nostalgia.

October 22, 2014

Saying goodbye to Missouri is always hard for me, harder than I ever anticipated it would be when I was in high school and dreamed of making a life Anywhere But Here. I measure my remaining moments by noting “last times”–the last time I will do something here until next year, when I return.

This is the last time I will press a button and hear the reluctant rumble of the garage door opening.

This is the last time I will eat butter-slathered Texas toast from a Dairy Queen chicken strip basket.

This is the last time I will listen to NPR on a long drive, with a bottle of Dr. Pepper and a Chantilly’s-sourced pastry for company.

This is the last time I will watch Saleh chase snobby, petulant geese in the park, begging them to eat the bread crumbs he has saved and brought for them.

This is the last time I will walk through a seasonal swarm of friendly ladybugs that have congregated on the back deck of my parents’ house.

It’s really very melodramatic, and I feel ridiculous as I do it, even though I can’t stop myself and I don’t even bother to try. A few days ago, I was driving somewhere with Mr. Mostafa in the passenger seat, and I said to him, “You know, leaving here…I know how narcissistic and self-centered this sounds, but every time I leave here, it feels kind of like a little death. Because every year, I go, and when I come back, things have changed, things that I probably wouldn’t notice or care about if I lived here all the time. It’s like, I see how life just goes right on without me. It’s like I died.”

Saleh looked puzzled. Then he said, “Well, that’s pretty silly. You want the world to stop when you die?”

I sighed. “No, that’s not what I meant.” Even though I knew that’s exactly how it sounded.

A few days later, I tried again, saying the same thing to my mom. She replied, “I know exactly what you mean.” At first, I was kind of stunned, but then I realized that she must feel the same way when she goes back to California for a visit, every time she drives by San Mateo High School, where she met but never really interacted with my dad (they were in entirely different social circles, as high schools of a certain size are wont to have, unlike my own high school, where social hierarchies were delineated but we all knew and interacted with each other, for better or worse) or the building that once housed the Family Burger, where she worked as a teenager.

I mentioned in my last post that change happens slowly in the Ozarks, and this is true. But things do change, especially in terms of infrastructure. Buildings come and go. As in many other parts of America, a building that has been in existence for seventy years or so has had a reasonably impressive lifespan. Lots of buildings aren’t made up of much more than a wood frame, insulation, sheet rock on the inner walls, and tin sheeting for the outer walls (in major contrast to Saudi Arabia, where pretty much every building is made up of concrete blocks).

For example, when I was in high school, a small building, housing a modest tanning salon, was built a few miles down the highway from our school. It was one of those wood frame/tin wall jobs, but we still appreciated the shiny newness of the building (the smell and sparkle of a new building, like a new car, never gets old). At the time, we girls were all obsessed with tanning, especially, like, right before prom because duh, everyone knows that you look better in a formal dress when you have a tan. I have long maintained that I’m simply not genetically destined to be any shade of brown, even the mottled orangey-brown of a white girl who desperately wants to be tan, despite the shade of my mother’s complexion, which makeup manufacturers generally identify with such breakfast cereal-inspired descriptors as “honey” or “almond” (and yes, she is my biological mother; I don’t have a stepmom and I was not adopted). But for a few months, even I briefly succumbed to peer pressure and dutifully hopped in a friend’s car to go tanning on the afternoons that weren’t occupied by Quiz Bowl or softball practice. Each time, before I got in the tanning bed, I meticulously applied a little heart sticker just above my jutting hipbone (God, I wish I were now as fat as I was back when I was first thinking about how fat I was) in order to gauge my tanning progress (girls who used a sticker in the shape of a Playboy bunny for this purpose were “slutty.” Funny–but sad–how high school girls, and even adult women, will find the silliest reasons to tear one another down). But after several months of religious tanning, I was barely dark enough to be able to see where to apply the heart sticker each time. I gave up and accepted my lot in life as a pale person.

Blessedly, tanning has gone out of style somewhat, although you can still find tanning beds to visit in the Ozarks if that’s really your thing. But the little tanning salon did not survive. Within a few years, it went out of business, and within a few more years, the building was demolished. All that remains of it now is a vacant concrete slab foundation. I feel a little jolt of sadness every time I drive by it, not because I think we need more tanning salons in the world, but because it was there, and now it’s gone, and so quickly. It just feels like such a waste. I wonder where all the tin and sheetrock and wood went. Was it just thrown in a dump somewhere? Was it repurposed? What will happen to that concrete foundation? Will it just sit there forever, a lingering tribute to teenage girls’ once-relentless pursuit of basal and squamous cell carcinomas?

