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Monday
Feb212011

Desert Life in the City

During the day the sky is most often a reddish-tan. You could say it’s cloudy, but you wouldn’t. And it’s more than hazy, and too earthen to be smog. In the air hangs sand, suspended detritus—a dirty desert snow globe shaken each day.

Yesterday a forceful wind blew through the city, made powerful in places where buildings concentrated gusts. Bags and newspapers whipped across the sky. Lots of them. (A local once told me errant plastic bags are Kuwait’s state bird.) At times they held fast on the high sides of minarets or caught on light posts and electric lines. The wind didn’t clear the sand from the air, however. It just moved it around at high speeds.

Even with sunglasses on—because despite a lack of direct sunlight, the sky remains glaringly bright—you can feel invisible particles scraping your eyes. I maintained a wince, or, when that became tiring, just let tears stream across my face.

Today someone apologized to me for the weather. “It does become nice,” she said. I replied smiling, “It is not your fault.” She shrugged and looked away as if blame could be assigned to something. Perhaps it is just communication. English lacks words for the conditions of this place. And I don't know the language of the desert.

Dusk comes early, as night soaks into this air quickly. There are no stars or a moon that I’ve seen. The blank sky seems very low—a soft ceiling between the city lights and the blackness just above. Within this dome people live, shaken awake each morning: a modern folk whose heritage is the harshness and desolate nature of the sands, but also a people who left that all behind to collectively practice a type of urbanity I consider rather lonely.

“As a remedy to life in society I would suggest the big city,” Albert Camus once wrote. “Nowadays, it is the only desert within our means.” I now do believe he is right. 

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