Spring Is in the Air
By Bilquis Ahmed
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

Spring is in the air here. It makes me miss the springtime in Southern California, the roses, irises and tulips blooming in gardens. I especially miss the peppermint striped roses that bloom in our garden back home. I also miss seeing jacaranda trees with their purple flowers that form a circular carpet on the ground.
Here in the fake oasis, frangipani bloom rampantly as do bougainvillea and hibiscus. Most of all, I miss my son and daughter. My son and I would watch together all the basketball playoff games we could. We can watch them here, but even hearing the commentary creates a knot in my throat. I miss being in the kitchen cooking with my daughter.
Spring is in the air and so is the dust. A ferocious dust storm swept through this area a few days ago and welcomed us to our new home in the new compound.
“What’s that sound? I ask while I wash the dinner dishes.
“Just the wind,” my youngest daughter responds.
The whirring of the wind sounds like being in an IMAX production. I place the last plate in the dish rack and glance up. A fog of dust encircles the light fixture above the breakfast nook. My daughter, with her head buried in her I-pad, remains oblivious to the sand cloud that hangs over her.
“Quickly close all the windows!” I command. I rush to the living room where my husband is also engrossed in his laptop. He too has remained unaware of the sand spray that’s filling the house.
All the windows had been left open. It had been a pleasant, clear spring day and the sandstorm hit suddenly, unannounced. If I had checked the Facebook, I would have seen the numerous warnings and timely shut the windows. The wind howls louder as we shut the windows. We are choked on the heavy sand-laden air. Outside, the sand created a fog which cast trees in eerie murky shadows. The palms, visible in front of our window, whirled violently like helicopter propellers. The leaves rustled and flapped on the banyan and frangipani trees, the sound like an ascending flock of geese.
By the time we closed all the windows, every nook, cranny, crevice and ledge had been coated with a thick layer of fine red sand. A friend, who also missed the warnings, wrote “sand” on all her furniture. It reminded me of those dirty cars where strangers write “wash me” to implore the owner to clean the car. So much sand invaded the house that the floor appeared like the beach. We scrambled for an hour and a half dusting and vacuuming. The dust continued to settle over the next few days and we repeated the cleaning process. Removing the sand and dust took nearly four days. We suffered from breathing problems, sore throats and runny noses for the next week.
The shamal which swept through the area is the product of weather conditions in the Persian Gulf that create strong winds aimed in the north towards Turkey and Iraq and in the southwest towards Saudi Arabia. Shamals occur more frequently in the spring and can blow furiously for 3-5 days, with wind velocity reaching 45mph and temperatures reaching 102F. We’ve had more shamals blow through since then. None have been as severe and we’ve been forewarned.
The move to the main compound has provided many advantages. It has revived my spirits in many ways. Reclaimed water irrigates the vast public spaces turning the arid, rocky soil into lush emerald vistas. Seeing so much green on the manicured golf course and along the wide medians gladdens my soul. Shocking pink bougainvillea blooms in hedges and immaculately tended topiaries line our drive. White frangipani, with a sweet fragrance that can’t be duplicated, look stunning contrasted against the long, green leaves.
Because the look of this compound is based on a southern California community, I see strangely familiar venues which are disappointingly far from home. For instance, one street resembles apartments I see on PCH in Redondo Beach. The track at the middle school reminds me of Mira Costa High in Manhattan Beach. The Hills section looks like parts of gated communities in Irvine, whereas the main camp resembles Cerritos. The Hills Park reminds me so much of Polliwog Park in Manhattan Beach. It contains a small lagoon that attracts egrets, with their proud and regal necks. A palm tree lined median evokes images of iconic Beverly Hills Blvd. A grove of banyan and pine trees reminds me of a resort in Palm Desert. Do I sound homesick? Am I yearning for home?
Spring tonic: walking. Many walking trails and paths dot the main compound. Lush trees and tall hedges hide the parched desert beyond. In the previous compound, walking was boring and monotonous. Every house on every street looked the same. No one had front yards, only back patios trimmed with grass. Friends half-jokingly called the place a stalag. I’m much more active here, although I restrict walking in the balmy evenings. I’m sure if I walked during the day I could fry an egg on my head. At night, the city lights twinkle softly and I almost believe it’s the view of Torrance looking down from Palos Verdes. I know I’m seeking the comfort of the familiar. Even our house is bordered by streets whose names are Rolling Hills Blvd. and Peninsula Blvd. Sometimes I feel like I’m in an alternate universe.
What’s unnerving is seeing people who remind me of friends and family. The resemblance can be uncanny. I think that person has your smile. Or I hear a voice that sounds just like you. Or that hairstyle looks just like yours. At those moments, my heart swells with longing to be back home. Perhaps technology will reach the stage of Star Trek and we can teletransport ourselves instantly. Until then, I hold the memories of the people and places I love in my heart and mind.



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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