(Disclaimer: This piece was done by an amateur who was foolish enough to grant Damian a favor. Here it goes...)
Imagine yourself being shipped out into the middle of the desert... ALONE. Then, it actually happens. At first, I complained. Often I prayed, "LAWRRD!!!! Of all the beautiful places of Your Creation, why not Paris? Why not Italy? Why here? Why meeeee?!" Then, I would make THAT pouty face trying to act miserably cute... for a 30-year-old. (Well, not really 30... but I will be... soon. T.T)
It all started a couple of months ago, when I reluctantly accepted a job here in the Middle East. It's not that I WANTED to work here; it's just that I HAD to. (Long story... *skip* *skip*) The first time I traversed from Riyadh to Ta'if, the sight was so depressing that I literally sank into my car seat. Nine whole hours of travel and there was almost nothing to see... except sand, some patches of green maybe, some camels... and then more sand. IT JUST DROVE MEH CRAZEH!
|Pictured: Literally anywhere for 250,000 square miles.|
Anyways, the scenery wasn't really that much of a concern. What is of concern, however, is that Saudi Arabia (as y'all probably know) has a notorious reputation when it comes to freedom of religion. In this country, practice of any religion other than Islam is prohibited and punishable by Law. So, basically, it's a crime to be Catholic in this part of the Gulf. I guess that wouldn't come as a surprise considering this happened to be Muhammad's homeland and the birthplace of Islam. Many citizens here even consider the whole country a mosque!
I remember some time during my Pre-Departure Orientation, one instructor told the class about a group of foreign Evangelicals who got arrested in a raid. Their offence? Conducting a Bible study and possesing religious articles against the practice of Islam... in their home. Now, I'm not sure how true that story was, but we were strongly advised not to participate in any discussion or gatherings concerning religion. Apparently, that story stuck to me, because every time I feel the itch to be apologetic when I hear something, I try to bite my tongue, otherwise, I'm actually gonna lose my tongue... or head.
Furthermore, I've had to give up lots of things ever since arriving here. I can no longer attend Mass (OBVIOUSLY), and I swear I could hear my parish's pastors cracking up at a joke or two every I pass by a mosque. I can't make the Sign of the Cross in public. People almost always gave me that weird face every time I mention, "I'm Christian." Plus, I always feel the necessity to pull a disappearing act (usually to hide in the bathroom) just so I don't get stares when I pray.
I felt like a fish out of water. Everywhere I look, the culture is so different from what I grew up with. My family is away, and the language sounds like Klingon. In other words, I felt alienated and lonely, which is ironic, since I'm Asian and a friend said, "Klingons are like fuzzy Asian aliens from Star Trek." The funny part is, every time I leave the house, I must wear this baggy black overall called an abaya with a matching veil to cover my head. It makes me look like one of those baddie ninjas from a '90s Mortal Kombat movie. (In case y'all wanna visit, please note that all Saudi women traditionally cover themselves from head-to-toe outside their homes.) Some women even cover their faces in black cloth that might cause an unsuspecting fool to mistake them for Nazgûls in Lord of the Rings. (Not to fear, though! Some of them are actually nice... I mean the Saudi women... not the... you know.) Joking aside, it can be quite a drag to be a foreign woman living here, let alone a Catholic woman.
Nevertheless, everything is grace for God's little children. All I need is to trust in God's plan if I am to survive for the next two years of my contract. Besides, Jesus Himself went into the desert before the start of His ministry. Perhaps He plans to prepare me for something in the future. Or, perhaps it's to teach me to appreciate that which I long took for granted. Who knows? I guess I just have to wait and see to find out.
*Due to the sensitive nature of this post, our contributor's identity has been withheld.