After I repatriated to the United States in 1998, I began dreaming about returning to Riyadh. These were night dreams, and they all had the same plot. In the dreams, I wanted– needed– to get back to Riyadh, but I couldn’t. I’d forget my passport, or forget to pack my bags, or pack too many bags, or miss the airplane, or get on the wrong airplane, or get on the right airplane but land in the wrong country.
My dreams progressed over the years. I’d actually land in Riyadh, but then lose my way through the city. I’d get lost in the neighborhood I used to live in; I’d encounter new construction that confused my knowledge of where I was supposed to go. I’d finally find my apartment building but could not find my apartment. I’d find the hospital in which I was supposed to work, but could not find the laboratory to which I was assigned. I’d worry that my supervisor would think I hadn’t arrived, and give my job to someone else.
I’d find myself in Battha without an abaya. I’d want to buy food but had no riyals, only US dollars. I’d want to phone my friends Asma and Sharon, but I’d left their phone numbers in the United States, or if I had the numbers, could not remember how to use the public phone.
You get the idea.
I recorded these dreams in my journal, and named the series Return to Riyadh.
This summer, I described the recurrent dreams to a friend of mine who is a psychologist. She suggested that the dreams were trying to tell me something important, and I wasn’t listening. I didn’t believe her, because I could indeed go back to Riyadh any time, as a worker or a visitor. My repatriation was deliberate. Consciously, I was committed to rebuilding my life in my own country, but unconsciously, discontent churned, and it was all about Riyadh. Why?