Summer on the coast of the Arabian Sea means day after day of sun. Its light is intense, yet thin and sharp like juice from a fresh squeezed lime. With the sun comes heat- an oppressive, smothering heat that grabs a hold of you and wraps you up in its wool-blanket warmth. Asleep or awake, you are bathed in sweat, your hair a heavy, wet mass on the back of your neck that never seems to dry completely. Months filled with a sameness of days that makes any change in weather a cause for elation.
Now, finally, summer is losing its grip here in Shihr. Days of white heat are broken, speckled with cooler days of green and yellow. The tree outside our house, which had been almost bare of leaves for the last few months, is lush with the fresh green of new growth. The birds’ nests, which had previously been frightfully exposed, making them almost irresistible to the sling-toting crowd of neighborhood boys, are now hidden behind protective walls of cool foliage.
With the tree’s new growth comes a feeling of trepidation, as I know that once the new little fruits begin to appear we will once again be dealing with stones flying through the air as the wild bands of neighborhood children do their best to collect as many as they can shove in their pockets and stuff in their mouths before we chase them off. We don’t eat these fruits- truth be told, I would let the children pick every last one off if they so desired- but the children like the game, I think. They like to think they are getting away with something, and annoying us is an added bonus. I usually have to bring my children into the house to avoid the stone showers, and the sound of the rocks hitting the windows and walls is a constant irritant. The solution put forth by our neighbors? Obvious. Cut down the tree. My mind can’t wrap around this idea of removing the temptation rather than teaching the children; but even more than that is the simple fact that the tree has become a part of the fabric of our lives here in our little house by the ocean.
Now when we sit on the roof at night we hear the tumble and roar of the ocean mingled with the sliding, musical language of wind through leaves that brings back evenings on the back patio with my father, the fragrance of his pipe tobacco wafting through the air as we would sit in silence, enjoying the night. The ocean’s voice blends with the muedhins’ voices as they call the believers to the evening prayer, creating a tapestry of an exotic here and now and the comfort of childhood dusks at my father’s side. I wonder if perhaps this is how one becomes home, how past and present and future can mix together to create who we are, right now, as we breathe this breath and our hearts remember days and nights of long ago.
This blending of now and then, of ocean and tree, is a blessing to me in this arid land so far from the land of my birth. I can almost smell my father’s tobacco as the night wind reaches out to embrace me, an echo of his strong arms- and I understand that now, in this time and place, my past is still alive in the tree’s echo of the childhood of my heart.