I overthink stuff.

It’s possible that because everything else changes so slowly around the Ozarks, major alterations stand out in stark relief whenever I come home after a long time away. I remember the exact moment, years ago, when I turned onto my parents’ rural lettered highway to find that while I had been away, the center of the road had been graced with two divider lines in fresh yellow paint, when for as long as I had been alive (and I’m going to guess as long as the road has been in existence), it had just been a bare strip of gray asphalt, patchworked with newer black asphalt over the years, with no lines to indicate where it was safe to pass (and as it turns out, there actually is no place on that road where it is safe to pass, so the lines are solid down the entire road). I drove much more slowly down the road that day, amazed. When I pulled up to my parents’ house, my dad came out the front door to greet me, and said, “Hey, sis! Whatcha think of our fancy new road lines?”

It’s in the spirit of shock induced by new road paint that I did a double-take when I drove by a now-blank concrete slab foundation where the local roller skating rink once stood.

“Oh, my gosh! They tore down Skateland!” I exclaimed.

Alli, my 19-year-old cousin who has more maturity in her pinky finger than I did in my entire body at age 19 (and possibly even now), was sitting in the backseat with Lavender. “Nikki, that place has been gone for years!”

“No, it hasn’t!” I objected. “It was still there when I was here last year. I mean, I know it’s been out of business for years, but the building was still there!”

“No, it really wasn’t!” Alli insisted.

“Yeah, it’s been gone for a long time,” my mom agreed.

I didn’t argue, but in my head, I was sure they were wrong. I laughed inwardly at how I was reacting to the loss of this building, which I hadn’t even been in for maybe twenty years. But I used to go there every Wednesday during the summers of my youth. In a moment, I remembered learning to roller skate when I was five, when I fell on my butt so much that it would hurt to sit down for a day or so after I finished skating. I remembered how I would always come home with at least a few sticks of watermelon Laffy Taffy (the kind with black fondant seeds that turned your teeth black). I remembered practicing my splits at the back of the skating floor, where you could practice tricks like that without being in the line of skater traffic. I wanted to be able to do the splits on my skates so that I could win at limbo, but it was a skill I never quite mastered. I remembered birthday parties at Skateland on Saturdays, which were always attended by some unfortunate lackey who had to dress up in large panda costume, complete with a colorful, pointy birthday hat, and skate around with us kids. I remembered that for a few years, I didn’t wear the dull brown rental skates because I had my own pair of skates, white with a large pink pompom on the toes, which I carried to and from Skateland in a red skate bag. I remembered that Skateland was owned and run by a couple named Harry and Veronica; Harry looked like Marc Summers (you know, the Double Dare guy). Veronica was round and had long, dark hair that reached the bottom of her back. I wondered where Harry and Veronica were now and whether they knew Skateland had been torn down.

Yeah, I really overthink stuff.

I know all of this sounds morosely nostalgic. But the thing is, if I had the chance to live in Missouri for the rest of my life, forever and ever amen (as Randy Travis would say), I don’t know that I would take it. Actually, I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t take it. I love Missouri fiercely, but I also know that Missouri and I are best when we’re in an open relationship, when I’m allowed to see other people and places. I know that if I lived in Missouri all the time, I would feel stifled, restless, and frustrated. I would watch the Today show in the morning and think bitterly, “Those lucky bastards, just standing around on the street in New York! Do they even know how lucky they are?” (I used to do this when I was in high school.) I would be constantly counting down the days until I could make the three-and-a-half hour drive to the airport in St. Louis and catch a flight to Somewhere Else.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if this is normal, this pathological dread of having to leave a place in which I know I would never want to settle down permanently, anyway. I know a lot of it has to do with my parents. Every painted road line and every newly blank concrete slab foundation is a physical marker of the fact that they, like all of the rest of us, are getting older. I’m in my thirties now. Leaving my parents is always hard, even though, alhamdulillah, they are nowhere near age-induced dependence on anyone or anything. But still. I don’t want things to change. I don’t want them to get older. I don’t want to creep further and further away from the days when they were my safe haven from everything, when having to be away from them for only a week of summer camp was absolute torture. Now, as then, I’m certainly not going gentle into that good night. I’m going crying and kicking and screaming.

