, in Saudi Arabia, men and women were not allowed to mix at social gatherings or business. If they had to meet, the women must remain covered from head to toe. This included their faces, which were hidden by a black veil, allowing only limited view for the women. To ensure comfort and freedom from such restrictions, they gathered, ate, and drank in different rooms. I used to wonder how the children knew who their mothers were. During the showing of the film, the women sat at the back, behind the men. When only our Egyptian friends were gathered, there was no segregation. Women dressed normally and mixed with men.
The princesses always brought the most sophisticated and expensive toys as presents. These included ones that were operated by batteries, which were very rare in those days. One of my favourites was a vehicle on wheels that responded to the sound of a whistle. When I whistled to it, it moved, whistle again and it stopped. At the same time, they always brought a similar, though more modest, gift for my brother and baby sister. Eventually we had a room full of these toys.
I had asked my father about what made these toys do what they did, and learned that they had magnets within them. One day, my brother and I were bored and decided to investigate. We raided the room, taking each toy in turn and dismantling it so that we may find out how they worked. We had destroyed 70% of these before our mother found us. After a severe telling off, we were banned from playing with the remaining ones for a month. We never managed to rebuild such a collection again.
Before long, it was the start of the school year. I was sent to a private kindergarten, and on the first day my mother accompanied me. There, I saw other children crying, as they had to leave their parents and forced to let go of their hands. I just went in and waved goodbye to my mum. Inside, toys were given to us to play with. Then, at midday, mattresses were laid on the floor and we were asked to lie down. They read us a story and after several minutes we were fast asleep.
Very early the following morning, a bus came to collect me from home. School was the same; play, being read to, and sleep. The school bus was there again after school and travelled around, dropping each pupil at his house. For some reason, I was the last one to be dropped off; by which time it was getting dark. My mother was furious as it was a very long day for me, and I had not been given anything to eat at school. She refused to let me go back again, despite my protests that I enjoyed my visits to the kindergarten. Alas, I was forced to accept what became the first of several, uncalled for and forced disappointments throughout my later life.
Two months before my 5th birthday, my parents decided to send me to a local primary school. The youngest in the class, I learned quickly, was able to communicate well, and was never frightened of questioning things. In so doing, I was instrumental in some changes in the school. One such change was the introduction of desks and chairs, allowing us to sit comfortably and not on the floor. One thing I did not question was the chalk, which we were given to write with on a small, A4 size, black writing slate.
Towards the end of the second term of the school year, the month of Ramadan started. During this time, all Muslims had to fast – refraining from food, drink and any impure thoughts or actions, from sunrise to sunset. On the first day, the school shut two hours early; pupils were collected or went home, and all the staff left. The gates were locked, and I was left alone outside. Within a few minutes I was standing on my own in an empty and silent street, with not a soul in sight.
Ali, a man from Yemen, was employed by my parents and tasked with, amongst many other things, taking me to, and collecting me from, school every day. He would take both my brother and I to our respective schools, which were not too far away from each other. Leaving home at about 7:30 in the morning, we walked to my brother’s school, left him there, and then I would be taken to mine. At two in the afternoon, he would return to take me back home. As the school had closed earlier on that day, Ali was not there. I waited, feeling somewhat anxious, for what seemed to be an eternity.
All-of-a-sudden, walking up a perpendicular road to the one in which I stood, was a man carrying a large sack over his shoulder. The man approached the crossroads, and I imagined him coming over, grabbing me, and putting me into his bag. Filled with fear and panic, I quickly looked down the road to see if Ali was coming. Not only was he not, but there was no one else in sight. I decided to run across the road around the far end of a building, finding its entrance on the other side and hiding within it, under the staircase.
I was crying, felt sick and vomited. I tried to keep silent so that the man with the sack did not find me. After a long while, I stopped crying and started to realise that Ali would not be able to find me here and that I, cautiously, had to go back to the school in case he was there. Walking back around the building, I checked carefully that the sack man was not around and walked across the road to the school entrance. The street was still empty, and after some wait, I decided that I should do something, lest the man returned.
I remembered my brother’s school was not too far and was confident that I could find it. Retracing our morning walk, I hesitated momentarily at a couple of junctions, deciding in which direction I should turn. After what seemed a long walk, I found it and felt happy that I was now safe with my brother. We would go home together when Ali came to collect him. However, as I approached the entrance, I realised that the school was empty, and my brother was nowhere to be found. Again, I was alone with no one in sight. I thought, “What do I do now?” Ali was not going to know where I was. I had to go back to my school.
Eventually, I arrived back and sat on the steps of my school building. After a while, I looked down the road and saw something. A long distance away, I could see a figure coming towards me. “Could it be Ali?” I dared not raise my hopes too high but kept looking intensely until he was close enough to be seen. By now, he was running, and I was sure it was him. I ran towards him and, seeing it was he, cried out, “Ali!” He opened his arms, into which I happily jumped. I was tearful but felt safe. At last, I was going home!
After a long walk in Ali’s arms, we turned a corner to find our house diagonally opposite us. My mother was standing on the balcony, looking worried and tearful. Ali waved at her, shouting, “I found him!” Her face lit up with joy and she turned, starting to run downstairs to greet me. I wanted to jump out of Ali’s arms and run to her, but he would not let me. Having crossed the wide, busy road, towards the building, he placed me in her stretched arms. She hugged me very tightly and kept on kissing me. It was one of the longest, warmest, most reassuring hugs I ever had. I felt safe again in her arms, but also proud that I did not allow the man with the sack to steal me.
Back in my office in Sussex, the POL investigators had finished their search and attracted my attention. They told me that they have gathered all the material they needed and would now like to carry out a recorded interrogation with me. I agreed, as I felt I had nothing to hide. They talked about the audits and discrepancies found and asked if I would be able to settle them by tomorrow. I could not, but I mentioned that POL had some £40,000, belonging to me, which, until now, had not been paid. After an hour of questioning, they announced that they had finished and switched off the recording. They collected everything and left, informing me that they would be in contact soon. I sat down, reflecting on what had just happened and its possible implications. My thoughts returned me to the past, and Taif.
There, I was exposed to a great deal at a very young age. I recall on one occasion I was riding in a pickup truck, with a driver on one side and another man on the other. It is unclear as to why it happened like this, but they picked me up on the way to collect a man from somewhere. When they got there, they entered a house and several minutes later, came out holding a man who was shouting and struggling in an attempt to get loose. Looking through the back window, I saw them pick him up, throwing him into the back of the pickup and, using chains, tying his hands and legs to the four corners of the truck. I could see him stretched out trying to break the chains binding him, without success.
They came back into the cab and drove off, continuing our journey. I was quiet, thinking about what just happened and wondering why they had to chain him like this. Suddenly, I felt my underpants getting moist and asked the driver to stop as I needed a pee. As soon as we came to a standstill, the other guy opened the door allowing me to jump out, run behind the nearest bush and urinated. I felt really bad that I could not hold it and wanted to change; but where and how.
When we eventually got to the hospital where my father worked, I ran to his office and as soon as I saw him, started to tell him about what had happened. I asked him why they did this, to which he tried to explain that this should not be the case. He went on to tell me that the natives believed that people who reacted strangely, were possessed by the devil. They thought that they were keeping this devil under control and preventing him from taking the patient away. It was part of Dad’s mission to educate and stop them from doing this. I never forgot the image of that patient, chained on the bed of the truck.

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