Shortly after the coronavirus pandemic hit, I had gone home to Saudi for the Easter holidays with the hope of being back for the final term, however that never happened. Instead, I had to spend a whole eighteen months at home for the first time since I had been in secondary school.
University from afar is hard enough on its own, but I felt so isolated from the Durham network comprised of friends, societies, and physical access to the library during the coronavirus pandemic.
I felt disparaged, so much so that my family had begun to notice. I had always been a wild spirit who loved to travel too much for my own good. It came, mostly, from growing up on the edge of everywhere, one foot in each culture. But the flip side of that is that I never truly got to connect with my cultures.
By the time September 2020 had rolled around, I had been in Jeddah for six months and Saudi had coronavirus under control, which meant no more lockdowns, but to keep things safe, they also seized all international travel for citizens. This had been a hard blow. With the initially saying travel would be open, only for it close again, I felt more constrained than ever.
I am grateful that my family’s response was to finally travel beyond our region and see more of the country we are from, Jeddah. Over the year I ended up travelling to all four corners of the cities and regions of Gizan, Abha, Hail, Qaseem, Khobar/Dammam, and Tabouk. I stood on mountains, saw oases, swam in the coral reefs of the Red Sea.
I learned of all the various cultures of the land. I experienced different dialects and learned the different histories of the different tribes. I roamed the diverse landscapes that, at times, took me by a surprise. I tried foods that were so like my own and so distant too. I felt like I had been on the adventure of a lifetime, but in truth, I was home.
The year allowed me to connect with my culture, my language, and my people more than I ever could have before. Even the exploration of my home city elevated my understanding. I travelled to neighbourhoods I hadn’t gone to before, drove up to neighbouring villages to experience nature and walked around the old neighbourhoods where the city’s foundations laid. Even my relationship with my father strengthened through my travels.
In my home city, English is commonly spoken by everyone, but as I travelled out more, I had to really grasp using Arabic to get by. And as my language skills improved, as did my connection to the land.
There was so much about my travels which were beyond amazing, but if I had to choose my favourite experience, it would be getting to go dune drifting. The region I am from does not typically have picturesque sand mounds, so I was excited to see them first-hand. They are also very soft to lay in, and when my dune buggy got stranded on the cool winter day I was out, I decided to take a nap in the sand until help arrived.
It was an ethereal experience that I hope to experience again. But the actual drifting was more fun than anything I have experienced in my life. You move so fast going up and down and, on your side, as you speed across the landscape. It was amazing.
Now, I am back at university, I am able to travel the world again. But I need to thank the coronavirus pandemic year for giving me the chance to explore my home. I look forward to travelling to see more cities which I am yet to go to as well in the future.
Image credits: Emerson Shams