National Geographic : 2014 Jul
Out of Eden walk, part two 101 the fields. Of women talking to each other from windows latticed for modesty. Twin wells of memory: Almutlaq’s glasses, flashing excitedly amid the dim archaeology of his childhood. We are all pilgrims in the Hejaz. Wanderers through time. We stop at its wells, or we pass them by. It matters little. Used or not, the wells remain. In their basements shine disks of pale sky—the unblinking eyes of memory. After six months of walking, I say goodbye to my guides Ali and Awad. I cross the Haql border from Saudi Arabia to Jordan. I carry little. A shoulder bag of notebooks bound with rubber bands. Seven hundred miles of words. Pages crazed with jottings about devastating heat. Inked maps of pilgrim roads. Divinations of Bed- ouin fire doctors. Bearings for remote wells. I reach a modern tourist resort. No one pays me any mind. There is the novelty of women driving cars. I watch couples strolling beaches in sarongs. I stop at a mini-mart and buy a bottle of filtered water: a small plastic well, an artifact from the main channel of history. I peer south, beyond the Gulf of Aqaba—toward the Hejaz. A cloaked place. The lips of its ancient wells are grooved by ropes turned to dust. Dust long since blown away. I sip my water. It tastes utterly ordinary. j Rabah al Rhafe is true to the Bedouin way. At sundown the herder breaks the Ramadan fast with bread and goat’s milk. Husband to three wives and father to 20, Al Rhafe travels like his forebears, moving from well to well, praising Allah for this life.