It has been an overwhelming few days. I didn’t anticipate that I would feel any tremors of culture shock in a country that I have been preparing myself to adapt to for almost four years. This is a big deal to me. Meeting my husband’s family is a big deal to me; it was such a big deal that I totally overthought it and overwhelmed myself and the moment I had been waiting for since my nikkah was effected tremendously by my unfailing anxiety and I forgot every piece of Saudi etiquette I had been memorizing and rehearsing for the past three years.

Early morning Riyadh, looking like a watercolour

It’s funny how fear can make us forget everything in an instant. In the past five days, I have faced at least ten forms of fear:

1. Navigating a crowded airport terminal

2. Flying in a large plane across the Atlantic

3. Navigating a crowded airport terminal, Istanbul edition.

4. Elder child puking all over herself before our last connecting flight.

5. Losing part of our luggage.

6. The nightmare of dragging a two-and-a-half-year old and a ten-month-old through three different airports. Alone.

7. Every time I had to ask a stranger for help

8. Every time my oldest kid broke free from her Stare-Inducing Child Leash™️.

9. Elder spawn puked all over herself in front of everyone

10. Looking out the window of the plane at the teeny tiny world below

But despite the panic attacks and the sporadic crying fits I had, I have experienced twice-as-many beautiful things:

1. Seeing my husband leap across the balustrade at the airport, smiling from ear to ear to lift his oldest daughter after 9 months of separation.

2. The look on my oldest daughter’s face when she realized it was Baba.

3. A Najdi thunderstorm, and subsequent dance in the rain on a high-walled balcony

4. The wild cats that slink under parked cars

5. The wild dogs that yip from out of the Wadi Hanifa late at night, reminding me of the coyotes that scuffed around my childhood farmhouse.

6. Traditional Saudi food

7. How it feels to be talked-to in a foreign language and feeling your way into understanding

8. The feeling of a whole family accepting you as their own

9. Friday morning tea with the love of my life for the first time in almost a year.

10. Watching my youngest reach for her father’s face for the first time

11. The cacti outside my door, called Sabar.

12. How the Arabian sky can mesh tangerine with violet effortlessly

13. The light warm kiss of the winter night.

14. The fragrance of cardamom and saffron in Arabic coffee

15. How the adhans bloom across Riyadh as if a succession of lighthouse beacons, earnestly calling us into prayer

16. Freedom to be myself in my best form, without fear

17. The precious and humbling moment of flying across the Red Sea, and thinking “I am looking down at the waters Moses parted”.

18. Hearing my Other Half laughing in his sleep, finally, once more

19. Sukkari and Ikhlas dates

20. The relief that comes with the reunion of two halves of a pair; complétude, like the end of a marathon or the first sip of water after a fast.

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