Since I arrived in the Kingdom, my lifestyle has varied quite a bit. When I was in Riyadh, I felt like I was being jostled in between two pieces of concrete. The epitome of desert, Riyadh is a harsh and jagged stretch of emptiness. It is a barren landscape that houses a paradox — the coexistence of a murderous sun and persistent bloom. While living there I bounced between extremes — the joy and thrill of brand new experience and the crushing weight of conservative culture.

After living in Riyadh, Al Khobar seemed like an oasis. I savored my freedom of movement and the slightly Westernized atmosphere (otherwise known as the ‘Aramco effect’). Crowds peppered with colored scarves and smiling faces made me feel like a welcome traveler, as opposed to an uninvited guest.

I’ve since moved ‘on-camp’ into Saudi Aramco housing, and it’s as if my days of living in the Kingdom are long gone. I’m bound by gates that are designed to ‘keep things out’, but instead keep us in. Impermanence has replaced comfort and luxury. No longer am I building a life on desert sand– I’m funding one elsewhere.

To live as part of the Saudi community, to see behind those villa walls isn’t a common experience. Although it wasn’t for me, I’m grateful for it. But, that part of my life is over, and I’m behind a new set of walls. I know that I will never truly belong to Saudi Arabia again. I’ve elected to be a part of the outsiders. I’m not longer a ‘lifer’ and I’m at peace with that. However, I’ve spent five years of my life in this place and I will never be able to erase its mark upon me.

The lives of my friends and acquaintances still mirror my old life, the one I left behind. I used to be on the other side of the fence, gazing outward into the horizon towards a similar and shared future. Now we’re on borrowed time. It is possible that I’m being sensitive, but I feel as if a rift has opened up in the distance.

One day, it will be time for me to leave the Kingdom. I don’t know when it will happen, nor where I will go. Just the existence of that day has transformed friendships, and despite the fact that my choices led me here –it still hurts. It hurts in the way I know it has to, because this is what growth feels like. The momentum I gained from starting over still pulls me forward, and I trust it.  When the comes time, I’ll know. And let go. Forever.