Poetic images from the desertBeauty in the barrenness of the Empty Quarter [Archives:2005/804/Last Page]

January 6 2005

By Irena Knehtl
[email protected]
For The Yemen Times

Yemen's eastern and southern governorates, Al Jawf, Marib, Shabwa and Hadramawt surround the sands, the Al Rub AlKhali desert, or Empty Quarter, the great desert of Southern Arabia.

There the Yemeni governorates fade into winds, draught and barren stretches. Inside is more sand, both in surface and volume. And a more daunting landscape featuring high sand dunes.

A barren place, where rare blooming flowers are a sign of hot weather 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, cardamon coffee was in the air. Not a bird, not a blade of grass, but great grandeur. A full moon which presides over the starts, and once foretold the destiny of nations. Roads here have particular significance, and in Arabia one of the most important rights is the right to passage.

I went there just in time to write down some oral poetry. And before man lost or gave up his battle with nature. The human strength and weakness, the only elements needed for a powerful and strong being the triumph.


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. Earth and 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. Its violent gushes tear 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 woolly 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 sand.

What news had they of those sands? 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 was 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 that they lay bare for so long.

Like a prince

Camels now appear 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 as 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 clouds 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 rain keep falling, the thunder 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 travels 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.

Count the 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 in 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.

Did you know …?

– The Al Rub Al Khali, or the Empty Quarter desert is the world 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 up to 80 Celsius.

– A massive, trackless expanse of shifting sand dunes, covering 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 the Yemen. The sandy and stormy eastern part is the richest in petroleum and minerals.

– It is bordering on Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sultanate of Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.

– British explorer Sir Wilfred Thesiger, was the first Westerner to navigate eastern section in Empty Quarter in 1945. Read his beautiful account “The Arabian Sands”.

– Yemen Governorates that surrounding the Al Rub Al Khali or the Empty Quarter desert are AlJawf, Marib, Shabwa, and Hadramwat. Except for AlJawf, an predominantly agricultural area, oil in commercial quantities has been discovered.

– Aljawf area is also known for ancient salt and mineral mines, such as gold and silver, thought to be an important source of wealth of the ancient Sabean kingdom.

– 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 wolves, jackals, hyenas.

– Explore also the fascinating Arabian Wildlife web site: www.arabianwildlife.com and www.arabianoryx.com