A Blue Spot on the Brown Map
When my work finishes for the day, I often take a look through Google Maps to discover new places to explore on the weekend. A while ago I noticed a sliver that turned to a blue spot on the brown map of Saudi Arabia. When I zoomed in I found that it was a fresh water lake with a dam named Wadi Baish (بحيرة وادي بيش) not to be confused with the location of the same name near the city, Baish. Needless to say, this area was uncharted territory for me. The students from previous sessions had said that the roads were very bad in this region and that I shouldn’t go unless I had a 4X4 vehicle. So, after renting a Hyundai Accent, my colleague Hamidi and I were off.
Dhahran Al-Janoub is situated just an hour outside of Najran and our GPS guide indicated that we were to hang a left at the main roundabout to take a road leading west out of the city. The road we found ourselves on was unmarked and seemed like a personal driveway, but we put our faith in our smart phones and continued on. The little street did end up taking us out of the city and to a checkpoint I had never encountered before. The road to the region west of Dhahran was closed off by it. As we pulled up to the gate we were approached by a soldier who asked us where we were going and why. Luckily, my colleague has the ability to calm down tense situations and was able to explain that we wanted to see fresh water. The guard chuckled, gave us directions, and wished us well. With the checkpoint behind us, we crossed into the less visited parts of the `Asir region.
On the road in `Asir.
Crossing streams. The road to Wadi Baish is long and winding. We drove up sharp curves to the top of a mountain only to descend again and pass through a small village. This was manner of driving for the next four hours. The road was actually quite nice, the only downside was when we had to cross streams. The engineers mustn’t have taken into consideration that a stream literally passes over the road so more often than not, cars have to wade through an inch of water. The views along the way were absolutely stunning. One thing we took note of was the lack of thobes worn by the local Saudis. In this region, a wizara and button down shirt are donned more often than the traditional white thobe more often associated with Saudis. I was tempted to take a photo of the locals, but more often than not they were already staring at us and I didn’t want to make things awkward.
Photo of locals by Eric Lafforgue
We took a break for the afternoon prayer in village called Al Reeth, which was interesting this time because some of the worshippers were armed. Passing salaams to a local who has a pistol and bullets strapped over his shirt is always a little awkward. After our unsettling prayer, we had a lahem kapsa, which is supposed to be lamb with rice but Hamidi thought it was donkey meat. Needless to say I stuck to the rice and then we were on our way.
Arriving at Wadi Baish is unlike I had ever experienced in Saudia. The view is simply breathtaking, especially after spending months in the desert. The lake appears to have grown due to the dam constructed on the northern side of it. Fresh air and the sound of waves greet you as walk up to its shores. The quiet allowed me to relax and reflect on the day what we had seen. The simple life of the Saudi country side is amazing. We spent a good amount of time checking out the different areas of Wadi Baish.
The ride home was memorable because our GPS had lost reception. I shared in some great conversations, got lost and nearly drove to Yemen, had locals offer us qat (300 SAR a piece) when we were asking for directions, and had our car thoroughly searched by the same guard who allowed us into this restricted area. All in all, Wadi Baish is a great place to visit if you reside in Southern Saudi Arabia.
Into the wild. Wadi Baish, Jazan.
The Writings on the Wall - Bi’r Hima, Najran
Najran: explore or die. Entering my second year into Najran, I’ve learned that if I’m not actively exploring the environment, I will be incredibly bored. The couch-potato life style isn’t appealing to me and Najran doesn’t provide the distractions frequented by western expats in larger Saudi cities. What we do have is a city rich in history to explore. A few kilometers away from the border with Yemen, Najran is home to Al-Ukhdood ruins, a famous dagger souq, and a completely unique community of Saudis. My friend and former colleague detailed more about the city in a post you can read here.
Given that I grow tired of this place, I do venture back into the `Asir region to reconnect with old friends that I made while teaching there. I had in mind to visit Khamis Mushayt and attend an American style BBQ, unique in the South, but fate would have it that I wouldn’t be able to make it (Budget didn’t open in the morning like it used to). Frustrated, I again walked back to our local Budget branch in the evening and rented a car anyway. I had in mind to park out in the desert and have a quiet Saturday in solitude. Then I remembered Hima.
