Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Land of Story Books

“At evening when the lamp is lit around the fire my parents sit.  They sit at home and talk and sing and do not play at anything.”  -The Land of Story Books by R. L. Stevenson

There is nothing like exploring a new city.  Just walking out your front door, picking a new direction, and heading that way until you’ve had your fill.
“Now, with my little gun, I crawl all in the dark along the wall, and follow round the forest track away behind the sofa back.”  -The Land of Story Books by R. L. Stevenson

I walked everywhere in Jizan.  The school failed to provide an iqama (immigrant card) and so I wasn’t able to rent or buy a car… so everywhere I went was by foot.
“There, in the night, where none can spy, all in my hunter’s camp I lie. And play at books that I have read till it is time to go to bed.”  -The Land of Story Books by R. L. Stevenson

I’d spend Saturday morning this way, walking down the highway toward the unfinished buildings, through the markets, around the mosques, or over the brown hills toward the Red Sea.
“These are the hills, these are the woods.  These are my starry solitudes.  And there the river by whose brink the roaring lions come to drink.”  -The Land of Story Books by R. L. Stevenson

It was always just a matter of time before I was stopped and harassed by the Saudi police.  They wanted to know why I was taking pictures.  They confiscated my camera.  They made me delete pictures they thought were inappropriate.  
“I see the others far away, as if in firelit camp they lay.  And I, Like to an Indian scout, around their party prowled about.”  -The Land of Story Books by R. L. Stevenson

Imagine me standing on the side of the road and a police car rolling up ordering me to stop.  A uniformed man with night stick stepping out of the vehicle, barking at me in Arabic, demanding to know what I was doing? Where I was going?  Where did I live?  What country was I from?
“So, when my nurse comes in for me.  Home I return across the sea.  And go to bed with backward looks, at my dear land of story books.”  -The Land of Story Books by R. L. Stevenson

Then they would always see the camera and snatch it out of my hands, scrolling through the pictures, deleting this and that.  The gorgeous barren mountain with the soldiers napping on chairs.  The mural of the ships battling pirates in the sea.  The woman in black abaya stooping to wipe the brow of a child.  These policemen glaring at me, ordering me back to the compound, screaming that pictures were not allowed.  I would nod, apologize in a new tongue, turn and feel their eyes memorizing me as I made the long walk back home.

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