And truth be told, so is my mom. It’s partly her tears that trigger mine. I think she dreads my departures more than I do. Having a mom who is your best friend is partly a blessing and partly a curse. But in truth, I know the blessing outweighs the curse. I’m grateful that my mom loves me and misses me when I’m gone. I’m grateful that she feels my absence so acutely and always wants me home with her, even as she understands and respects my choice to live far away from my parents. After all, it’s a choice she once had to make for herself. I’m grateful that once I reached a certain age, my parents trusted me to make my own choices about my adult life, to strike out and follow my own path, even if it has taken me far away from them.

And that’s why I’ll always come back.

photo 13 750x500 nostalgia.

 

ozarks culture.

October 15, 2014

So, before I get started here, I will give you a warning that there is a bit of bad language later on in this post. Be warned. Okay, on with the show.

The Ozarks, the American region that raised me, is an insular place. This part of America, southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, is very much like Saudi Arabia in that the people here are some of the friendliest in the world, while some of the most guarded at the same time. Thus, I have always had tremendous respect for people who come to the Ozarks and jump headfirst into life here, even when they stick out like a sore thumb. Especially when they stick out like a sore thumb.

In this closed rural area, outsiders are warmly welcomed, while often never entirely accepted. In a more urban area, people congregate from around the country and the world. You’re bound to find a group of friends which includes others like you, people who have chosen to build a life in a part of the country in which they were not born and/or raised. But the Ozarks is a place of entrenched generations. Everyone knows your parents, if not other details of your extended family tree. You’ll find yourself being stopped by random people at Walmart who ask probing questions that demonstrate their thorough knowledge of your life and lineage, and you’ll answer them because obviously, they know very well who you are, even if you can’t return the courtesy. You’ll absorb knowledge about rural life, little maxims that you don’t even realize you have stored in your brain until you find yourself educating a visitor about them when necessary, like, don’t walk directly behind a horse without patting him to let him know you’re there.

In the Ozarks, change comes slowly or not at all. The chances are high that when you go to sit down for a parent-teacher conference with your child’s first grade teacher, you won’t be nervous because she was your first grade teacher, too. My parents still don’t have high-speed internet; since they live out in the country, they use a satellite internet provider that offers them a limited amount of bandwidth at a speed somewhere between DSL and dial-up, and if they exceed that bandwidth limit, their internet slows to dial-up speeds. The local internet service provider still offers dial-up for customers who are unwilling to spring for satellite internet but live in places that can’t get high-speed internet yet.

It’s a place that regards visitors with only the most perfunctory curiosity, especially if said visitors come from a very different culture or place…that is, until they do something weird. I’ve been lucky enough to see my share of brave visitors come here and make their mark, including the guy I married. I like to think that it’s at least partly due to their influence that I’ve never been too severely hampered by the expectations of my home culture.

My grandpa was the original weird ethnic visitor whose arrival and acclimation to the Ozarks I observed with fascination. My grandpa, my mom’s father, lived in California. He was Mexican-American, a proud Army veteran whose daughter had married a guy from the Ozarks and moved there with him shortly after they got married. My dad never got along very well with most of my mom’s family, but he always liked my grandpa.

The truth is, it was really hard for anyone to not like my grandpa. He was brown, short, and spoke with a thick Spanish accent, which made him conspicuous enough in southern Missouri, but he was also hilarious. He was always joking or singing, and he had this laugh that sounded like a snake hissing (which, weirdly enough, my husband also does. Whenever he laughs like this, I am stopped in my tracks because he sounds so much like my grandpa). He had zero concern about what the Ozarkians thought of him. Which meant, of course, that he was incredibly fun.

One time when he and my grandma visited, he wanted to be able to drive around and get out and about while my parents were at work. Aside from my parents’ cars, the only reliably running vehicle on the place at that time was a Chinook camper truck, which my brother, my cousins, and I adored back then because we would sit in the back and play cards while our parents drove. We thought the Chinook was the coolest thing ever until junior high hit us all, when suddenly it became a source of humiliation to have parents that actually sometimes drove a Chinook camper truck around town.

My parents gave my grandpa the keys to the Chinook and told him to go wherever he wanted. And he did. We found that out when one of my mom’s coworkers at the bank where she worked, which was (well, is) located on the town square, came to my mom’s desk to inform her that my grandpa had been spotted driving the Chinook camper truck around and around the one-way square…in the wrong direction.

