Chase the Water

In the 1980s, on the Red Sea coast side of the Hejaz mountains in Saudi Arabia, I worked for four years and never saw rain.

The 1980s Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Western Region shepherds, the goatherds had, as Bedouins always had, steered their flocks toward the parts of the landscape that had cloud bursts or rainstorms most recently. In the 1980s they used Toyota trucks as their primary mode of transportation.

The 1980s Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Western Region shepherds, the goatherds had, as Bedouins always had, steered their flocks toward the parts of the landscape that had cloud bursts or rainstorms most recently. In the 1980s they used Toyota trucks as their primary mode of transportation.

It was always about chasing the water. Water was unpredictable and transient. Transient forbs and grasses were located differently every year, every season. Life depended on successful reading the landscape.

But this wasn’t the Empty Quarter.

The Empty Quarter was empty, why? Because no one could read the landscape, no one could read the water. No life. Empty.

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Hejaz, Tihama

Not every desert in the Arabian Peninsula is sand.

Hejaz, Tihama

The house, the human shelter in this photo sits where the Hejaz mountains fold down onto the flat Tihama coastal plain. The house’s position in the landscape tells the story of: water–there is life; and no water–no life.

In the mid 1980s I lived on the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia,  in the Western Region. The area is known historically as the Hejaz after the mountains running north from Jeddah, parallel to the Red Sea coast. This is the region of Mecca and Medina. And the Hejaz mountains divide the Tihama, the coastal plain influenced by the Red Sea from the inland deserts, Nafud, and Nejd.

The first time I heard the phrase in the above image caption, ‘no water–no life’ was in Morocco in the early 1970s. I was sitting with a group of people including a young Moroccan man, from Meknes, whose family originally had been farmers in Taza. He said, “Without water there is no life and no cleanliness.”