The country of Saudi Arabia has quite a reputation – and is certainly not an easy place for a woman to travel alone. Yet it was one of the first countries I visited, as a child, when my parents moved there. In the early days of starting this blog, I wrote a piece about my memories there. I haven’t been back since. I thought about deleting it, of neatening it up and removing this reference.
But then I thought again.
These are my memories, albeit from a very different perspective and point in life than where I am when I write about travel now.
But they are still mine.
So, here they are.
My childhood memories of sandpaper-dry heat and the excitement of discovering a chilled “soda” in the basement have formed a veil of dust in my imagination.
I see my mother,through falling leaves of disjointed flashbacks, as a swirl of black-liquorice fabric. I taste the chlorine and smell the rubber arm-bands from learning to swim and I hear the lullaby of the crickets each night, rattling like a broken jewellery box. Yet, by sorting through these fragments, some images sharpen, the opposite process of a shimmering oasis that those children’s cartoons were so fond of.
I remember a trip to a market. My mother, my sister and me. After white-walled housing and women awash in black, the mesh of colours, chattering noises and the glitter of gold-tinged genie lamps overwhelmed me. Despite the scarcity of windows, sunlight carved its own slanted paths into every merchant’s stall.
My silence must have been interpreted as good behaviour, as a rounded man with a soft beard leant forward and placed a necklace over my head. It was an elasticated chain of daisies that matched my linen floor-length shirt, a spice of scarlet and green embroidery at the neckline. He gave one to my sister as well and we felt like Arabian princesses.
I’ve never been back, but I suspect I’d get a different reaction today.