National Geographic : 2014 Jul
Out of Eden walk, part two 83 is running through the desert in his underwear, circling the well under the ruthless sun. He runs with abandon. Ali al Harbi, my translator, takes a photograph. Awad Omran, our camel handler, guffaws. But I cannot laugh. He is not mad, the running man. Or drugged. Or playing some joke. He is lost, I think. As we all are when we abandon history. We don’t know where to go. There is an abundance of pasts in the Hejaz. But I have never been to a place more memory-less. A small, bottomless well in the Hejaz: a white porcelain cup. It holds dark, rich coffee. It sits atop a polished wooden table inside an elegant mansion in the port of Jeddah. Three articulate Hejazi women refill the cup endlessly. They take turns talking, wishing to correct misperceptions about Saudi Arabia: that the kingdom is a homogenized so- ciety, a culture flattened by its famously austere brand of Islam, a nation rendered dull by escapist consumerism and by petrodollars. No. Saudi Arabia, they say, is a rich human mo- saic. It enfolds many distinctive regions and cul- tures: a Shiite east, a Yemeni south, a Levantine north, and a tribal Bedouin stronghold in the center—the puritanical redoubt of the Najdis, home of the ruling dynasty, the House of Saud. The women insist, moreover, that no region in Saudi Arabia remains more independent, more Moses Spring near Maqnah is named for the prophet believed by the faithful— Jewish, Christian, and Muslim—to have parted the Red Sea to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Photographer John Stanmeyer made the retro image with a smartphone camera app.