Hima is village outside of Najran and is home to one of the world’s largest collections of petroglyphs and Thamudic carvings. The settlement goes back a few thousand years B.C. and remains inhabited to until today. My first trip out that had been with my family and it was rushed. We didn’t know where we were going and when we arrived at the site, we didn’t really know where to look. After seeing a few carvings here and there, we opted to go home. This time I was on my own.
Just outside of Hima.
An hour and half drive past the airport led me back to where I had been before. The directions to get there are a little ambiguous, but I was familiar with the roads from before. I pulled up to the site, which is essentially a rock formation with a large fence around it. There were numerous areas where one could just slip right under and really get up close to examine the history of the area. I parked my car and ventured out. It was just past the mid-day prayer which meant that it was extremely quiet; perfect for taking my time to poke around.
I had only walked about fifty paces before I heard the noise of a vehicle behind me. At first I thought it was a car passing by on the road so I didn’t pay it much attention until it sounded considerably louder. I thought “oh shit it’s the cops” to myself as the noise persisted. I turned around to find a white SUV pulling up alongside me. Upon closer inspection, I noticed the driver was bedu, one of the traditional nomads of the area. I also noticed he had a rifle (looked like a .30-06) between the driver and passenger seats. I gave out my greeting of salaam and he returned it, asking me to come over. What to do in such a case? I immediately remembered a conversation I had with another Saudi local over a cup of coffee at Venus Café. He told me that there were some Bedouin out in Hima and that even he would venture out there out of fear for his safety.
What to do? At this point I decided to stop thinking and I approached the SUV. I didn’t have many options and the guy had a gun. Speaking in my broken Arabic, I found that he was a local of Hima and curious to see who exactly was walking around the fenced off area. The usual, where are you from and where do you work questions were asked. He laughed when I said Amreeki and didn’t believe me until I showed him my ID. From there on out he asked me if I wanted to see all the different sites. I hadn’t known there were more around than what laid beyond the fence I was walking around. I hopped in and showed me the ways around the fences to see the different carvings. We walked to about five different locations and examined the carvings on each until he asked if I wanted a break.
It’s believed that the different gods were depicted alongside the stories.
Alongside the Thamudic script is a picture of a man drawing his sword.
“You shoot?” He asked me.
I smiled and nodded yes. Rifle shooting happens to be one of my favorite hobbies that I’ve enjoyed since I was six. As he loaded up the rifle, I noticed that it was a .22, a much smaller caliber and less dangerous gun than what I had previously though it was. By this time, another local who was fetching water from the local well came to join us. We filled up a bottle with dirt and stones and then set it close by. The two locals took aim and both missed. The gun was handed to me and I took my time aiming. I fired one round and hit my target which turned out to be a big deal for the guys. I had partially affirmed there stereotypes of Americans which brought them a good laugh.
The wells were nearby and the local explained in detail the history of them and which ones were still in operation today. After drinking a bottle of the water from the historic well, the late afternoon prayer arrived and with it, I departed. I thanked my new friend for showing me a good time and promised to come out again but with more friends.
What could have been a boring Saturday turned out to be one to remember. Next week, Sed BayshI, a dam between the `Asir and Jazan regions!
Until next time!
To the States and back
After a month back in the States, I’m back in the KS of A. Life goes on I guess. Just finished 15 days of giving and participating in training. The crew is ready and students registered. And now, the year begins.
There’s not a whole lot to mention because after you’ve experienced the life here, it gets old fast. There are ups and downs and time in between.
I hope to start running soon with a buddy from work.
Study. Sit. Watch pranks on Youtube. Work. Sleep. Repeat.
My creativity has really gone south since moving to the KSA. I can’t wait to start my vacation - only 46 left until it’s back to the States!
It’s been ten years since I accepted Islam as my faith and moral compass. In the ten years of practicing, I haven’t been a part of better communities than those I found in Duluth, MN and Beaverton, OR. I think due to the small city size, many different folks from all backgrounds came together to make a community. The feeling of brotherhood and diversity has been absent from every other city I’ve ever lived in or visited.