To be honest, I’m sure that the Summer of Grandpa in the Camper helped usher in the Chinook Embarrassment Era. Still, to this day, I giggle a little in my head at the thought of my grandpa completely unselfconsciously bopping around the square in the wrong direction in the Chinook. I miss him all the time, and I can’t help but think that he and Mr. Mostafa would have gotten along famously. He never let anyone make him feel like he didn’t belong, and I adored that about him.

My grandpa was the first diverse, if intrepid, visitor to the Ozarks that I ever encountered, but he certainly wasn’t the only one. When I was in high school, we got an exchange student for the very first time. This was extremely significant for us, because my high school was tiny. So tiny, in fact, that it was not really a high school at all, but actually a preschool through twelfth grade school. It remains that way to this day. There are separate buildings, of course (the first graders aren’t jolted from their reading circles by a bell ringing as the high schoolers spill out of classrooms and noisily slam locker doors on their way to their next classes), but it’s actually one big school. I had 29 kids in my graduating class, and this was a really large class (apparently, there was some sort of Ozarkian baby boom in 1983). People look at me like I’m making this up when I tell them this, especially people who identify as originating from a small town but actually had graduating classes well in the hundreds, like I’m just trying to outdo them with my rural cred.

City slickers.

Our exchange student, Rafael, was from Brazil. He, like my grandfather, was short, brown, and very funny. On the day he arrived in the Ozarks, his host family threw a barbecue and bonfire to welcome him. Everyone was there. We all couldn’t wait to meet the new Brazilian in our midst. I mean, a new kid from Michigan or Idaho was exotic enough to us. Brazil! We didn’t know what to do with ourselves.

At one point during the evening, after grilled hot dogs and chips had been consumed but before marshmallow roasting commenced, Rafael was standing in a circle of about fifteen of us kids, telling us about his journey from Brazil to the United States. He described how he had landed in New York and spent one night at a hotel in a skyscraper, in a room with an amazing view. A really amazing view, as it turns out.

“I look out the window,” he said, “And I see, in the pool on the roof of the building next to me, there are two people, and they are…” he lowered his voice, and then continued, “fucking. And I go away from the window, and then I come back, and they are still there”–again, he lowered his voice–“fucking. And I say to myself, ‘Ah, this is America.'”

It was at this point that I began to feel a bit sorry for Rafael, because out of all the genuinely cool places to be found in America, he ended up having to spend a year in the one place that was guaranteed to crush any lingering notions of sex in a high-rise rooftop swimming pool as a quintessentially American experience.

As Rafael concluded his story with a laugh, every single one of us in the circle of his new schoolmates gasped in horrified glee. This kid just said the f-word! And in front of adults, too! He was funny, and we considered him brave. It never occurred to us that maybe, just maybe, he might have been brave for traveling from Brazil to America at the age of 15 in order to spend an entire year with a family he had never met before, in a place he had never been, in a culture that he probably didn’t really get and which certainly didn’t really get him. No, he was brave because he said the f-word where any adult could have sauntered by and heard the whole scandalous story. Because we all knew that if he had been caught, he would have been in trouble. That is America, buddy.

Rafael was a great kid, and we really enjoyed having him in our school. Looking back, I’m kind of amazed at how well he integrated into Ozarks life over his year here.

And then, of course, we come to Mr. Mostafa. The number of little cultural scrapes and misunderstandings that he and I have navigated here over the years is practically endless, and I expect it will remain so. Like my grandpa and Rafael before him, he always does his best to handle them with a smile. Last week, we had lunch at Ruby Tuesday with a table full of my family members and their significant others, a few of whom had never met Saleh, and others who hadn’t seen him in a few years. The waitress asked us what we wanted to drink.

“Water, please,” Saleh asked. “Room temperature.”

I immediately realized that the kid had been in Riyadh too long. No one in the States–or, at least, no one in the Ozarks–will ever ask you what temperature you would prefer for your water, while in Riyadh, it’s standard restaurant practice to ask if you want your water chilled or at room temperature.

The waitress looked confused, and a bit irked. “No ice, please,” I clarified to her. The entire table was watching and listening. Then, feeling nervous lest everyone think that Mr. Mostafa was acting snobby, rude, and obnoxious, I made some sort of joke about the situation, which I now cannot recall. Everyone laughed, including Saleh. The tension was melted, and that was that.

