Monday, October 02, 2006

As the sand pass by . . .

By Kirsten Nour Namskau

I should come with a Bedouin-caravan from place to place, for 1 month in the desert of Saudi Arabia.
I met them in a small city called Duba at the Red Sea. The men were buying kitchen-utensils to trade with at the next place . . . an Oasis named Al Ula. They had made an order from the people there at an earlier visit.
As the men were gathering their stock, the women were searching the garbage-places for recycling items.
Since I was to be one of them, I was dressed up as them and participated in all duties of the women.
Barefoot we went around the city to pick glass-bottles, clean carton, tin-boxes and whatever else we thought could be recycled.
As we went from trash-place to trash-place I started to hum on some songs I liked.
As I was busy collecting some trash while humming, I didn’t notice that it had stopped a lot of people to listen to me . . . and as they listen to my songs, they threw some money my way. One of the girls was busy picking up all the money.
When we came to the camp at evening and told what had happened, I was told not to sing while working, because one could not trust the people around. If anyone thought they could make money of my singing, I was likely to be kidnapped.
What we found was sold to factories close before we left the city.
After 3 days we made ourselves ready for departure. 25 camels was feed well and given a huge amount of water, brushed and groomed, their feet was checked, who of the female was pregnant, their teeth and eyes were checked. Beside the camels, we also had some goats.
I was given new clothes. As we had been in the city, I had been wearing some simple clothes, now I was given clothes which were more heavy and colorful and a headwear edged with small “golden” ornaments and slippers to have on my feet.
The camels were tied to each-other with a rope, the same with the goats . . . and I should soon learn why.
The desert is very hot during day-time, but at night . . . it can be very cold. It can be up to 25 degrees difference between day and night.
The travel to Al Ula was expected to take 7-10 days.
The first day we walked into the dunes of the desert. The sun was high and warm . . . the work was divided between us. Those who should make the food were the only one allowed to use water to wash their hands. The rest of us had to go the whole day without “unnecessary” use of water. When we had to go to toilet, we made a hole in the sand and did what we had to do. Women didn’t wear underwear, so you only sat down and let the wide skirt cover you. Afterwards, you didn’t touch yourself, only continue to walking.
But in the evening before we had our last meal, everyone was called one by one into the tent to be scrubbed with salt and water from head to toe and you should rub your hands with salt to disinfect them. When you were finish the women were given a splash of rose-water to refresh the face and hands.
During the first day, I became special “friend” with one of the young men, Yasser. (This was 23 years ago, so I was young too at the time.) He was a well built man, handsome with a row of sparkling teeth and he spoke god English which was one of the main reason for us getting so close.
Close to sun-set, we stopped to make the camp. The woman who should make food started her cooking right away while the men sat up the tent. It was stunning to watch them as they used tall ladders as stilts to fasten the colorful fabrics and carpets. They put up three huge tents and it was done in no time.
Along the sides was benches to use as beds, the center of the tent was an open space where we sat with a cup of tea and chatted before we went to bed. The “floor” of the tent was all covered with beautiful, colorful carpets. But it was not advisable to sleep on the floor because of scorpions and desert snakes.
The women were milking the female camels and goats and made fresh cheese, a sweet dessert and some to drink beside stew of beans with goat meat, vegetables, bread and tea with milk . . . very well prepared.
We gathered in two groups for an evening chat, the men in one group and the women in the other.
When it was time to go to bed, no one lifted an eyebrow, when Yasser and I decided to share one bed. If it something Arabs is good in . . . is done in the bed. No one beats them I tell you.
But for God’s sake . . . every night ! ? ! ?
After 3rd night I needed a rest and was thinking about what I could do to tick him off for a night without letting him feel sad about it.
I decided to tell him a joke and hoped it had the effect needed.
As he started to fondle me, I asked: “Shall I tell you something?”
He replied positive.
I said: “ In Europe, some men have problem getting erection but now they have found a way to solve the problem. They insert a balloon where the balls suppose to be with an open tube along the penis. So if they want sex, the only pump the balls so the air in the balloon fills the penis.”
I lurked my hands between his legs and took hold on his balls and asked with soft voice: “Do you want sex, Yasser? Just a minute . . . I shall only pump it up first.”
