Yesterday I experienced my first sandstorm. If I had to use one word to describe a sandstorm, it would be… “disgusting,” really. In a rain storm, there’s this feeling of freshness in the air, a certain alive-ness that gets up into your head via the nose and stays there as long as the grass is wet. None of that with a sandstorm – just wind trying to rip your face apart, starting with the corners of your eyes, forcing this subliminal dustiness up into your sinuses and between your teeth. It makes your fingers slippery and coats your throat. I put on sunglasses to give my eyes some protection from the sand. The added shade made it almost impossible to see through the already murky dusk.
The air actually becomes colored – like, not just the atmosphere up in the sky, but the air right in front of your face is no longer clear. Everything takes on a brownish-orange tinge – it put me in the kind of mood that aborts imagination and precludes joy. When I was a kid, I remember running outside in a fierce rain storm, with fat drops hurtling down so furiously that they stung my face. I ran around our garden and laughed maniacally, sent into ecstasy by the rain. That would never happen in a sandstorm.
I wonder if it’s the sand, or the lack of moisture, that makes people be like they are here. I met my fellow teachers yesterday. My office mate is a very pleasant Canadian, about my age, who has been here for a couple years. The rest of the teachers, I regret saying, do not seem to be very enjoyable to be around. I can get along with them on a personal level, but it seems that everyone who has been here for more than a year or two carries a chip on their shoulder towards Arabs and Arab culture. They stick the place out for a paycheck, but the loneliness of compound living and the austerity of sharia law seem to wear people down quickly. Many of them would kill the boredom with a drink, but of course there’s nothing like that for hundreds of miles. All the pretty girls have bags on their head. And all the rock’n’roll must be listened to at the volume of a whisper – it’s like lights out at church camp, here in KSA.
It seems like it’s par for the course for teachers to become bitter and reactionary here. I’m determined not to adopt these attitudes myself. But as the sandstorm took my breath away and dried out my eyeballs, I began to understand why it might be difficult to remain cheerful. This is a severe place.