In 26 BCE, a Roman prefect named Aelius Gallus under the reign of Augustus led a rather disastrous expedition to a region of the known world the Romans described, with a tinge of irony perhaps, as Arabia Felix, or “Happy Arabia.” The Greco-Roman geographer Ptolemy would later subdivide this remote expanse into two additional parts: Arabia Petraea, now known as modern-day Jordan, and Arabia Deserta, most of which encompasses the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Starting in February, my own journey once again takes me away from the United States to the Kingdom for a year-long teaching assignment. While I don’t expect my journey to be fraught with the hardships that Aelius Gallus and his expeditionary legions faced (quite the opposite, in fact) I am prepared for the dramatic change of scenery that Saudi Arabia will bring, both figuratively and literally.
How I got to where I am today doesn’t feel entirely unexpected. It was 10 years ago that I was entering my second year of Peace Corps service in Uzbekistan; struggling with the notion of being in a fruitless environment for health education and not doing what I thought I should be doing as a volunteer: teaching English as a foreign language and counseling students. After my fellow volunteers and I were summarily evacuated from the country in June 2005, I came back to pursue a writing career with mild to moderate success. But I couldn’t find satisfaction in the fast-paced worlds of advertising or mass-media in New York City, and I more often felt I was stumbling rather than succeeding in the burgeoning start-up world that has since consumed San Francisco.
On a trip to Mexico in late 2012 where I was re-centering myself with some activities that I thrive upon–climbing mountains, eating street food, taking photos, and existing abroad–I experienced, with help of my long-time mountaineering partner and fellow wanderer, an epiphany. It was in the thin air on the slopes of Pico de Orizaba I came to the realization that I should pursue a path that I had been bouncing off of for years.
Two years, one TEFL certificate, hours of personal reflection, a Mile High elevation change, and months of patiently waiting for a visa, I’m about a week away from departing on yet another overseas adventure. I’m returning to life as an (relapsed) ex-pat and diving into new career path that isn’t exactly new considering my first job out of college was a substitute English teacher.
What this change will also allow me is the space to work more diligently on my creative pursuits. In our image-saturated world, I plan on balancing my photography game with my writing game. I’ve had friends (and strangers) ask me “but why Saudi Arabia?” to which I can offer more detailed answers in a later post. But one of the big reasons is geographic proximity to a couple of places that are high on my bucket list to explore, such as India and Burma, and re-explore, namely my largely unfamiliar ancestral homeland of Pakistan and my adoptive country of Uzbekistan.
If you’d like to see what I’m up to, feel free to follow along here or check me out on Instagram. And if you’d like a postcard from the Kingdom, message me and I’d be happy to oblige. I guarantee it will be more than Augustus received from Aelius Gallus.
photo: National Geographic map supplement from May 1921 - “The New Asia”