I was only nine months old when the plane touched down. Cradled in the arms of my mother, welcoming myself to arguably the most conservative country in the world. A place where women cannot leave their house without Burqas*, shops have to close five times during the day for prayer, and unrelated men and women can’t hold hands in public. Can a thing as freedom exist in a place like that? I had yet to find out.
Having lived in the blistering heat of Saudi Arabia all your life, as a human being, it is still biologically impossible to adapt to the heat that takes over the country in summer. I, a student at a British school, often sought refuge from the sun. Oh, the sun – a great cause of annoyance, smelly sweat, and the frequent fly. Avoid the sun whenever possible. I was only twelve. Oh, how ignorant was I?
I had traveled to many places by the time I was 15 – UK, Spain, France, Italy, USA, Malaysia, Pakistan – but never had I really explored the hell I lived in, Saudi. It was the day after my 15th birthday, my dad decided to take a family trip to the outskirts of the Rub Al Khali* (the empty quarter). Surrounded by nothing but sand, no electricity, no good food, why would anyone even imagine a place like that let alone wanting to visit it? However, I agreed on going because, well, you only live once. And because my dad threatened to take away my PS3 if I didn’t. And so the journey had begun.
We left the house at around 12 AM hoping to catch the breathtaking dessert sunrise. A journey of five hours passed very quickly because… I slept throughout. As I opened my eyes to the purportedly hell I had promised myself to avoid my entire life, I witnessed the most magnificent sight that God had offered to mankind. Like a piece of heaven bestowed on earth just so people could know. Know how insignificant their worries are, how vast the earth actually is, and how nature has the capability to make you hate the things you love and love the things you hate. Twilight had taken over the dessert. It was a purple I cannot describe in contrast with the rich golden of the sand. I stepped out of the SUV ignoring anything mum, dad, or my sister were saying. I had found the place.
Our tent had already been set up. Everyone entered the tent, tired from the road trip, hoping to get some rest. Everyone but me. I sat right outside, my back against the wooden rod that supported the tent, my feet dug into the sand, just glazing into endless, beautifully carved dunes made of glimmering sand and the tiny specks of life far, far away. Only now do I come to realize that we might be the ones missing out – not the Bedouins. I now knew a place where I could seek refuge from all the hustling of the world, all the daily stresses, where I could just come and…reflect.
The calm of the moment was disrupted by a high pitched sound. I looked up and saw what I had only seen in textbooks. A Golden Eagle. Flying into the horizon, such a prestigious creature, gliding in the air like it possessed the sky. It was everything I wanted to be in life.
My mind and my body were in comprehensive tranquility. This was my Nirvana.
*Burqa: A black dressing worn by females that covers them from head to toe revealing only the hands, eyes and feet.
*Rub Al-Khali: In the Southern part of Saudi Arabia. Largest sand dessert in the world.