© Anushka Bose. All rights reserved.*

Surrounded by Impermanence: Lessons from Expat life and Natural Disasters
Near Kings Street. Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

It was a windy morning in Boulder, Colorado on December 30th, 2021. I had been woken up by the cacophony of the swaying trees. While the wind usually feels like a refreshing breeze, on this particular day the wind sounded rather ominous. I went on about my day, hoping that the wind wouldn’t cause damage to power lines and lead to an electric outage as it had two weeks ago. But it did. The power kept going on and off while the wind reached nearly 70 mph. Still, I went on about my day and lay on the couch watching a movie. An hour or so later, my roommate, all the way back home in Michigan texted me, “Is the fire close to our apartment?” I felt chills throughout my body as I glared at her text and then turned on the news. All the ominous signs of the morning collated together — the high winds had led to damaged power lines, leading to two wildfires — Marshall and Middle Fork Wildfires in Boulder County. Within minutes, matters escalated drastically. Our apartment sent out a pre-evacuation notice, noting that while we don’t have to evacuate right now, matters could change any second and we should be prepared to leave at any moment, especially if we see any smoke nearby.

Noticing how fast this fire was escalating, and with neighborhoods just ten minutes away with evacuation notices, I immediately called my aunt who lived an hour away near Denver and we quickly devised a plan for me to get out of there and reach her. Within ten minutes I left my apartment with a small carry-on, a backpack, a water bottle, and a deep sense of dread. On the road out of Boulder County, I learned that 30,000 people were being evacuated. The traffic was horrendous and even scarier with smoke spreading through the street and toppled cars and trucks on the road. The car shook as the wind became stronger. One moment I was texting my friends and family, the next checking the news, and my mind was pacing back and forth between worst-case scenarios.

Surrounded by Impermanence: Lessons from Expat life and Natural Disasters
Near 6th Street. Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

In a matter of 24-48 hours, more than 900 homes completely burnt down in Boulder Country, with Superior and Louisville sustaining the hefty load of the damage. When I reached my aunt’s place I sighed with relief. How lucky was I to have a safe shelter to escape to. My heart broke for those who lost their homes in a matter of minutes, for those who had to leave everything behind, for those who are currently living in temporary housing, for those who still haven’t been able to return home. In a press conference the next day, Jared Polis, Colorado Governor, noted that “houses are not just physical structures, they are homes. Homes where people live, where tangible objects are placed, and where memories and solace can be found." As I lay in bed at night at my aunt’s place, I kept thinking about the notion of homes and impermanence. How crazy is it that everything we build can be torn apart by nature in a matter of seconds and minutes? I am grateful to be back in my home in Boulder now but my mind has not been able to stop thinking about those in my community who are badly impacted, including some of my classmates and professors.

Surrounded by Impermanence: Lessons from Expat life and Natural Disasters
Outside the Dining Hall. Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Christmas 2018.

Growing up in an impermanent structure of habitat in Aramco has continuously reminded me of the ephemeral state of our residence in our homes. As my dad’s retirement approached, my affection for the city became stronger because of the looming reality that my house was not going to be inhabited by my family anymore. Just as the Colorado governor noted in the wake of the Boulder wildfire, “A house is not just a house; it’s a home. It’s a reservoir of memories.” Every Aramcon knows this statement to be true. While our homes did not burn down in a fire, we were also undergoing the feelings of being dispossessed of a reservoir that held our identities and memories together so profoundly.

In the wake of this wildfire, I am once again reminded of the same lesson that living in Aramco taught me — the lesson of impermanence. It is frightening to experience situations in which our connection to both intangible and tangible objects is jeopardized. Contrastingly enough, seemingly everyday objects and rhythms that otherwise felt pedestrian to us suddenly become emblems that confirm our mere existence and attachment to our uniquely idiosyncratic lives. The threat of loss intensifies our love, our attachment, and our identity. As my dad’s retirement began to circle us, I was both heartbroken by the thought of how impermanent our lives were in this community and simultaneously pulled together to the force of being, of the attachment, of the love that I held for the home. But is the threat of loss always needed to reinforce our attachment to people and places? Do we need to be reminded of these threats to live more vivaciously? Those are questions I often think about.

Surrounded by Impermanence: Lessons from Expat life and Natural Disasters
I wrote this with a permanent marker on the Garage Edge the last day my family lived on Safaniya Drive in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. We moved to 6th Street for a few years before exiting Aramco. Of course, this sign was erased when new people moved into the home, but I remember this sign because it was a moment of my sentimental longing and pain for my home.

My heart breaks for the countless souls in Boulder County who lost their homes to what is now accounted as the worst wildfire in Colorado history. Witnessing a natural disaster from the front row woke me up to the reality that what exists in front of me now could be taken away, that the rug beneath my feet can be pulled without my consent and leave me on the ground. The crisis and the tense moments when I evacuated my apartment pulled out the same memory of impermanence that lived within me when my parents departed the Kingdom for the last time. These memories serve as a reminder of both the realities of life as well as the beauty beneath it, for if it wasn’t for the beauty, the reality of impermanence would not hurt so much.

And with that, I leave you with a few questions to ponder about:

Aramco and beyond, how has impermanence shown up in your life? What have those encounters taught you? Did they make you shelter—away from the perceived pain that comes with saying goodbye to someone or something? Or did they make you embrace life with a stronger force, engulfing the happiness that comes your way?

Arabian Nights and Mornings: The Emblems of an Expatriate Upbringing in Saudi Arabia

Anushka is a Graduate Student at Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. She spent her youth growing up in Dhahran, where she attended Dhahran Elementary, Dhahran Middle School, and Dhahran Academy. She loves learning about new cultures and is fascinated by the diversity that brings us all together, especially the expatriate community, where the only thing that is common is that we are all different, in culture, religion, and the perspectives we hold. One day she hopes to publish a book on the third culture kid experience. Dhahran holds a big place in her heart.


*Any reproduction or republication of all or part of any images and written material is expressly prohibited unless the author of the material has expressly granted its prior written consent.