Counting down


The countdown has begun – it’s ten weeks until Electric Souk is published. Every week until launch day I thought I would share a memory of my brutal, magical time in the desert. 

So this morning I have picked up my diary from my first week in the Middle East and opened the pages again, I confess shaking a little. Can I take myself back into that world once more, after everything that happened?

And now as I read, I see so clearly it was all there in that first exhilarating, frightening, bewildering week. A week of no sleep, dust in my throat, champagne giddiness, and crazy characters. 

The first event I wrote about was the power cables in the Mediterranean getting sliced, which meant access to the internet and landlines was disabled. I had no way of contacting home for the first couple of weeks. I was totally cut off from my life and all the certainties and comforts I knew. 

I was poked and prodded, left with my entire arm bruised black from all the blood testing and other medical tests I had to endure to gain entry to the country. 

Trying to find somewhere to live proved a real challenge as everyone had an agenda about where I should live. The options ranged from being miles out in the desert on an American airbase, with a driver living in a hut in the blistering heat on the roof to actually being ‘kidnapped’ for 48 hours by a wild character, who was desperate for me to live in her family home so she could gain status from having me stay with her. 

Then there were the charmers and some shady spies…

And all the talking. An intensely verbal culture, where nothing was written down, but passed from mouth to mouth, mobile phone to mobile phone. My ears bled. 

Paranoid expats, all convinced they were about to be deported and their phones bugged, but still smuggling in pork sausages. 

Everyone talking in riddles.

The bars, packed with gruff oil men and dead-eyed prostitutes. Me, pale skin, blue eyes. 

The dodgem roads.

Navigating by roundabouts, no road names: the rainbow roundabout, the coffee pot roundabout, electric souk roundabout. 

Shisha and oud, heavy, intoxicating.

The call to prayers – quickly my one point of certainty and calm. 

The sparkle. 

I wrote ‘I can barely keep a hold of my senses.’

Your work permit requires you stay in the country for a minimum of three months before you can apply to your employer for an exit visa.

Exit visa?

Advice from the expats: ‘It’s the only way to survive. Drink and count down the weeks til you can go home.’

Will I ever see a camel?

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