In Saudi, I spent a lot of time staring at the walls. With 115F degree heat outside, there wasn’t much else to do. I lost hours inside, thinking, pacing, writing letters, and of course, reading.
I read every single English book I could find. There was a book store with limited selection of classics… Dicken’s Bleak House. Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. Yeah, I know… a lot of male dominated 19th century lit… where’s the Austen and Bronte sisters? Are you serious? Do muslims allow women authors into their country?
That’s why finding George Eliot was my own little hilarious secret.
I mean, what modern person actually sits down to read Bleak House let alone The Mill on the Floss. Narratives filled with unrequited desire, clashes of family bonds, intense awakenings both spiritual and intellectual that result in tragic isolation and death. Books written in the depths of personal anguish and enlightenment, meant to be poured through on rainy afternoons… and so, what else was there to do in the desert. (Personally, I cloud have written about the cache of George RR Martin books I poured through… those books are like Twinkies filled with heroin) But this is a blog about surviving in the desert, and you've already heard too much about Game of Thrones.
Here’s what my life in Saudi was reduced to when I wasn't teaching. I’d wake up in the morning and boil water in the sparse kitchen, drinking flavored sugar coffee from a chipped glass mug.
I would fry a slice of bread on a pan. Maybe there were eggs from the store.
Oh… have I mentioned the store yet? No? Well, there was a little grocery store about half a mile from the compound that had only non-perishable foods like cake mixes and soda crackers. I would walk there every day for water. Of course, if you didn’t have water, there was no other place to buy it… and if you were even one minute late and arrived during prayer time… the entire store was closed and you’d have to wait an hour while you staved off the Grim Reaper (I accidently typed Grim Reader… yes, pun intended).
So I would return to the apartment and stare at the walls… or go up on the roof of the apartment and run wind sprints between the walls. Hartenstein… why are you running on the roof of your apartment? Oh, I haven’t told you how I was almost arrested and threatened by the police for jogging outside the compound. Yeah, that was nice. (my make shift clothes dryer is pictured above)
And... as if I couldn't contain my excitement any more… I would sweep. There was always plenty of sweeping to be done because of the sand everywhere. Sand in my ears. Sand on my toothbrush. Sand on my burnt morning toast. Sand seeped in under the doors, through the closed window, through the air-conditioning vents. Even inside, the desert was always trying to swallow me whole.
So I survived on books. What a shock! I can think of many pains worse than that delightful death.