I lived in the Hajez as a child.
Seems weird to say. But I did.
The Hajez is the western costal region of Saudi Arabia that butts up against the Red Sea. It extends from Jordan down to nearly Yemen and is filled with old trade routes, long forgotten railroads, and water wells that gave the carvans refuge and life.
Anyway, I just read this National Geographic article about this region titled: The Wells Of Memory.
Here are 8 passages that stood out to me:
In the Hejaz—the fabled realm of a vanished kingdom of the Hashemites, who once ruled the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia—there are bustling wells and lonesome wells. There are wells whose waters convey the chemistry of sadness or joy. Each represents a cosmos in a bucket. We take our bearings off them.
The Hejaz—a crossroads where Arabia, Africa, and Asia meet, and long tied by trade to Europe—is one of the most storied corners of the ancient world. It has seen millennia of wanderers. Stone Age people hunted and fished their way north out of Africa through vanished savannas. People from some of humankind’s first civilizations—Assyrians, Egyptians, and Nabataeans—roamed through here, trading slaves for incense and gold. Romans invaded the Hejaz. (Thousands of the legionaries died of disease and thirst.) Islam was born here, in the dark volcanic hills of Mecca and Medina. Pilgrims from Morocco or Constantinople probably drank from the well in Wadi Wasit. Lawrence of Arabia may have gulped its water too.
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.
Saudi Arabia, they say, is a rich human mosaic. It enfolds many distinctive regions and cultures: 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.
Salma Alireza, a traditional embroiderer: “The traditional dress for women in the Hejaz was not the abaya”—the severe black robe imposed by the ruling Najdis. “Women here used to wear bright red and blue dresses in public. That was traditional. But life changed in the 1960s. The oil money poured in. We modernized too fast. We lost so much in 50 years!”
I bend over the well’s lip. A damp air breathes up from its darkness, cooling my cheeks. I hear from somewhere far below the calls of startled songbirds. I think: Arabia is like the American West. It is a landscape of terrible absences.
“Lorens al Arab,” I tell the workmen at the fort. I point to the live shells.The name means nothing to them. Lawrence is virtually forgotten in Saudi Arabia. He backed the wrong dynasty after the war. His champion, Faisal, the moderate Hashemite prince of the Hejaz, lost a power struggle to the fierce tribes of the interior led by the peninsula’s future king, Ibn Saud.
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.