But later on, when we got home, he was sulky. “You really hurt me with the water thing,” he said. “I felt like the whole table was laughing at me.”

I apologized to him, and I explained that at the time, I felt like my options were limited. I could have kept my mouth shut and let the waitress set him straight about American restaurants and room temperature water. I could have “corrected” him seriously. Or I could have made a little joke that framed the situation as a cultural misunderstanding (which is exactly what it was), so that everyone else at the table would see that he wasn’t being rude or demanding. Of course, now that I have the hindsight to sit and think the incident through, I’m sure there were other options, as well. But in that split second, I could only identify those three, and I chose the last one.

“Which would you rather everyone at the table think?” I said to him. “You know the stereotypes that exist about Arabs. Would you rather them think you’re a mean, obnoxious Arab guy demanding room temperature water, or that you’re good guy who just had little a cultural misunderstanding?”

He was quiet for a second. Then he said, “Yeah, I see your point.”

Being in a bicultural relationship is tricky. This is obvious from the first time you take your significant other to meet your family, especially if your family is unaccustomed to interacting with people from other cultures. They think he’s odd. His preferences are strange. He talks about weird things. (He drives in different directions.)

And when your significant other is a Saudi, the differences are compounded because of the endlessly perpetuated stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims. Mr. Mostafa may never have to deal with the outward discrimination that my grandpa and Rafael may have had to deal with, since he doesn’t immediately appear as though he doesn’t belong (translation–he’s white). He even dresses the part when he’s here–he has an affinity for workboots and flannel button-up shirts. But the minute he opens his mouth, it’s obvious he wasn’t born and raised in the Ozarks. And in truth, when we show up at a gathering, everyone knows that he’s my Saudi husband, the guy who moved me halfway around the world to live in the desert. So not only does feel like he has to prove that he can fit in here, he also has to do his best to shed the weight of stereotypes and preconceived notions. Whether he likes it or not, he’s permanently connected to this part of the world now, and he doesn’t want to be regarded as a walking stereotype when he’s here. I don’t want that for him, either. I wonder if Rafael ever felt that way. I wonder if my grandpa felt that way. And I can’t help but feel that it’s unfair that all of them are, were, or would have been subject to that pressure.

The good news is that because of our bicultural status, Mr. Mostafa and I have a head start on finding awkward situations through which to inflict monstrous embarrassment on our child. And we’ll even be able to save some money by not having to buy a Chinook camper truck. Mr. Mostafa’s an accountant, after all. He appreciates a good bargain.

embarrassment 750x499 ozarks culture.

two homes.

October 8, 2014

I hate the movie Juno.

I liked it when I first saw it in the theater. Or at least, I didn’t hate it. I found it quirky and charming, exactly what it was intended to be. I liked the sweet, simple soundtrack songs by Kimya Dawson. I liked Juno’s cheeseburger phone. I loved the retro-esque (and subtly subversive) window art at Bren’s nail shop. I had to blink back a tear when (spoiler alert, but not really, because if you’ve even seen a preview for the movie, you know that Juno does not get an abortion) Juno goes running out of the abortion clinic and Su-Chin calls after her, “God appreciates your miracle!” (And I’m pro-choice.)

But when I watched the movie a second and a third time, I noticed something that I hadn’t paid too much attention to when I saw it for the first time, and it really stuck under my craw. (Again, spoiler alert, but you know what, this movie is like, eight years old or something. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can’t hold me responsible for spoiling it for you.)

No one tells Paulie’s parents anything.

This kills me. I cannot stomach the way the movie is basically like, “Well, Paulie’s mom is fat and ugly and doesn’t like Juno, so it’s okay that no one tells her that her son knocked up his friend and now they’re giving the baby away and she will never know that she has a grandchild out there.”

Am I the only one who thinks that this is just terrible? I mean, I’m fat. I’m probably going to get fatter. I’m probably not going to like all of my kids’ friends. Does that mean I don’t deserve to be informed if (God forbid) my child has impregnated or has been impregnated? There’s this one scene where Juno comes over to Paulie’s house, is basically a rude little snot to Paulie’s mother–because remember, Paulie’s mother is fat and ugly and does not like Juno, although I can’t say that I blame her, given how completely entitled Juno acts when she comes over to visit Paulie. If you totally disregard what I say to you and then dart past me and run up the stairs in my home, damn straight I’m going to chase you, you little brat. Who the hell do you think you are? And quite frankly, I think Paulie’s mom was much too nice when she didn’t knock down the door to Paulie’s room after Juno slammed it in her face. I would have dragged that girl out of my house by the belt loops of her edgy army surplus cargo pants.

