I parked my car on the side of the road and walked away from the road to take some shots of an interesting-looking mountain; when I headed back to my car, an old Nissan pick-up truck had pulled up near it. The three men in the pick-up spoke to me through the window, “You’re from Bahrain?” They noticed my number plate. “Yes, I am.” I replied.
I guess they were very excited to see me as one of them had his phone up and was filming me. They then insisted that I join them for tea. “I’m heading to Al Ula,” I said “and don’t wish to drive in the dark."
“It’s on our way don’t worry, you must join us!” Even though I am embarrassed to say that the first thought that went through my mind was to run for my life! However, something nudged me in my heart that this will be an experience of a lifetime.
After about an hour’s drive, we finally reached their tent which was on the outskirts of a village just outside the main highway towards Al Ula. One of the guys introduced me to Abu Abdullah. My first impression was that his clothes were extremely clean and tidy for someone hanging out in the desert chopping wood. I shook hands with him and was greeted warmly as he invited me into the tent. “May God give life to the one who comes to us, the blessing has visited us, welcome people of Bahrain”. These are typical Arabic phrases always used when greeting a guest.
“You came all the way here from Bahrain in your tiny car?” said Abu Abdullah, as he was preparing the tea over the bonfire inside the tent. “I sure did.” I answered.
“Why didn't you at least take a friend with you?” I told him I would make friends along the way and that sure enough, right now they were my friends! They all laughed.
-Abu Abdullah and his nephews. Al Shamli, Saudi Arabia.
I discovered that Abu Abdullah was a very well educated man with a masters degree in law. He retired early from his career at a government job in nearby Al Gassim city. After the morning prayers he usually spends his morning sipping coffee in his tent with his nephews before heading out to take family members to school. Even though they are quite modern when it comes to Bedouin standards, he expressed that they love going back to their simple way of life and spending time in the desert. “The desert brings peace of mind.” he said.
As the tea was brewing, he got up and instructed us to get ready for the afternoon prayers. Once we were done he turned around and asked me “Don’t you cut and combine your prayers when you travel?” I said yah I actually do, usually, but since I’m with you guys I felt that it would be more appropriate to continue together. “Yes! That is the correct way, when you are praying with others you shouldn’t leave the prayer early, some people do that and that is not right!” For some reason, I was somehow pleased that I passed this unexpected test on the correct method of religious practices, however for me it was my natural tendency that when you are with others, just do what they do and you will stay out of trouble!
As we sat and sipped on Saudi Arabian coffee, he spoke about the changes that are happening in the country and how the older generation are not so happy about it. He said that its like their minds have just went on locked mode and no matter how much you try to explain to them that these changes are good, they won’t budge. All the while his curious young nephews listened to our conversation and expressed their wish to visit Bahrain one day. Abu Abdullah wasn't too fond of the idea as he said Bahrain has many temptations!
We spent an hour sipping cup after cup (tgahwa tgahwa!) of tea, coffee and eating dates as we conversed about a variety of topics. He insisted that I stay for dinner, I had to beg my leave from their wonderful hospitality. I found them to be a kind and genuine people with a true practice of selflessness and devotion to the well-being of their family within their way of life. He made me promise that when I pass by again on my way back I stop by to eat, however I would not wish to burden them with my presence once again, even though I know deep down they wouldn't think twice about hosting me again. I came away feeling that whenever we go back to our roots and values, we seem to have all the time in the world to live for others.