Today I started reading a brilliant satire, Florence of Arabia by Christopher Buckley. Involving the Wasabis (world’s biggest oil exporters), small desert country of Matar, and Florence, a former Department of State officer who is recruited by the “Department of Outside the Box” to stabilize the Middle East by emancipating for 800 million Muslim women, I am finding it a quirky trip back to the Middle East.
I realized how much I miss the Middle East. The constant challenge of thinking differently, the glorious weather, the excitement of being assumed odd; I knew I missed those parts. But reading Florence, I remembered other things: the nutty, orientalist spirit of the Westerners who live there and echo Laurence of Arabia, the delightful jerk of remembering the other side of history, the pure fun of speaking a language I don’t look like I could. Then the sensations come: the joy of a sandy wind, the feeling of being baked cleanly by the sun, the sound of the call to prayer metering my time.
Near the end of middle school, sorting books for my parents’ church’s booksale, I found Inside a U.S. Embassy. I read it fully three or four times before graduating, and falling a little more in love with the Foreign Service at each pass. After hearing from friends that undergraduates who interned for the Department of State spent their days giving tours in windowless buildings and being told by the Department of State representatives I sought out at every career fair that they were at Carnegie Mellon to obtain Computer Science majors, I decided to spend my college summers doing good work for groups like Human Rights USA and the Polaris Project. But the Department of States still has an allure. Whether that is how I’ll get back to the Middle East, or through a scholarship, or a job, I am not sure.
But I know I have to go back, because the land’s in my blood now. I can’t get it out.
“Ideals are like stars; you will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them you will reach your destiny.”–Carl Schurz
PS: Every time I look for quotes about loving the Middle East, I jerk when I realize all of the easy-to-find quotes about the Middle East are snarks from U.S. politicians or about Israel. But just as I start to feel eccentric and isolated, my mind flips to the hundreds of people I met in Doha and around the region who still crazily love it.
PPS: there is a movie being made of Florence, though beware the linked review–the reviewer manages to mispell Qatar and mischaracterize the Middle East all in eight paragraphs. *sigh*