The Heart Grows Fonder (and other sentimental cliches)


The first few weeks of living in another country result in stimulation of both mind and senses. New sights to see. New people to meet. New tastes to taste. New smells to smell. But, after the senses adjust, and the novelty of the situation wears off it, its not uncommon for one to begin to miss certain things.

Ive reached that point. The novelty is no longer sufficient to keep my brain stimulated. The job is a job. I get up. I go to work. I go back to the compound and apartment take care of the day-to-day stuff like laundry, housecleaning (yes, I do sweep and take out the trash on occasion), wash dishes, clean out the litter box.

Certainly, there are things that interest me. Theres a lot of history here to explore. Just last week a friend and I took off for Dariyah, the ancestral home of the Saud family, which the Ottomans had destroyed by the Egyptians in the early part of the 19th century, forcing the Sauds and Wahabbis to move their operations to todays capitol, Riyadh. It was interesting to view the remains of the old city wall, to look at the construction, to imagine the purposes for certain structural quirks and features. Here is a link to some photos from that trip:

But, I find I miss some things not everyone misses the same things, but these are the things I find Im missing.

Women I miss interacting with women. There are no women at work, and its forbidden to speak with them in public. No door holding, no polite smiles, no pleasant deference. I was raised to be very polite to women even women I dont like. Here, I cant be polite because I am seldom around them. Three to four times a month, a group of us go out for dinner, and one of the guys brings along his wife and daughter. We bend the rules a bit and manage to get into the family section together, and I find myself really enjoying making conversation with this lady. I like women, and I miss them.

Baseball I love baseball, and its baseball playoff season right now (October) and I am going through MAJOR withdrawals because I cannot watch my teams. My Padres got knocked out in the first round, and I have no real idea what happened. News accounts only go so far in their descriptions, not always catching the little things that a fan who follows the team religiously might catch, those intangibles that make sense to someone with fairly intimate knowledge of the play, character, and approach of the team.

Green I am not a desert kind of guy. I know a lot of folks who do like the desert, and while I can appreciate the starkness (which sometimes can be beautiful); I prefer the mountains, the trees, the rivers, the lakes. Here, the landscape is tan. Or, brown. Or kind of an orange sort of tan. Palm tree fronds, the amazingly open blue sky, and the clich-inducing golden sun provide the only contrast.

Movie Theaters I am a movie fan. They are a consuming interest about which I can talk for hours, nit-picking little details, themes, performances, the good and the bad. Movie theaters (or cinemas, as theyre called here) are against the law in Saudi Arabia. I can rent movies on the compound or watch one of the movie channels on satellite TV, but the experience of watching movies on a small television does not compare at least for me with the immersing experience a large screen and engulfing sound. I could go to Bahrain or the U.A.E to see a film, but thats pretty expensive and a mild hassle at best.

Phone calls We are blessed to live in a time of easy communications, even worldwide. I can use email and chat to converse with my wife, my kids, my family, and my friends. But, sometimes, I want to hear a voice. I am not good at talking on a phone; ten minutes is a LONG conversation on the phone with me. However, I do take pleasure in the sound of the voices of people I love and like. Here, theres really no one to call, and the calls back to The States is so expensive to be prohibitive in most cases. I have voice-over-internet capabilities, but the connections havent been that great, with calls fading in and out hopefully, Ill figure out a way to clear this issue up. The sound of a voice, though, is very satisfying.

Friends Sometimes it is fun to play cards with people you can relax around and laugh with and poke fun at. Sometimes its important to share tasks with others you can help or can help you. Sometimes its important to be able to comfort someone who is not family or have someone who is not family comfort you. Sometimes its just fun to sit and watch old muscle cars drive by and race their engines while you share a sandwich and a soda.

Family Not a lot has changed with this regard. At home, I used phone calls and email to communicate with family; I do the same thing here. But, its not quite as instant, not as spontaneous, not as immediate as it was at home. If something happens to one of them, I cant get there in half-a-day. Thats the part that I am missing here, where I have to plan and allocate each moment of a phone call. That, and there are no great Rummikub games with my mother-in-law and father-in-law on Sunday nights anymore. Vicious people. 😉

Our Place In the year that I lived on our place in Oregon, I really grew to love it. I woke up, looked out the window and saw trees. Id go get some coffee, and Id see turkeys or deer ambling through the yard. Id want some alone time, Id walk out into the forest and listen to the birds call to each other from their perches atop the firs. My wife recently put a sign up on the gate that proclaimed the place as belonging to The Hubbards. I feel a strong, strong tug back there even from 8,000 miles away.

My Animals I am an animal guy. I enjoy a very strong bond with my cats and my dogs. I have a little devil-cat here named Shakira, and she and I are bonding more and more on a daily basis. But, I have very close relationships with the two cats and two dogs back home, and there is a void that exists.

My Wife If you thought Id forgotten, or thought Id avoid a clich, you were wrong. Every morning (sometimes in the evening), my time, she and I chat via the chat client in Gmail. We both enjoy this very much, and its probably been the saving grace of things so far. We can connect each day. Still, though, when I see something interesting or amusing, I cant turn and remark on it, nor can I enjoy her pithy observations. Were both amazed to realize how much she and I talked to each other, and we would never have known it had we not been separated. We appreciate that very much more now than we might have. I miss most the warmth of our embraces and the touch of our kisses. Were both very affectionate with one another, and it is impossible to hold each others hands via the chat client or the weekly phone calls.

Yep, there are a few things I truly miss. In the New Testament book of Romans, Paul talks about the inability to truly understand grace if one has never known sin. Over the centuries, poets have waxed on about not appreciating a love until it was no longer present. More than one traveler has recounted not missing a luxury until they had only the bare necessities in a far off land. My appreciation of what Ive been blessed with is growing daily.


Copyright, Greg Hubbard, 2006.


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