Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Rub A-Khali, part two

“I was born in cave”, Bin Hassan told me slowly and calmly when we took a 4 hour break in the middle of the first day, lying in the shade of one of the two four wheel drives that accompanied us, “and I didn’t wear any shoes until I went into the army. And now, today, I have been in Europe, I speak 5 languages, have all modern gadgets and have my own business. It feels like I have taken a gigantic step.”
Bin Hassan was dressed in his white dishdasha, a matching orange-brown turban and looked like a sultan in his grey beard. He was slightly heavy, since he wasn’t moving about by foot as he once did. Like all bedu boys he had to take and look after grazing camels, walking long distances to find something to eat. We were the same age. It made us even more comfortable with each other. Bin Hassan has experienced a lot in his life. He has seen and heard most things.
“The life of the Bedouin has changed a lot”, he said, he like all bedu (Bedu in local tongue) likes talking, it is still a favourite past time, “Today’s young kids are lazy. They don´t want to do anything. They’re spoilt. I would like to do something about that. I want to try to preserve some of the old Bedu culture. Maybe do a long trip by camel.”
“Maybe we should try to pass Rub Al-Khali together?” I said.
“Yes”, Bin Hassan answered thoughtfully, “That will be a very good idea. Let us do it in true bedu style. No shoes, bare feet, just have dried meat, dates, Arabic bread and coffee with us.”
“Unsupported, no cars, no back up” I said.
“Yes” , Bin Hassan said solicitously and told Mussalam in their local tongue, mehri, he who owned Sahara, the camel and he nodded, and Bin Hassan looked at me and said: “We need him to come with us, he knows everything about camels. He lives with them and loves them. We are strong you and me, but not like him. He is very strong.”
Mussalam smiled as always. He was in his mid-fifties, lean and strong. He smoked his pipe, talked about women and marriage and grinned. He was my image of a real bedu. And did he have to show his strength on this practise run?
Yes, because it turned out immediately I sat up on this peculiar animal, which in itself is dramatic, she groaned unhappily and then we sat out cruising through these dramatic sand dunes, me being transported like a child in a zoo, by somebody holding a rope, pulling the animal. It all went well until a group of English tourists turned up and made it all into a circus by trying t get two people on Sahara. A disaster and from that time she was almost impossible to ride for me. She groaned, vomited and looked like she could bite me all the time and even for Mussalam, sitting up on her was like a small rodeo every time. So I set out on foot.

See the slideshow from my visit in Rub Al-Khali here

See the slideshow from my visit to oman here