Posts Tagged ‘saudi arabia’

sticks and stones

Missing Duck, Goat Farm, France © Jim Korpi

They may not break my bones, these names, but they hurt.

Lately I’ve been haunted by the name wasichu (pronounced wah-she-chew). It is Lakota for “non-native” but has come to mean greedy, or “the one who takes the best meat for himself.”

My plate is full of meat, and I sit across from a Bengali whose tray has broth with few vegetables and a piece of bread. He sops up his broth, drinks his glass of steaming water, and makes his way to a job likely to last late into the night.

In the stores of Saudi one can buy soap for “skin whitening” or lotion with “skin bleaching agents.” I’ve gone from a town in Ohio with more than five tanning salons to a place where people are doing everything they can to look white.

Whites want to look dark to give the impression they’ve vacationed some place with a beach and had little to do but relax in the sun. Others bleach their skin to make it appear as though they are not the peasants in the field laboring. Both groups aim for the illusion of those privileged with leisure.

Martin Luther King Jr. hoped for a day when his children would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” When will this day come?

beginning of the world

Picnic, Edge of the World, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia © Jim Korpi

“Here,” Sayeed motioned to the white man standing on a rock outcropping not far enough out. His hand gesture was Saudi, like sliding coins across a table top with one’s finger tips. He has lived in the Kingdom so long he feels Saudi even if his wife and children live with his father in Bangladesh.
The heavy noon sun, the breeze carrying sand off the pale desert floor, and the spiraling smoke off the glowing red tip of his lipped cigarette weigh down on his eyelids, and he squints. He squints at the expanding landscape as if to focus on something in the distance, some closer truth. The white man makes his way to where Sayeed had beckoned him to stand beside.
“We’re on the edge of the world,” the white man states with an American accent as if to punch a stake in the ground and claim triumph and possession. Sayeed knew the accent well. He has worked at the American embassy for the past 15 years as a driver. He has driven thousands of these fortunate ones on excursions to places like this, the Edge of the World, so that they could climb along its sandstone ledges, state “we’re on the edge of the world,” and then he would drive them back to their high-walled compounds.
Sayeed pulled a deep inhale off his cigarette and patiently exhaled. Smoke left his body in the same direction and flow as his loose blue shirt’s movement in the wind.
“It starts again over there,” Sayeed declared pointing to the landscape below. He didn’t smile although he knew his words to be witty. He always said this when the white man claimed to be on the edge of the world.