Castles from sand, gardens from heaven:The magic of Yemeni sands [Archives:2004/793/Culture]

November 25 2004

By Irena Knehtl
[email protected]
For the Yemen Times

Yemeni eastern and southern governorates, Al-Jawf, Marib, Shabwa and Hadramawt are the governorates that surround the sands of the mystical Al-Rub Al-Khali desert or empty Quarter, the great desert of Southern Arabia.
These are the Yemeni governorates that fade into winds, draught and barren stretches. Inside each of them is more sand, both in surface and volume along with more daunting landscape featuring high sand dunes.
In those governorates there are desiccated places, where rare blooming flowers are a sign of hot weather that is still to come. Although here everything still bears the mark of the past, the area stood on an ancient trade route from India.
A unique “island civilization” developed in the middle of vast sea of sand and rock. Odor of camel clung from lamb fat and sesame oil. Scent of perfumed smoke, cardamom coffee was the air that everyone breathes. What you see in the atmosphere is not a bird, nor a blade of grass, but great grandeur. You can see the full moon presiding over the stars, and once foretold the destiny of nations. Roads here
have particular significance, and in Arabia one of the most important rights is the right for passage.
The Al-Rub Al-Khali, the Empty Quarter desert, is the world's largest sand desert. There is more sand in the Empty Quarter, both in surface areas and volume, than any other place on Earth. Although the Sahara is world best – known desert, it is actually only 10 percent sand, with the remainder made up of rock, scrub and mountainous terrain. Here sand temperatures can reach 80 Celsium.
A massive, trackless expanse of shifting sand dunes, covers an area of more than 250,000 square miles, or 650,000 square kilometers, and extends to 1,200 by 500 kilometers. As one of the driest places on earth, most of it consists of massive rolling sand dunes, but to the west there is gravel plains that rise towards the mountains of Yemen. The sandy and stormy eastern part is the richest in petroleum and minerals.
It is worth noting that Al-Hazem in Al-Jawf is the center of Yemeni eastern governorates.
It is bordering Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sultanate of Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.
British explorer Sir Wilfred Thesiger, was the first Westerner to navigate the eastern section in Empty Quarter in 1945. He recorded his observations and encounters in the popular book, “The Arabian Sands”. .
All Yemen governorates that surround Al-Rub Al-Khali except Al-Jawf, which is a predominantly agricultural area, oil has been discovered in commercial quantities.
However, Al-Jawf area is known for ancient salt and natural minerals, such as gold and silver. The province is thought to have been an important source of wealth of the ancient Sabean kingdom in the past.
The area is home to a number of rare species of wildlife, including the Arab oryx, gazelle, rich variety of birds and animal life. Leopards have been seen in the Asir National Park. There are also wolves, jackals, and hyenas.
I went to Al-Rub Al-Khali just in time to write down some oral poetry before man lost or gave up his battle with nature in this mysterious place. And here is the poetry.

Poetry on the beauty of Al-Rub Al-Khali:
Rain oh cloud up to the root of the trees

Oh, how my heart is being pulled because of Dhayjim, like the rope is pulled over the roller.
The emotions, I tried to repress, have burst open.
Bitter is my cure.
Even bitter herbs do not cure the hearts of those who love.
Everything imaginable occurred to me all at once.
While my heart boiled over like a coffee in a pot made in AlAkhsa.
nd sky I gobbled up, but for me it was not even chicken feed.
I drank the oceans in one sip and swallowed the years.
As clock of course wool, I threw the day around my shoulders, wrapped myself in the dark night, gathered the stars.
A rider of month left since the summer.
O God, send us a night where clouds are not dispersed by the wind.
Making good on their promise with floods.
I climbed a rock, a lovely rock, where white dark – wringed falcons made their abode.
O, my heart that is swept by the bowling winds, as foam and dust from the surface of a desert pool left by torrent.
O God, grant us a night with the promise of flashing lighting and heavy clouds that
)-will bring rains from Al-Hazim, from Al- Jawf.
t's violent gushes tearing into the fine crests of the sand dunes.
The joy of cultivators who will toil to irrigate their majestic palms from wells.
And refreshing camels, weakened by far from water in the hot season.
With necks as graceful as those of gazelles.
Well covered with fat, their
oolly hair coal-black with some silvery behind their ears.
The legs of camel are long, her color black and her neck slender.
Heavy clouds rolling in the wake of other.
A vast darkness, its flashes of lighting.
The stormy mood and distant thunder, the blinding flashes, the lowering clouds.
Wind scented with winter rain, pointing to the
What news had they of those sands whiter.
She loves the man who is sent to draw the water.
And he is fond of her.
With the festive, swinging fait, she heads straight to the well.
Her lips a mosaic of coral.
Her neck like the gazelle of the garden.
With her back against the date palm he watched her walk away.
He saw her and that
as enough.
The camel troops were overwhelmed.
O, God, he who knows the souls intentions secrets.
For you, I ask a night stretching from the east, he promised.
Flashes of lighting and ruling thunder are unmistakable signs.
As soon as one cloud drifts away the next one follows in its traces and brings to blossom the wide empty vastness
hat they lay bare for so long.
Camels now appears dark like indigo.
As slopes washed by the powerful rain.
Like a prince who rides at the head of his army.
When a host of nomads who view for the water at the well.
A messenger, riding a camel from Oman.
He winds his way through the rolling stony hills.
Seen from a distance his silhuette is
s fast moving object.
He burns up the mils in the wide empty plains.
His legs paddling like a swimmier, his color is reddish, his ride magnificent.
Though he is not flying, neither is he running.
Like ships at sea hurling on the waves.
His legs rocking.
Is front parts curving down as gazelles on the run.
Earth and the sky may heavy
louds release their rains.
Seaming curtains of rain are pouring down on the earth.
Rains that irrigate the branches of palms and their yellow stalks heavy with burdens of young dates that are enveloped for protection.
They irrigate the watering place of her whose curls are sprinkled with perfume.
The gray sheets of rains keep falling, the
hunder rumbling in their rain.
And the sky water splashes in the gullies of the sand files with pouring rains and lighting ripping through the dark.
And flashes like the glittering steel of Indian swords while the clouds dip towards the crests of the sand-hills of a mountain socked with rain in heavy clouds.
Oh, rider of camel who
ravels the empty wilderness.
Beware of places once inhabited by your beloved one.
Like dreams at night, they seem to have never existed at all.
When the sea surges – nothing has the power to contain it.
Even the clouds above the hilltops are now swept up by the water.
Above the clouds the freedom has a thousand faces to show.
he grains of sand in the dune.
Ours is a journey of Ninety years.
Grains are as pearl anointed with grace and beauty that cannot be bought, not even for princely sums.
No price, no matter how high can be set for a thing so precious.
For us every grain in its soil is worth a fight.
In war we glory once its gate is opened.
Once two thousand tents
n the desert drew water from our well.
One day an enemy tribe took up position in the sand – hills.
But the land is ours – not that of anyone else.
And the sands seal off the well from which we drew our water.