Embracing the Spirit of the Desert
by Jilbert Calpito
Ras Tanura
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by Jilbert Calpito

One of Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho’s masterpieces portrays the story of a boy who dreamed to set out on a desert journey to search for buried treasure. Little did he know that his innocent quest to find riches would be more satisfying and grander than he ever imagined.

My first experience in the desert was in 2010. I had been an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher in Kazakhstan, where the locals describe their land as magical. For me, it was. The warm reception of the locals, their bountiful apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, and sugar-sweet watermelons — not to mention their gigantic horses — conjure such fond memories. But all that was just the tip of the iceberg.

I also met my soulmate there, now my wife of five years, and we have a daughter who is the apple of our eyes, our perfect delight.

Now, it has been almost five years since I arrived in the Kingdom. And while some may paint the desert as isolated or boring, my heart sings here, even if all one can see is endless desert and an occasional date tree. Here, I am growing like never before as I embrace the serenity of the desert.

The desert has a radiant light that penetrates your core, a light that enables you to see things in their proper perspective. It lets you contemplate what has been, and those wasted moments on things that don’t really matter. But also, as you gaze into the future, you realize that all is not lost — there is hope.

The desert is calming. Its silence lets you listen to your inner self — that bruised self from the hustle and bustle of city life. Staring out at the dusty orange twilight, you feel its healing powers, and you are guaranteed a good night’s sleep. The desert’s vastness allows your heart to shout out without impediment as here — you are lost with the elements of the universe, frightening and wonderful.

When sandstorms come, you inhale the dust — to which you will one day return. It reminds you of the beginning and the end — your mortality — and coaxes you to relinquish your pride, your bitterness, and your anxiety.

The desert also allows focus. I came here as a mediocre artist with barely the fundamentals of letter cutting. Since then, with no distractions after office hours, my 3-D styro arts elicit praise from admirers and critics.

But that’s not all.

Here, I have also begun pyrography, and my creations were taken home to the U.K., the U.S., South Africa, Sudan, India, Romania, and the Philippines. Still, people are aghast to see an artist in the desert. “What are you doing here? Go somewhere else and make a name for yourself!” I simply give them a wide grin.

I’ve also bought a good guitar, which I have since learned to play with dexterity and with enough skill to adjust chords to fit my voice. I’ve even composed a couple of songs that friends have gone as far as urging me to record.

All of this initially surprised me — this new evolution of myself. Before heading to the desert, my friend joked that I should beware of evolution here, that I may turn into a camel or desert fox. I have, indeed, evolved, but into a better artist and a better person. I credit the desert. So when people ask me how it is to live here, I say, “It feels better than home.”

 — Your Voice reflects the thoughts and opinions of the writer, and not necessarily those of the publication.