Arabian Sands.

– Originally posted 1st October 2013.

“Two days later an old man came into our camp. He was limping, and even by Bedu standards he looked poor. He wore a torn loin-cloth, thin and grey with age, and carried an ancient rifle, similar to bin Kabina’s. In his belt were two full and six empty cartridge-cases, and a dagger in a broken sheath. The Rashid pressed forward to meet him: ‘Welcome, Bakhit. Long life to you, uncle. Welcome – welcome a hundred times.’ I wondered at the warmth of their greetings. The old man lowered himself upon the rug they had spread for him, and ate the dates they had set before him, while they hurried to blow up the fire and to make coffee. He had rheumy eyes, a long nose, and a thatch of grey hair. The skin sagged in folds over the cavity of his stomach. I thought, ‘He looks a proper old beggar. I bet he asks for something.’ Later in the evening he did and I gave him five riyals, but by then I had changed my opinion. Bin Kabina said to me: ‘He is of the Bait Imani and famous.’ I asked, ‘What for?’ and he answered, ‘His generosity.’ I said, ‘I should not have thought he owned anything to be generous with’, and bin Kabina said, ‘He hasn’t now. He hasn’t got a single camel. He hasn’t even got a wife. His son, a fine boy, was killed two years ago by the Dahm. Once he was one of the richest men in the tribe, now he has nothing except a few goats.’ I asked: ‘What happened to his camels? Did raiders take them, or did they die of disease?’ and bin Kabina answered, ‘No. His generosity ruined him. No one ever came to his tents but he killed a camel to feed them. By God, he is generous!’ I could hear the envy in his voice.”

-Wilfred Thesiger.


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