It had the instant effect . . . He started to laugh so hard so he fell out of the bed.
He went out to cool down.
After this . . . every time I needed a rest, I only did pumping signs with my hands and he started to laugh so hard so he had to go another place to be able to stop laughing.
The next day, when we stopped for the night and the men sat with their shisha (water-pipe) and cup of tea with milk, I suddenly heard all the men started to laugh so hard and were rolling around in the sand in hysterical laughter.
Yasser had told them what they do in Europe to bring the men able to have sex.
The 4th day through the desert, it blow up a sand-storm. Fast, it was stretched out a rope with knots on. Every one should hold on to one of the knots. A transparent headwear was put over the head and tied around the neck.
When we started to walk I was told to take close notice of who was in front of me and who was behind me.
Every 20 minute the first one shouted the name of the one behind, who should answer and call on the one behind her/him again. If, for one or another reason you lost the grip of the rope you should immediately stop and stand still, until the other came back again to get you. If you start to walk, you likely will start to walk in wrong direction, because in the desert you easily loose the sense of direction and if you drop the rope the others will disappear in a flash of a second. The wall of sand appears to be solid.
We were all together 30 people, so it was a long rope. I had Yasser before me and Nadia behind me. I was approximately in the middle, since the youngest were first so the oldest and the strongest, most experienced were the last ones. All the rest were in the middle.
Every 20 minute I heard Yasser called me: “Chris ! “
I had to shout in the strong wind: “Yes.”
And then I called: “Nadia ! “ and waited for her answer . . .
Suddenly Nadia shouted back to me: “ Stop . . . Mila is not responding ! “
I shouted to Yasser: “Stop . . . Mila is not responding”
Yasser shouted to the one in front of him and like this until the first one had got the message. Then the whole row stopped. The leader in front came back, still holding in the rope. All the rest had to follow him.
He asked the last one: “When did she not respond? “
Adel, who was the last one said: “She did not respond to the latest call. It may have gone up to 40 minutes + the time of calling along the row. That means she is 50 – 60 minutes behind.”
The camels were to stand still while we now went backwards. The first one, who was the leader, went backwards until the rope was stretched. Then the one who was the last one, now the first one, came up to the leader who now was the last. In this way we went backwards without dropping the rope.
We eventually found Mila. She had crouched up in the sand, hiding her head at the ground covering her head with her hands. Almost covered with sand, but she had put a stick with a piece of red cloth beside her so we should find her in the case she was all covered with sand.
The storm lasted for 2 ½ days.
The next day, as we were walking, I suddenly felt as if I could not breathe because the sand was so compact and went through my head-wear. I had sand all over . . . in the nose, in the eyes, all over the face, in the hair, in my ears . . .
I shouted to Yasser: “ I can’t breath, I can’t breath !”
Immediately, he shouted forwards: “Stop . . . problems”
I could hear the message continued forwards.
Everybody came fast down to me without dropping the rope, they gathered around me to make a wall between the sand-storm and me. The leader threw a carpet over us, so that I was able to collect myself, and get brushed off some sand and come to breathe again.
The storm had delayed us 2 days, but finally we came to Al Ula .
There the men traded kitchen-utensils with dates which we should trade with at a city at the Red Sea called Al Wajh.
At Al Ula, we also had a much needed rest with a lot of good food, dance and laughter with the local people. We stayed at Al Ula for 4 days before we again headed fort he desert and was on our way to Al Wajh,
The way to Al Wajh was not so long . . . it took only 3 days and we were lucky with the weather all the way.
In Al Wajh we traded dates with carpets.
From Al Wajh we went along the Red Sea up again to Duba.

The life of the Bedouins have many facets, it’s a hard, romantic, colorful, intensive life filled with danger, laughter, patient, trust, respect and common understanding.
In a way . . . the Bedouins are like the gypsies of the desert.


hammer said...

Interesting story and funny too!
Thank you for posting it.

I learn something everyday on your blog.

MrsJoseGoldbloom said...

I always love reading your others live has always interested me.

BobG said...

Very interesting glimpse into the lives of the bedawin.

curmudgeon said...

Good story.
Seems it would be hell to navigate through a storm like that.

Mrs_Who said...

Thank you for the glimpse into another culture.

dragonlady474 said...

Great story! It sounded romantic and adventurous. :)

Anonymous said...

You certainly know how to tell a good story.