Sunday, May 30, 2004


I grew up in Saudi Arabia. I lived there for sixteen years, most of which I spent on a "compound." A compound was a self-contained town. You had a supermarket, a gym, a swimming pool and tennis courts, sometimes even a theatre and a library, right at home. Compounds were safe. Kids played outside till they were called in at night. The neighbours knew every little thing about you.

I loved the water. I swam every day of the summer, which lasted about three months. I would wear my swimsuit under my school clothes (not the most comfortable thing), get off the bus after school, run home and dump my schoolbag inside the door, and then zip off to the pool, until the sun set and my mom called me in to do homework.

When school was out, we had "pool parties" every weekend. An appointed treasurer would collect five riyals from each of us (our weekly allowance) to order pepperoni pizza, which we'd eat after our late-night swims at someone's house. Dripping wet stick figures relishing pizza and telling stories and growing up.

Our parents loved the beach. We'd go to Half Moon Beach a couple times a month. After wading in the sea and soothing jellyfish stings and a big dinner of kabsa (a rice and lamb preparation), we geared up for the evening's big event - the bonfire. We'd scrounge around the beach for anything that would burn, assemble it in a mighty heap, along with notebooks and test papers we'd viciously carried along. We learnt the joys of kerosene on those outings, and that plastic smells when it's burnt, and how to manipulate Spin the Bottle (or the plastic fork). It was that way for a while.

Yesterday, a compound in Al-Khobar was attacked by "militants." It's a place I knew, a place close to my old home, where friends had then lived. It's hard, and sad, to imagine militancy, unrest, breaking that calm.