Real Rain in the Desert

We had been chuckling about the "rain" that has been falling in the last couple of weeks: the sky spits a few drops for five minutes or so, and then the breeze moves the lone storm cloud on and sunny blue skies return. For the rest of the day, everyone talks about the "rain." Whatever.

Until yesterday morning. When I left the house, some of those coy, light drops were falling, and I was happy to be walking to the grocery store in this drizzly weather. As I walked toward the main road, the rain did not seem to be letting up; in fact, the sky was getting darker and it was starting to feel like real, live rain. Such a novelty here! Wouldn't a walk in the rain be nice?

When I got about 30 yards away from the entrance gate to the residential part of our community, the sky opened up. The rain poured down, the trees swayed in the wind, and rivers of water rushed down the gutters. The drops were so big, and falling so hard, that it felt like hail was going to be next. I took off my flip-flops, which were spongy and squelchy, and sprinted to the covered gate and guard shack. The Saudi guards were watching my mad dash, and all of us were laughing.

When I got under the cover of the security gate, the guards urged me to come inside the little glassed-in office in the center. They offered me a chair, and poured me a hot cup of sweet Saudi tea. The shift manager introduced himself and asked me if I have any children (of course! It's one of the first questions anyone asks here, and I'm still working out how to respond to the confusion or pity that a "no" response elicits.) Then he pulled out his cell phone and showed me pictures of his three children: ages 12, 10, and 2. My husband has befriended another of the guards, who told us he is the proud father of 14 children! I told him that his wife is a saint. He didn't understand what I meant.

I finished my tea, and was then offered cardamom coffee, but I saw that the rain had let up for the moment. I thanked them and headed on down the road to the market.

The "shopping mall" building contains the commissary, an enclosed central area with a big pyramidal skylight, and several other small shops, including a tailor, a beauty shop, a travel agency, the post office, and the bank. Today, four maintenance workers were standing around a big bucket, on the far side of the central skylight. A big leak had sprung in the ceiling right next to it. Water had caused the paint to blister into a bubble, and water was pouring out of its nipple-like bottom. The men were considering this thing, watching the liquid pour into the bucket. As I approached them, of course I was staring at it, too. They all looked at me, and one of them pointed at it and said, "Like milk." They burst out laughing. I burst out laughing. Was that an inappropriate joke? I'm sure it was, as it would have been in the States. But when I started laughing, everybody laughed harder. It was like the rain had made everyone giddy. A nice change from the grim faces that greet December's freezing rain on the east coast of the United States.