Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A REAL Explorer

One incredible journey
If you live in Arabia and think of exploring, one name usually springs to mind: Wilfred Thesiger.  He was an English pioneer who, in addition to globetrotting to all sorts of places around the world, spent 5 years exploring the desert with Bedouin.  He wore the clothes of the Bedouin and spoke their language; they called him Sheikh M’barak from the North, because rival tribes would have killed him if they found out he was English. He’s a legend – a real life Lawrence of Arabia and greatly admired and respected by locals here. He counted Sheikh Zayed as one of his best friends.
Last weekend I was lucky enough to visit a new exhibition dedicated to the great man, in Al Jahili Fort in Al Ain.
Not only is it a stunning record of his travels – beautiful sepia grainy images which have been chosen to work within the unique display environment of the fort – it’s a very moving account too.  This is an age where the only way of life was the desert way of life. No real possessions, no luxuries, just camels, the odd barasti house, if you were lucky and living off your wits and instincts.  His stories of days without food or water actually made my toes curl.  

One part which touched me the most was the story of two teenage boys who left their families and homes to explore the Empty Quarter with Thesiger for years. Their loyalty and friendship lasted long after their great adventure and they were reunited thirty years later.  Very moving.

It’s made me even more eager to visit Liwa and re-trace some of his steps, although I’ll hold my hands up: I’ll be relying on some modern comforts for that trip….

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