500 Leagues under the Sun

Photo by Kenza Benaouda on Unsplash

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Of the things that still irk me, more than a year into my Arabian Odyssey, the sheer inefficiencies which seem baked into the system stand out for particular ire. Case in point: this past week to spend ten minutes picking up a letter from my employer and then delivering it at a government office fifteen kilometres away, I had to drive 250+kilometres. To my mind, it is something that can and should dare I say, be managed via an online portal but I found to my pain that this was not the case. It is no wonder then that in the short space of over a month I have driven just shy of three thousand kilometres, mainly between my outpost in the middle of nowhere, work (twice), the big city next door (multiple times) and the occasional trip to the provincial capital for some government thing or the other twice too.

One of those trips put into context why choosing not to buy a 4×4 wasn’t the brightest of ideas. Having taken a wrong turn off a certain road, I found to my chagrin that it soon dissolved into desert sands and nothing more. It was in trying to turn off it into the other side of the road to retrace my steps that trouble struck. My puny rear wheel drive, 1.6L engine, subcompact got mired in the sands which had accumulated on that section of unused roads. Several attempts only managed to get me firmly stuck with no seeming route to recovery. It didn’t help that I had left L and S at home with a view to dashing into the next town to grab some supplies and then return. My salvation came in the shape of two men who spotted me whilst driving their pick up truck across the sand on the other side of the road. After some frantic hand waving on my part to attract their attention, they came to a stop across the divider of the road as we tried to communicate my predicament. My Arabic is nonexistent as was their English but the one word we could both understand was ‘Help?’, to wish I nodded frantically. They promptly disappeared for a bit in a cloud of sand only to reappear at the bend where the road turned to sand. The younger of the two was dressed in full regalia, thobe and head gear included whilst his older companion had threadbare jeans and a denim shirt rolled up at the sleeves. Ten or so minutes afterwards, I finally came unstuck thanks to the younger getting into my car and proceeding to attempt to reverse out of the rut i had sunk into whilst his companion and I pushed. Not in a very long time, and I suspect/hope not in a long time in the future, have I felt such relief at seeing a stranger’s face.

Driving out here was one of the things I dreaded the most, given the stories of texting drivers and general disregard for other road users which were drummed into us during our orientation. Bar a couple of near misses where tailgaters have almost forced me off the road at 120km/hr, nothing much of note has happened. That, and the sense of habituation which has made the 60km trek to the next town feel normal are things to be thankful for.

Theories, Tea and (Future) 10ks

Image Source: Tara’s Multicultural Table

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The difference a few degrees makes never ceases to amaze me, a small mercy I have recently found to my advantage as the morning temperatures, dipping as they have below 30 degrees for the first time since April, have allowed me go for short runs and brisk runs again. Between stress eating in South Yorkshire and not being able to rack up those 10k steps, my weight has ballooned by a cringe worthy amount. In a sudden fit of resolve, I downloaded the NHS Couch to 5k app and have now completed one week. Hopefully, that along with some portion control, gets me back headed in the right direction. Frankly though, I would settle for being able to complete a sub 24 minute 5k again, seeing as the chap who ran Parkruns for fun in the ‘Deen seems like a whole different person now.

Another small mercy, or delight really, was making a pit stop at a tea spot a few days ago in the middle of a long journey up north. Between the very short notice to grab my gear and head out – the call came during the morning meeting and I had all of twenty minutes to grab a coffee, defer some other stuff and head out – and the long drive (over three hours and then some of 120km/hr driving each way), making a pit stop to drink in the distinctive flavours and grab some much needed caffeine from a cup of Yemeni tea was a blessing in disguise. Thankfully I didn’t do any of the driving, though I did feel for the guy who did. It must have been shattering to do all those miles!

The other thing that came from being cooped up for so long was a deep dive into some conspiracy theories: 9/11, ISIS and the West’s complicity in the travails of the region all came up. Politics and religion are two things I steer well clear of out here, given the different notions of liberty and freedoms that rule the roost out here, so I did most of the listening, throwing in a few questions here and there to appear interested. I am not sure what to make of the Afghanistan debacle, with the Taliban making great gains in the aftermath of the US withdrawal, though the parallels with Northern Nigeria/Chad/ Niger are not lost on me. Sadly hope, which seems to be all we can do for the Nigerian situation, is hardly a recipe for stability or a solution there.

On a brighter note, our little adventure up north has nudged me closer towards being open to explore the vast expanse of this country. I do have to buy a car first, but with my first year behind me and a semblance of slowly settling in, I am finally mentally able to see myself out here for more than a year.