‘God! Guests!’

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Arabian Sands, the beautifully written account by Wilfred Thesiger (1910 – 2003) of crossing the Empty Quarter by camel, is a classic of travel literature. His journeys, which took place between 1945 and 1950 in the final days before the arrival of motorised transport in Arabia (an innovation loathed by Thesiger), frequently involved severe deprivation. During a 600-mile journey with four Arab companions across the Oman desert, Thesiger discovered the drawbacks of the Beduin’s rigid rules of hospitality

Near Rabadh, Musallim suddenly jumped off his camel, pushed his arm into a shallow burrow and pulled out a hare. I asked how he knew it was there, and he said he had seen its track going in and none coming out… The afternoon dragged on until we reached the expanse of small contiguous dunes that give these sands the name of Rabadh. We decided to eat the rest of our flour, and Musssalim conjured three onions and some spices out of his saddle-bags.  We sat round in a hungry circle watching bin Kabina cooking the hare and offering advice. Anticipation mounted, for it was more than a month since we had eaten meat… We sampled the soup and decided to let it stew just a little longer. Then bin Kanina looked up and groaned, ‘God! Guests!’

Coming across the sands towards us were three Arabs. We greeted them, asked the news, made coffee for them, and then Musallim and bin Kabina dished up the hare and the bread, and set it before them, saying with every appearance of sincerity that they were our guests, that God had brought them, that today was a blessed day, and a number of similar remarks. They asked us to join them but we refused, repeating that they were our guests. I hoped that I didn’t look as murderous as I felt when I joined the others in assuring them that  God had brought them on this auspicious occasion. When they had finished, bin Kabina put down a sticky lump of dates [described elsewhere by Thesiger as ‘revolting’] in a dish and called us over to feed.

From Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger (1959)

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