Friday, December 28, 2012

Land of Illusion

Our "Historic" house on camp.  Circa 1950ish.
I awoke the other day to the exotic call of a bird just outside our bedroom window.   It apparently had spent some time in a tropical rainforest, where such sounds seem normal.  I find it strange hearing it here, but understand the root of my confusion.

I have been very negligent in maintaining this blog during the past year.   This has been a time of transition for myself and my wife.   We decided to take a big gamble, sell the house and move half way around the world.   We thought that it would be interesting to take on some new challenges and get a larger perspective on the world and its inhabitants.   So here we are for the time being: Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

The Rub al Khali desert landscape is a difficult place.   There is very little water.   What was here historically is now greatly diminished due to well pumping.   Natural vegetation is sparse, but severe in its tenacious endurance.    It can be terribly hot in the summer.   Daily highs in excess of 120 degrees F. are not uncommon.    Periodically, a north wind kicks up and brings in dust from as far away as Turkey.   When the Shamal is active, the sky turns to a burning orange and then darkens sets in as the dust completely engulfs the sun. 

We live in a western compound of 12,000.   It has all the amenities of home.   This is no surprise as it was originally built by Americans in late 1930’s.   The houses, lawns, streetscape, everything looks like it was transported from the United States.    And a lot of it was as recently as the early 90’s when US military family housing intended to support the first Bush foray into Iraq ended early.   Several boat loads of suddenly unneeded prefab housing ended up in the Dammam port and is now installed on camp.   Open your eyes and you will think you are in any-town tract suburbia in the US.

The original Americans were apparently not amused by the local archetypes and decided to replicate home as closely as possible.   Green lawns maintained via heavy irrigation is key to the illusion.   Concrete must be watered also.   The Shamal dust mixes with the Arabia Gulf moisture to create a semi-hard dust coating on everything.   Our first morning upon arrival involved constant door bell interruptions by small, marginally coherent but very conversive, extremely dark skinned men from Bangladesh looking to be our “gardener”.   One major responsibility of said gardener is to wash the walks with a garden hose on a daily basis.   This reputedly safely enconses the dust back in the soil from which it originates.

The population of the kingdom is growing exponentially.   Construction of multifamily housing is apparent nearly everywhere here in the Eastern Province.  Fortunately, I am starting to see the locals take action on the diminishment of precious resources.   Water meters are about to be installed at everyone’s house with the intent to inhibit waste.   Solar PV is being used to shade cars at a major new office building.   This is replacing the “normal” fabric canopy that is common in parking lots in this part of the world to mitigate heat island effect.   Insulation is just starting to be considered, primarily with a move to clad existing buildings with EIFS to at least add some protection from nature’s severity.

In the meantime, we dwell a bit in disillusion.   It may look like home, but it isn’t.   Come to find out, the bird in my yard is a common Mynah.    Where he learned to imitate that song, I have no idea.   But it isn’t his original creation and it certainly is out of place here.    In a strange way, that seems appropriate. 

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