Nora Byrne
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Words

Arts, Arabic, Adventures

First Impressions

It’s 0300 Arabia Time Zone, approximately the time I went to sleep yesterday. I’ve just woken for the umpteenth time. I’ve rolled over, I’ve gone to the bathroom, I’ve daydreamed, drank water. Considering it’s about 10pm back home, I’m not sure why I’m awake. It gets humid at night so it's hotter than the daytime, and I’ve already shrugged off the duvet. 

Could be the light outside, a sky-wide glow emitting from the hundreds of skyscrapers that lying a fifteen-minute drive to the east. My first night in Hollywood a giant cross out in the hills shone over the bed I shared with Rachel, but the rest of the horizon had the same cadmium shine of congested lights, of smog and people, malls and modern living. 

My last morning in the States I woke with songbirds and seagulls, hungrily gazing at the rosy glow spreading over the boatyard. I slipped into the cool morning of a fading summer, skin and hair stiff and salty with the remnants of Atlantic baptism. My port city's red brick greeted me as I ambled across state lines, saline and sanguine.

Kittery, Maine into Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Here it’s sweat and luster, it’s sun and dehydration and the thrill of the space between building and desert, outside the mall where the air conditioning mingles with the heat in swirling waves. The busses are always late and it’s a game of guessing when to venture into the heat, how long you can last if you’re early and the bus isn’t there. Cars are all white; SUVS drive over the meridian rather than miss an exit, stoplights flash green before turning yellow.

Roofs curl upward, buildings convex and striped with black and white glass or dusty, crenelated concrete trimmed in twisted white metal or relief sculpture of patterned florals. Arabic is everywhere, the fluid puzzle of a script teasing at a world beyond without a firm invitation to unlock. When you don’t know the meaning you get lost in the horizontals, the curve and the seamless transition between letters that don’t look like letters. They stretch across the sides of buildings, they glow in windows, they’re printed bold on every receipt.

I, of course, save these for collaging.

The path from the room to the lobby is an exercise in sweat, shadow and the occasional lethargic feline.

The path from the room to the lobby is an exercise in sweat, shadow and the occasional lethargic feline.

I’m convinced no one is from Doha, this beautiful, strange confluence of otherness. Malls are agoras, testaments to the monied gods of contemporary existence, gathering places to escape the heat. Every inch is designed, each mile something new being built. The lights are endlessly fascinating, towers of blue fluorescence lined cyprus-like on the highway from the airport, clusters of red growing from the sand, phosphorescent balloons rising around “assembly points” on campus. At last I ache for winter, warm evenings strolling around the scrub grass and desert flowers through floating luminescence. 

This week is souk, immigration, orientation. I'm to learn to research again, to barter, if I have TB. But I already know even Italians have to lie to their parents about smoking, Canadians have Mr. Noodle, young Pakistanis identify hipsters on sight. I learned and promptly forgot how to say "prego," in Greek, scaffing is my favorite new way to describe low-key theft, and ghosting, of course, is cross-cultural.

Nora ArmstrongComment