And then, after Juno slams the door in Paulie’s mother’s face, she sits down and actually tells Paulie that her parents have agreed not to “rat him out” to his parents! Because, you know, Juno’s parents are cool.

No, Juno’s parents are horrible. Horrible.

I mean, I’m all for privacy rights for teenagers. I don’t think that I am entitled to read everything teenage Lavender writes on her computer. I don’t think that I am entitled to scour teenage Lavender’s phone for evidence of transgression. People, including teenagers, are entitled to private thoughts, private communication, private feelings, and private lives.

But I do draw lines. Pending reproduction and trouble with the law are deal-breakers. I want to know about those things, especially when my children are teenagers. Yep, I am entitled to know about those things. Paulie’s mom was certainly entitled to know about those things–especially since Paulie was still living in her house, eating the Hot Pockets that she bought for him, and wearing the running shorts that she laundered in color-safe bleach for him.

But there’s this one line in the movie that redeems it for me. Just one. It’s when Juno says, “I never realize how much I like being home until I’ve been someplace really different for awhile.”

And when Juno says this, I just want to hug her and cry and say, “Oh, little Juno! I know how you feel, spirit sister!”

We’re back in Missouri for a few weeks, and it feels so great to be home. Because Riyadh is undoubtedly someplace really different that I’ve been for awhile. It’s not inherently better or worse. It’s just…well, really different.

It’s strange how some of the superficial things I always said I missed when I was back in Riyadh are the things that I don’t care so much about now that I’m here. But there are other things that I didn’t even realize I was living without.

Like fresh Ozarks morning air. No desert dust. No city traffic exhaust. Just air. Heavy with dew. Clean. It’s so weird how you can almost taste the air when you breathe it. And it’s even weirder how delicious it is.

As if the universe is trying to really hammer home how much I am missing when I am away, I have had almost no issues with allergies, asthma, or migraines while home on this trip. Generally, I’m so busy self-medicating here that a return to Riyadh is at least a relief on that front. But this time, it seems I won’t have that ease to cushion the blow of having to leave my home.

My home.

I’m so deeply conflicted.

When we landed in New York, I had an interesting little conversation with the passport control officer at the window where we got our passports stamped. He thumbed through our passports, looked at our border declaration form, and then looked up at us, confused by where I had written “USA” as our country of residence. Yes, I know that sounds nuts. Obviously, we live in Saudi Arabia. But identifying Saudi Arabia as my country of residence felt so…final. Like I was somehow permanently discarding my American identity (which, of course, is ridiculous).

“So…” the officer said. “Which of you live here?” He looked at Saleh and said, “Do you have a green card?”

“I’m a citizen. So is our daughter,” I said. I pointed to our (American) address on the form. “That’s our house. It belongs to us.”

“But…you’re not residents?”

I froze. I must have looked like a deer caught in the headlights, because the officer said to me gently, “It’s okay. You can say that your home is in Saudi Arabia.”

I let out a deep breath. “Yeah, I guess technically, we do live in Saudi Arabia.”

The officer crossed out “USA” and wrote “Saudi Arabia” in its place. Then he continued with the process of stamping our passports and said in a jovial voice, “I thought so! Because if he doesn’t have a green card, he can’t be a resident, and I’m sure he doesn’t want to live away from his girls. He would miss you too much!”

“That’s true!” Saleh agreed.

The officer finished stamping and handed the stack of passports back to me. Smiling, he said, “Welcome home!”

I wanted to hug him.

Yes, I am home. But on this visit home, my third since I moved to Riyadh, I feel more acutely than ever that Riyadh is home now, too. There are constantly little things that remind me of Riyadh, or make me think about how different Riyadh is. There are moments when I think about how much southern Missouri is a part of me and has shaped me in ways I never even noticed until I left. There are moments when I think about how I don’t know how I will be able to bear having to leave it. And then there are moments when I think about how I wouldn’t be able to bear never going back to Riyadh.

I don’t want to leave.

I don’t want to stay.

I don’t want to leave.

I don’t want to stay.

It’s so hard. But it’s okay. The transition to having two homes is never easy, and like it or not, I have two homes now. And no matter where I am, home is waiting for me. That’s a really nice feeling.

photo 7 750x562 two homes.