Desert Journeys 8
March 10th 2017
have a late 19th century map in my hallway. I doesn’t have countries on it – rather the various empires of the time: pink for the British, green for the Ottoman, orange for the Russian and so on. It shows how humankind had spread across the globe, with the major shipping routes of trade, the telegraph lines between continents and the major cities. Yet, there is next to nothing in the Arabian peninsula. It is just a barren wasteland of high desert. There is only a solitary camel train route crossing from one side of what is now Saudi Arabia to the other.
Over a hundred years after the map was made, I found myself in that desert. Oil had been found and Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud had created a nation. Riyadh, in the middle of the peninsula, is a massive, modern city – of a scale similar to those shown on my map. It is deeply impersonal with dual carriageways running throughout it. The challenges of the desert’s physical environment have morphed but remain. Life can be very lonely there; communities are separated by education level, nationality and income; there are people struggling to get by. Looking at how that city has grown out of the desert, I ponder that wildernesses aren’t just created by nature. We must make sure that in our daily lives we strive to create communities that support everyone.