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Eating Ice Cream in a Desert Dream

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

Children learn to identify themselves by "labels" that refer to objects or people that are not themselves. "If a child learns "who he is" by virtue of his relationship with those who satisfy his needs by taking care of him, then it follows that by contributing to that same self-knowledge are the toys, clothes, rooms and the whole array of physical things and settings that also satisfy and support his existence. A room is different and distinct from what a child is, but by belonging to him and satisfying him, it serves to continually define his own bodily experiences and consciousness as a separate and distinct individual."-Prohansky et al. Socialization occurs not only with the people around us but also the objects and physical spaces that we are raised in.


Lying on my bed, feet off the ground, avoiding the instance that a cockroach might crawl over them, it is too hot to go outside, I am daydreaming about Canada- seemingly so far away. Just after noon as the temperatures peak, everyone retreats into a shady space for naps, tea or really anything to avoid the scorching afternoon heat as it can be excruciating in a city of 10 million in a valley in the desert. Especially when the expectation is to wear long pants, a long sleeve shirt and a head scarf.


I recently moved to Damascus, Syria to study Arabic. Damascus is one of the oldest cities in the Middle East founded in the 3rd millennium BC. It's a fascinating city, Some streets are just double the size of my body while others are swarming with traffic, donkeys pulling carts and old motorcycles. The markets are full with the most delicious pistachio ice cream shops, head scarf fashion boutiques, gold merchants, juice bars, rug shops, men dancing dubka, everything really sparkly and shiny or just plain simple. You can really see the difference from the upper class to those living in outright poverty in the streets- even children. I love testing my Arabic skills and bartering for different items or just ordering a fresh-pressed pomegranate juice. I moved to Damascus to study for an Arabic exam that I wanted to pass back in Berlin. It was the highest level of Arabic one could achieve including a hour-long oral exam and one hour written. My instructor told me I would never pass the oral component unless I would spend some time in an Arabic-speaking country. Soon after I found myself eating pistachio ice cream in a desert dreaming of the Arctic. While my experiences of travelling and living in the Middle East were exhilarating and without doubt one of the most significant times in my life, It was during my time in Syria that I decided I would move to Northern Canada. The cold ice cream touching my tongue reminded me that cold is what I live and breathe. It's in my soul.


I am actually frozen in my bed at 62 degrees north in Yellowknife writing this, reminiscing of the days spent in Syria when it was too hot to move. It's now too cold to get out from under this feather quilt that must have- if a count a goose per square foot, 50 geese in it- yet my fingers still feel like they could break off like in those old, disturbing Jack Frost cartoons. Old man winter has arrived with his own blanket of snow on the world around me. While that somehow sounds romantic, the snow came with 80km/h winds, waves freezing on the shoreline in minutes leaving bizarre ice structures everywhere. The extreme elements of this environment is a part of my socialization to the world and the energy of the extremes pours into my soul. Going to the bathroom in the middle of the night is no longer just about the dark, it's about pushing through the strong winds and blizzard, snowflakes pelting and burning any inch of bare skin to find a calmer spot in the woods, to pull down three pairs of pants, a sled dog poking his nose where it doesn't belong as you try to maintain your balance.


The darkness never ends in the north. Headlamps have become a part of our every day attire- the first thing we put on in the morning, the last thing we take off at night. I'm trying to prepare my son's lunch for school and have to angle my head in all directions to find exactly what it is I'm looking for in the fridge. Then shine it directly at my hands so I can see what I am doing as I make his sandwich. We have learnt it's important to not look at someone when they call your name blindly in the dark. If you look at someone with a headlamp on, you equally blind each other and it really takes a few minutes to see anything but flashing lights. On grumpy, dark, tired mornings, it's really hard not to laugh when someone looks at you with a blinding light and you can't move for the next couple minutes for fear of running into an antler hung on the wall as a shelf. It's a bit like freeze tag in a danger zone. My senses have become more aware to what's happening in the physical environment around me and I feel like I am a part of it- living with it, coexisting.


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