Country of my birth,
Misunderstood, sparse, sandy,
Love of sun instilled.
In 1988, I was born in Dhahran, a city in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. I consider myself lucky to have been born in such a fascinating country.
My family left Saudi Arabia in 1992, when I was 4 years old, so I don't remember very much of it. I do have some extremely vague memories of sun and sand, but it's hard to say whether those are real memories or just imaginations. Actually, a handful of random memories do stick out: getting caught in a sandstorm, swimming (and almost drowning once, saved by my heroic older brother!) in a swimming pool, listening to my dad's Dire Straits cassettes in his car, and meeting an American soldier posted to Saudi Arabia for the Gulf War.
I think it's possible that living the first few years of my life in Saudi Arabia instilled in me a lifelong love of sunshine and blue skies. Though I can't say that I love that kind of heat - so often incredibly intense and insufferable.
From conversations with my parents over the years, it seems that most of our days were spent in the Saudi Aramco Residential Camp, which is a kind of gated community for employees of Saudi Aramco (and their families), where roughly 10,000 people live. Al-Khobar was the nearest major city, to which we sometimes ventured. I think I may have been to Jeddah and Riyadh too, but I don't have any personal memories of these places.
I still keep in touch with friends and friends-of-the-family from my time living in Saudi Arabia, and combined with speaking to my parents about their 10 years spent living there, it's intriguing to hear about their experiences and memories of the country. Of course, Saudi Arabia is a controversial place, but I believe it is often misunderstood. I'll leave deeper social commentary on the country to others who are better informed than I. But what I can say is that from a travelling perspective, it's fortunate to have been born in Saudi Arabia, because it doesn't seem like an easy place to visit as a tourist.
I'd love to go back one day, particularly to Dhahran, to see if it jogs memories from my early childhood. The closest I have been since leaving at the age of 4 was when I visited Bahrain in 2005 and went half way along the King Fahd Causeway to look out into the distance towards the Eastern District of Saudi Arabia. Even that experience evoked a brief glimmer of hazy memories of sun, sand, and the unique Saudi culture.