Friday, November 29, 2019

Finding Water in our Wildernesses

If the desert is holy, it is because its a forgotten place that allows us to remember the sacred. Perhaps that is why every pilgrimage to the desert is a pilgrimage to the self. There is no place to hide and we are found.             --Terry Tempest Williams

The desert still has a memory of water. and that memory is a living thing. It is infused into the sand. It is part of its essence.      --Thomas Lloyd Qualis


Joseph navigating with a fellow traveler at an oasis spot in Qatar.

When I was a teenager, I begged my parents to allow me to go on a survival camping trip for one month in the southern Utah desert. About two days into the trip, there were some miscalculations and our group did not have any water as we trekked across the summer desert around Escalante for a day. I was 16, and my sister was 15. She and a few other hikers were having a difficult time--one was seeing mirages and the others were having trouble putting blistered feet in front of one another.

Drinking water, like breathing, rhythms we do without even thinking, suddenly became a premium. We will do almost anything to obtain them. On that fiery June day I learned how much a sip of water can mean to someone. I found the strength to go with one of the leaders to retrieve water to give to people who were depending on us. That was a day when water meant more than money, jewels, mansions, ice cream, anything. To find the water and then bring it back to my sister and friends was an errand I have never forgotten. I felt so much joy that I could give them the water they most desperately needed and wanted. And like all of us, sometimes the roles are reversed, and I have been the receiver as others have fetched and given me water in a figurative wilderness.

A favorite moment when we could serve to those who had fasted all day in the hot sun for Ramadan.

One time on a walk along the beach in Qatar, we were met by a clan of Sudanese people who invited us, their fellow travelers, to eat with them. Meeting people who you would have never met before happens in the wilderness.

After living in the arid Qatar desert for five years, I sometimes think of that day when I hear of the old Middle East caravans that roamed through the sand searching for their oasis or remote wells. Rawda means garden in Arabic, which are green pockets in the desert. They form in depressions in the desert surface. Fine soils blown  by the wind are gradually deposited and compacted in the depressions, allowing plants to grow in it. Rawda are known as sweet, fertile soil areas where people for centuries have tried to find a sign of water. These are where different plants, gardens, and date plantations grow in a parched desert--in unexpected places. As travelers in a wilderness, we need to know the traces and marks of where to look. Often times, there is not enough time to roam aimlessly: water is immediately needed. And then we stay at a particular oasis until we have been nourished and sustained enough--until we have to go to the next fertile place.

I think we are all trekking through our wildernesses, some with loaded camels of possessions, even abundant supplies. Others have barely anything or nothing on their backs as they search for their oasis in the desert. We are all on the look-out for water. Sometimes people are mistaken and see artificial wells of water, like ancient travelers saw mirages. They think the precious streams of water in their mind's vision are real, but alas, they have been fooled by the scorching sun. And then again water can be deceivingly crystal pure, but it holds poison and disease as it beckons us.

To find true, unadulterated water is a journey that sometimes we have to zig-zag across the desert for. The desert can be a teacher as we go alone on our pilgrimage to find our water. We have to leave comfort and the familiar to find the living water in the wilderness. Occasionally we do not want to pack up to go to the next oasis, but our guide tells us it is time to leave the sweet contentment of the oasis for another one that is better for our loved ones and/or ourselves. Changing course and adjusting to another terrain is part of searching for water. Being adaptable in a wilderness is definitely a prerequisite for a successful journey. Sometimes we have to be alone--other times we travel in a caravan.

As we have now left Qatar, a wilderness where I learned to grow and thrive, to live in China, I find myself a traveler going from one gorgeous rawda to another. Both places quench my thirst on the journey of finding living water. Like desert nomads, all of us have to retrieve water to nourish us--finding verdant places in an expansive wilderness. We have to learn to keep moving and filling our pots--opening our sky ever wider. And in the criss-crossing of the desert, we will find our fellow travelers again who were with at past fruitful grounds. Perhaps that is my strongest gratification. We are never alone in the wilderness. Everyone else is just trying to find their water too. For my friends who I miss, I know we will be the same caravan again someday!




I like this picture behind our house--showing the small patches of vegetation we could see most of the time. 

A Syrian man who was selling fruit we met on a walk near our house one day in Qatar. Finding Fruit in our wilderness


The lush vegetation of Muscat, Oman

My mom on a journey to find the water, meeting an expected friend from Jordan.

A painting by @AnnyKu of the Zeekret wilderness in Qatar--notice the person on the pilgrimage in the background
Joseph and Elias on a campout in Zeekret



Fellow travelers on a campout....

Sometimes the water comes sneaks up on us when we are not looking....

Finding the fruitfulness and harvest of the desert. If we keep searching, the abundance of the harvest will come. 



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