Ginger Mayes was the mother of five children when she managed to flee Saudi Arabia with her five children, three of whom were born during her marriage to a Saudi man she met in Virginia where he was stationed with the Saudi Arabian Navy in the early 80s. Their marriage had been turbulent. When their oldest child was just two, her father had taken her to Saudi Arabia. News articles say Mayes decided to give the marriage another chance and moved to Saudi Arabia, where she gave birth to two more children including Zarminah Al-Rabiah, above, who is now 20.
After successfully managing to leave her husband and to begin to build a new life for herself and her five children in the U.S., her ex visited from Saudi Arabia and paid “a relative” $500 to tell him where Mayes was hiding the children. He then took them to Saudi Arabia. Zarminah was 6 years old at the time. Over the next 14 years, he told them their mother didn’t want them anymore, but Zarminah says they never believed it. Mayes did not know where her children were for 14 long years. She found them in an amazing series of events which began when she met someone online who had a nephew in Saudi Arabia who, as it turned out, knew Mayes’ son. The nephew gave Mayes’ phone number to her son.
In Saudi Arabia, girls and women cannot travel outside the country without their father’s permission. Zarminah was finally allowed to return to her mother with the help of her father’s new wife and with some pressure from the U.S. Embassy. Mayes’ youngest child, a son, plans to come to the the U.S. as well when he has finished school in Saudi Arabia.
There are so many untold stories here, stories we know as women, hidden inside the apparent story. I see a woman whose baby girl was taken from her as an infant, and who hoped against hope she could make it work with the baby’s father because she couldn’t envision living her life without her daughter, so she flew to Saudi Arabia and tried to make it work. I see an amazingly courageous woman who managed to flee her marriage at great risk in order to return to the U.S., with five children in tow. I see her betrayed for $500 by a hateful family member who sided with her ex. I see children who knew their mother loved them, and knew what their father had done and kept the faith that they would see her again, despite a 14-year silence. I see a Saudi stepmother who was good and decent and urged Mayes’ ex to do the right thing.
Mayes, by all appearances, is an ordinary woman. She works at ToysRUs in a local mall. No one should ever assume, though, that any woman is ordinary. Women have such stories of courage and strength, dignity, love, and so often they go unnoticed, unheard.
According to yesterday’s Seattle Times article:
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, family members abduct more than 200,000 American children each year, though it’s unclear how many are taken overseas. And while more than 60 countries are parties to the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction — which gives parents a legal mechanism to reunite with their children — Turkey is the only Muslim country to participate.
Mayes and her daughter were reunited this week at Sea-Tac Airport. They recognized each other immediately, screamed, cried, hugged. Fourteen years of silence could not remove their memories of one another or their longings for one another. Men can abuse and violate and harm women, it is true, but one thing they cannot do, they cannot stop us from loving one another.