January 26 is Australia Day - a day to celebrate all things Australian, recognise our national heroes, have a BBQ, go to the beach or the park with friends and rejoice in everything that is so wonderful about our country.
January 26 2019 we spent our fourth consecutive Australia Day in our second home of Saudi Arabia. This year it fell on a weekend so instead of being at school or work with the day passing rather insignificantly, we decided to head to sand of the non-Bondi type and take an overnight trip to the dunes of the desert.
The Umm Rujuum region is approximately 2 hours north of Riyadh. The exit from the city is chaotic along congested highways but gradually the concrete of Riyadh is replaced with rocky earth and then finally the magnificent dunes appear. There are small settlements scattered along the way and then the roadway ends.
As you enter the desert the feeling is difficult to describe…. the sky so big, the horizon never-ending and there is nothing surrounding you in all directions. A wise friend refers to it as “the feeling of fullness in the emptiness of the desert”.
The colours of the landscape change constantly. The light changes. Shepherds with flocks of sheep and goats on rocky outcrops. Men walking or just sitting with their animals in the middle of nowhere. I wonder what they think about? I am envious of the simplicity of their existence. The abundance of quiet time.
Recent winter rain has brought green desert vegetation to the surface of this vast and arid region. There is no sign of permanent life out here. It both frightens and entices me.
We visited the famous Star and Crying Dunes. Both resemble the pyramids of Giza as they rise from the orange earth. A challenge to ascend but breathtaking views are the reward. How can so much of nothing be so beautiful?
It was windy, we had sand all through our eyelashes and teeth, we got lost and it was wonderful.
Beyond that end of the roadway I got what I was seeking… silence, no wifi, no work, no school projects, no commitments to be anywhere other than in the now. Precious time for reconnecting and getting beyond the daily grind of life as a busy family. Conversations and connections uninterrupted and for 48 short hours I had my important people all to myself.
There is something so good about the smell of an open fire. Sitting in the sand eating dates and arabic bread under a desert sky exploding with stars while our hosts performed prayer on a nearby dune. Waking in silence, the early morning sky so clear. The chill of winter still in the air and the joy of not being hot!
The return drive home brought more than just a tired and sandy family of four back to reality. Beyond what I was seeking, the most amazing unexpected encounter occurred.
The word unexpected has many meanings.
It is an adjective described as not expected or regarded as likely to happen.
Synonyms include: unforeseen, unanticipated, out of the blue, without warning.
The arabic word for unexpected is ghyr mutawaqae / غير متوقع.
We had exited the dunes and were driving over the sandy plains and chanced upon a bedouin sitting on the ground with a caravan of camels, a grey unsaddled horse and a black camel. In a desert so enormous, how and why did our paths cross? A man from Sudan just sitting in all that space with an unlikely combination of four legged companions.
He was unfazed by the attention, not overly happy or sad, just content - it’s what he does I suppose. That chance encounter will stay with me forever. I wonder if he has given us a second thought this week? Doesn’t really matter does it?
Despite his indifference, I am eternally grateful for our collision with the ghyr mutawaqae. It was a perfect ending to an Australia Day we won’t forget x