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From love story to Arabian nightmare

Paris-educated Alexandra Symeonidou was a stewardess at Saudi Arabian Airlines when she fell in love with her pilot colleague. The years of torture she endured are now depicted in her book Nightmares in the Saudi Arabian Desert, recently released in English

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Symeonidou's wedding day happiness didn't last long.

15 September 2014

Alexandra Symeonidou's book is her real life story, as hard as it is to comprehend once you flip through its pages.

Written years after her harrowing experience, for the author the book was a cure, her way of finally cutting off the chain that connected her, for a decade, to her turbulent past.

A Greek student in Paris, in the late '80s, Alexandra Symeonidou didn't want an ordinary life. When she was given a choice of working at the European Commission in Luxembourg or accepting the position of a stewardess at Saudi Airlines, it was her never-resting spirit that took Alexandra to the more tempting job of a flight attendant.

It turned out the years to follow would be much more tempting than Alexandra had ever planned or wished for.

Flattered by the noble past of her pilot colleague, from a Saudi family, and charmed by his personality, she fell in love.

For a loving couple, the mixed marriage of east and west, of Orthodoxy and Islam, of Greek and Arab didn't pose a problem.

For the groom's family, however, Alexandra was never going to be one of them.

With a special permission - one that only four per cent of the population have the privilege of getting - he was allowed to marry his Athenian bride.

But behind the closed doors of their home in Saudi Arabia, life had turned nasty on the 23-year-old Alexandra.

"He didn't want me to work anymore at Saudi Airlines - that was the first step. We got married in Greece, as you can't go to Saudi Arabia if you are not a contractor or married with a special permission. After we settled in Saudi Arabia, he started showing his real face.

"As I wasn't Muslim, and I wasn't from an Arabic country, the question was what our children would become. One of the first conditions, that I had to accept even before we got married, was if we got divorced or something happened to me, the children would stay with him, they would be Muslim, and I wouldn't have any rights to take them back," Alexandra tells Neos Kosmos.

From a sweet and caring partner, influenced by his mother who didn't approve of a stranger in her family, Alexandra's husband had soon become a tyrant.

Alexandra now says she received all the oppressive deficits of a system of a religious culture, targeting to unbrace her mental being, to degrade her, to trivialise her human dignity, transforming her from an intelligent being to an 'object'.

"First decorating, then as a procreation machine and then the final rejection were the basic causes which made me revolt in my way, submitting myself in unspeakable hardships, in order to keep struggling.

"It wasn't a way of dressing and covering that was bothering me as long as I could be happy with him."

But that wasn't going to happen. Alexandra was tortured both psychologically and physically, suffered the cruellest violence in, as she describes them, Homeric fights, that would drag from one day into another.

"The Arab world is so much different from ours. Their rules are made for men. My prince had a dominant mother who did not like a 'stranger' bringing the first male heir of her family to life.

"When I got pregnant he became a tyrant. He wanted me to be forced to a miscarriage. He hit me, he threw me down. My life became a living nightmare. My marriage had turned into a prison. I could not escape. For anything I wanted to do, I needed the written consent of my owner," she remembers.

It was Alexandra's dynamic mother who had travelled to see her daughter that would save her life and get her out of the paws of a tyrant.

Having lived the nightmare on her daughter's side, she finally persuaded her to escape. As Alexandra remembers today, travelling from one end of the house to the exit seemed like a journey that lasted forever.

"We ran into the desert, without any direction, and finally reached a grocer store. The owner, a kind Egyptian man, helped us and hid us under some food cans and locked us in the shop for a few hours, until he brought support. A van took us to the Greek Embassy."

But the story wasn't to end here. Out of the home prison, but still under the imprisonment of Sharia law, Alexandra wasn't allowed to leave the country without the consent of her husband.

In the end, she made it, and alongside her mother and pregnant, they left the country.

Alexandra's son is 25 now, and the hero of her third book in a Saudi trilogy, entitled Saudi's Son.

Having since written ten books and translated three from French to Greek for theatre, Alexandra's first book and a bestseller in Greece, Nightmares in the Saudi Arabian Desert has recently been released in English.

She is now an avid writer for Huffington Post about women's rights in Islam. It was her autobiographical book that helped Alexandra escape the nightmare and reclaim her right to life.

"I never though about writing a book before, but it was a big necessity for me just to break the chain that connected me with this country and this person.

It was a pure psychological treatment. A cure to me because I was completely disconnected only after I wrote this book - before that I was trapped. The book helped me let go and put a full stop to this period of my life."

The book Nightmares in the Saudi Arabian Desert is part of Alexandra Symeonidou's autobiographic trilogy. The two other books, Merciless Struggle and Saudi's Son are not available in English yet. Since its release in English the book has already made it to the Top 10 list on Middle Eastern affairs, on Amazon.

Alexandra Symeonidou's book Nightmares in the Saudi Arabian Desert is now available in English on Amazon www.amazon.com.au. To purchase an eBook in Greek, visit Cosmote Books http://bit.ly/1nK4ynR

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Comments

There are many similar stories which took place mainly after mid 70s. I used to live for a while in that region including Saudi Arabia between 1978 to 1986 and I met and spoke with several Greek and other nationalities stewardesses and each one of them had her own story to tell. At that period Saudia Airilines used to recruit large number of foreign girls to work as air hostesses offering attractive salaries blinding many of these girls to rush and join the company without bothering to learn some basics about their rights as women and most importantly about the culture of that country. I think the fault is with the recruitment agency who failed to lecture these girls about the culture, tradition and religion of their employer which was the Saudi Government owned corporation Saudia.

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