Near our house in Mubarak Al-Abdullah, there is a 1.5 kilometer walkway that loops and extends into another half kilometer just over a slight hill. Every few early mornings, before a run on the track, I warm up on the highest point of that hill. Relative to the rest of the track, it’s not so high. But if I’m standing on top of it, and facing west, I see a freeway below me, and a bridge in the middle of massive construction right across from me. Witnessing the scale alone at nearby eye-level elicits a gravitas especially poignant in the dawn of another day, in a slowly spiraling time.
During the past four months, running in this same place, in this loop, has afforded a simple practice of measuring the changes in the landscape around me. My attention was focused. On one run, I counted 14 birds nests high up in the trees that had dried in the summer heat, now snapping onto one another. The bushes lining the track grew wildly onto the tarmac. Construction of the bridge was put on hold—there was a small gap in the middle of it, the bridge, which, if I looked at from a specific point, framed the qubba of a mosque in South Surra. The deceleration brought onto the country’s production processes by the virus was made visible. Yet, virtually everything else around it was disappearing.
Every day, the Ministry of Health’s spokesperson, Dr. Abdullah al-Sanad, came on the local tv channel, KTV1, to chant in soothing intonation a daily briefing of disembodied numbers and statistics. The state gave dizzyingly vague press conferences. The media armed itself with representations of national heroism: military, policemen, and youth volunteers all cloyed our need for something to be done, for action, with the exhausted image of people doing things that were actually far from what ought to be done. There were campaigns quick to warn against viral rumors. The impossible layering of information all but demystified the virus, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the landfills in Kuwait. There was hardly a link between the two, but it was impossible to accept the idea that whatever world we knew was coming to a halt—not when the image of unsorted garbage continuing to pile in the middle of the desert went unaddressed. It seemed only reasonable to want to take into public consideration the parts of life that were still happening, including the stresses being put on the health of the locally deteriorating environment.