By Natasha Burge
Scud Kids remember growing up in a little town on the edge of a desert beside the sea with cookie-cutter houses and friends who became family. We remember the Gulf War when we carried gas masks to school and hid beneath our desks while air raid sirens wailed overhead. We remember the taste of our favorite MRE’s and some of us still have drawstring camo hats hanging in our closets. Scud Kids will always remember that war could light up the night sky with flashes so bright they drowned out the stars.
The war finished but we were still the Scud Kids.
We played tetherball and four square in playgrounds surrounded by frangipani trees and tangled walls of jasmine. We knew how to arm ourselves for a date war. We ran wild through parks, down streets, and over jebels, and stayed out from sun up to sun down, careless and sunburned and thirsty. We had our favorite popsicle shops where we bought airheads with rumpled fistfuls of riyals and always flipped our popsicles upside down to eat the best bit first.
Scud Kids earned swim badges and went to Ms. Kay’s dance shows. We drank Mirinda and ate Lion Bars at the Hills Pool snack bar and played outside in the green-leafed maze when we were done. Scud Kids went on repat to every continent and learned early that people are people everywhere you go, more alike than different in all the ways that count.
Scud Kids grew up dune bashing and sand rose hunting. We ran dusty and red-faced through Qatif sheep market and played hide and seek in Tarut Fort. We knew the sound of Tex’s truck when it pulled up to our house, laden with tarnished Bedouin jewelry and gleaming brass coffee pots. We watched Channel 3 and AFRTS and went to school socials, never dances.
Scud Kids knew how to curse fluently in at least three languages and how to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in even more. We drove rusty camp cars and shiny golf carts and ate Med Mac and Babba Habbas. We went to goat grabs and shisha cafes and 4th of July barbecues in June. And we will never forget our badge numbers.
Scud Kids shopped in dingy back-alley rooms, sifting through jumbled cardboard boxes for the latest contraband CD’s, DVD’s, and computer games. Scud Kids rode in taxis with prayer beads swinging from the rear view mirror, shaggy white sheepskin on the dashboard, and Umm Kulthum warbling on the radio. We still smile when we remember the words: “Give it to me, your ID.”
Scud Kids learned to haggle in the souq, to brush our teeth with miswaq, and to sled down sand dunes into the salty spray of the ocean below. Beneath cold, star-scattered skies we camped in the desert, nestled in the cradle of jebels that stood pale and luminous on the horizon. We remember glass cups of ghawa steaming and pungent and dark as the space between the stars above. Scud Kids remember red sand dunes swept into scimitars by the hot wind and the way they would sometimes sing, like whispers in the night.
Then it was time for the Scud Kids to leave for boarding school. We learned how to wear snow boots, how to navigate endless airport terminals on our own, and how to hide the homesickness we could never fully explain. And we counted down the days till we could return to the desert. Scud Kids were always the first off the plane, our hearts pounding and giddy, ready to step into a heat so fierce it felt like a rite of passage. We were home, back in a land painted in shades of ochre and brushed-silver, with vermillion sands and a sea that was every color of blue. The blues of memory and soft nights and the long summers of an unspeakable home.
And then it was Exit Only and time to for the Scud Kids to say goodbye. But how do you say goodbye to the jebels, to the sound of prayer call, to the swooping flocks of wild parrots? How can you leave the briny scent of the ocean air at dawn and the taste of campfire smoke on desert wind? How do you say goodbye to palm trees backlit by an orange sun and bright clouds of bougainvillea draped over every fence? How do you say goodbye to the sound of Arabic, all deep laughter and rough consonants? Or the swarm of traffic, the blast of humid air, the taste of cardamom tea, and the only world you’ve ever called home?
You don’t. You can’t. For Scud Kids there are no true goodbyes, there is only the deep knowing that we belong irrevocably to a time and place that few will ever understand. For Scud Kids, the gritty shamal winds still fill our lungs, the swirling cry of adhan lingers in our veins, and the rustle of palm fronds hides behind every word we speak. For Scud Kids, home becomes something carried inside, a feeling that glows as fiercely as a Saudi summer sun, never burning out, only burning on and on.
To Brats and Scud Kids everywhere.
Natasha Burge (DH97) is a writer who lives and works in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia with her husband Cody Martin (DH96). Visit her website at www.natashaburge.com.