Now that I am back in Saudi Arabia, I remember--or rather, I now really understand--how much easier the pace is here, how much calmer I feel. True, I was overbooked and overstimulated with friends and family and to-do lists when I was back in the States, and that was my own doing. But that doesn't completely explain it. In the United States, there are always 20 different things to do at any time of day; unlimited options for food, drink, work, and play; and a million ways to spend time and money. All of which seem to require about a 45 minute commute, day or night, whether in Los Angeles, DC, or New York.
Life in the United States is rich with choices and freedom and the expectation of relative personal privacy from government intrusion (especially if you're lucky enough to be white and middle class). It's a breathtaking, beautiful country with widely varying landscapes and seasons, and a vividly multi-cultural population. My family and long-established friends are there. I love my country, and I am grateful to be an American in ways that I could not have fully understood before I became an expat.
However, stateside life is also expensive, hectic, and crowded with too many material possessions. Plus, it can be distressingly provincial. A new American friend here on the compound summed it up perfectly. She said that when she decided to move to Saudi Arabia, the message she got from people who've lived overseas was essentially, "Go! Even if it parts of it are hard, it'll be amazing. You'll learn a lot, you'll have fun, you'll be fine." However, the people she knows who had never lived overseas told her she was crazy to even consider moving to Saudi Arabia. The same thing happened to me. Some Americans seem to have a knee-jerk reaction to leaving their country, though they have no idea what life is like outside of it.
My friend and I both agreed that Saudi Arabia wouldn't have made our top 10 lists of countries we'd like to move to--but now that we're here, we are having extraordinary experiences. Extraordinary is being able to watch the sun set over the Arabian desert--an eery, lovely thing. Also extraordinary is this opportunity to wrap my brain around ways of thinking and living that would be patently absurd back in the States.
For example, because I'm a woman I am not allowed to drive a car here (outside our compound). I could be deeply resentful about that, and rightly angry at this injustice. I could fan those flames, for sure. Or, I can let go. No matter how angry I get, I cannot hop in the car and do what I want, when I want. It'll never happen here. Freaking out about it won't do a thing, so I let it go.
As a result of this absurd law, my husband has to drive me whenever I want my preferred brand of coffee beans, or a new mixing bowl or a pair of socks. It's a ridiculous waste of time! He, too, could be cranky about this, but to what end? Now, we go shopping together. It's an event. We each save up our lists, and when we go out, we generally hit the hardware store, a grocery store, Starbucks, a department store, a Japanese dollar store, and other various places ranging from the tire place to the bike store to the cosmetics shop for my brand of lipstick. I have to go tire shopping. He has to hang around while I try on lipstick.
Part of what makes living here so valuable is that it teaches patience, and forces me to let go of expectations, laugh at crazy situations, and slow down. These are exactly the lessons that this list-making, ultra-organized, Type A time manager needs. I am precisely where I need to be.
So! I promised you more pictures of my trip home. Here goes:
October color in Portsmouth, New Hampshire
The final, bitter end of the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. My husband is right there in the middle, wearing the black cap. It was his seventh marathon, and his second best time yet!
Pier C on the Hudson River--I mean, really ON the Hudson River--in Hoboken has a great view of the Manhattan skyline. The park reminds me of structures common in the Middle East. Here, fanciful-shaped islands are built out of thin air, just offshore in Dubai and Bahrain (and probably other places, too.) Oddly (or ironically, if you consider global warming and its implications for these man-made islands), they call this island-making process "reclaiming."
Dawn overlooking Maysville, Kentucky, where we visited my mother's side of the family. The bridge, which crosses the Ohio River, was designed by Irving Morrow, who is also responsible for the Golden Gate Bridge.
At my mother's grave site in Paris, Kentucky, with my sister. When my mother died several years ago, we held services in Maryland, but until now we had not honored her in her home state.