Small town business owner of Keith’s Restaurant, Vilma, compiled a series of (short) stories written by Fonthill locals upon her request. She sweetly asked me nearly seven years ago if I would contribute. And contribute I did. June, 2009:
Thinking of the amount of camping in the variety of deserts as a wee one, I know I definitely took it all for granted. My parents are moderate adventurers and it seemed like every weekend we would go on a desert excursion. I’m sure that wasn’t the case though I used to complain a fair bit about it as if it were. Most of the time we wouldn’t venture too far out, as we had to make it back in time for school and work, but even these smaller trips required my parents to plan and pack thoroughly (you know, to survive the elements). Many adventures involved us getting up early on Thursday morning and heading out to another part of another desert simply to just be and explore.
One particular noteworthy trip was a trek we made to see Jebel (mountain) Al Hamdah. We drove over 700 kms in the desert and got lost at one point thanks to a large sandstorm. We have gotten lost on other occasions too, the most memorable of them all being the time we brought Kimberley with us. Sitting in the back of the suburban in the dead of night with Kimberley and Molly, my brothers up front and my mom sitting with her body half out of the passenger side window holding onto a cigarette lighter powered searchlight to help assist my dad in navigating the trackless rocky terrain. We were so lost.
The official Dirty Dancing soundtrack tape played over and over again, likely a means to keeping an air of calm—I know all the words to every song to this day. It was on this trip to this mountain that was in an area called Bir Hima. It has the largest concentration of rock art in all of Saudi and it was only in the 1950’s that a westerner had even seen them. I clearly remember my mom talking about it being her mission to find this one particular life size carving of the goddess Aliah. We found her, among other pictures of horses, camels, etc., and we have a great photo of my mom in a mimicked pose of and with the goddess. This too was the trip that we found a perfectly preserved, bleached from the sun, camel skeleton. We stopped and collected the bones and apparently, they now reside at Continental.
Other adventures in the desert have provided me with incredible experiences that not many western women can boast. Like the time my brothers and I attempted to ‘sled’ down a 40 foot sand dune. We had an old pizza tray that we sat on and gave a go of, but unfortunately it didn’t work in the way we had hoped. Another time, it was nearing dusk and in the midst of our setting up camp Jonathan and I came across a family of scorpions. There were probably about eight or ten of them, we immediately told the nearest adult, and he, this great big Australian man, pulled out a sledge hammer from the back of his vehicle and proceeded to smash the little guys. A further trip Jonathan and I awoke to a dozen or more one inch long black ants crawling over us. There was a hole in the tent. We have driven into quicksand, been stopped and treated to meals from Bedouins, other desert men with yellowed or missing teeth have shown us how good of shots they are with their rifles. We have come across water snakes, nursing camels, locusts that have turned the skies orange with the bulk mass of their numbers, we have seen wild baboons tumble down mountainsides toward us, howling and screeching like only baboons can.
Camping truly was a great experience. I thank my parents for being so exploratory and patient. It’s one thing to deal with the desert, but to bring three young kids into it as well…well, that’s a kind of patience and strength I can only hope to acquire.
I don’t believe I have ever stayed a full Saudi summer. We travelled to Canada every summer to visit with family and enjoy the much less hot Canadian summers. Winters were still obviously warm. On occasion I might have sported pants or jeans or even a sweater, but that was rare. In the desert up in the mountains it could get chilly (dusting of snow even) and tapered sweat pants were a necessity for those instances. Rainy season was also a real treat. I suppose it would be the beginning of the monsoon season for Asia, yet for Saudi we would only get a couple of days of rain in the year. The clouds would open up and unleash torrential rains for what seemed like hours on end. I have some fond memories of wading in streets and being so enthralled with the sheer amount of water. I recall seeing cars bobbing up and down in streets as if they were small bath toys in a giant’s tub. Life was always interesting to say the least.
Although at the age of ten I was experiencing more freedoms and responsibilities I was still just a kid who happened to have cool parents who exposed her to some pretty cool stuff. I was lucky. I am lucky.
Long live the ten year old in all of us.