It is amazing to think that such a vast deserty area as the middle east is where civilization chose to take hold. The environment is not always an easy one to live in. Although I must admit that the abundance of several different kinds of dates makes it much more tolerable. The truth is that where a desert may seem difficult and forbidding, the locals who have lived there since the beginning of time are, of course accustomed to its sands, its winds and its waters. Water seems to dictate life here though in some places you can find life where you would think that there shouldn’t be any. I sometimes thought of people wandering through the desert (for reasons I could only guess at) and stopping to make camp in what seems like the middle of nowhere, and then just staying there and making a village or a town. Somehow making life work.
But the question would almost always follow: why didn’t they keep moving? What possible reason could they have found for not continuing on to someplace that would have been easier to live in? I used to picture people finding the most beautiful place they had ever seen and calling it home. In the middle east, I pictured people finding a hidden fresh water spring in the desert and being so thankful for being saved, they decided to stay and pay homage to that moment for the rest of their lives. And their children’s lives.
That is not to say that all of the middle east is a wasteland. Actually, there are many places with a perfect Mediterranean climate. Palm and olive trees, goatherds and camels tethered to light posts. Even some places of lush greenery with small waterfalls cascading over mossy rocks. And of course miles and miles of fertile farmland. But one thing that can be felt in all of these places is history. This is where forgotten civilizations came and went leaving rocks carved into impossible shapes. This is where people who worshipped the sun are dug up from deep under the ground and their carcasses put on display. Where evil shopkeepers will swindle you out of anything and everything they possibly can and where smiling strangers invite you into their homes for a royal welcome.
One great experience of the middle east is the underwater life. Just being in the water is dizzying, with colours and shapes that you would never imagine. But to float in the water is really like flying. Or as close as mankind can get right now. You feel as though you are flying over fish cities and coral forests, occasionally coming face to face with a creature of the deep that looks at you and seemingly into you. The desert on land is in perfect juxtaposition with the intensity of life just under the surf. To experience them both is to better understand the area not just in terms of culture but in terms of its place on mother earth.