Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Quiet Outing

The morning air is still cool with the promise of warmth and heat shimmering in the pale rays of the sun. I hustle the younger children throughout our villa, reminding them to brush their teeth, go to the bathroom, grab a hat. My oldest son assembles pizza bread in the kitchen. Our recipe is simple. Cover thin arabic flat bread with pizza sauce, sprinkle with cheese and favorite toppings, add another piece of bread on top and bake until the cheese is melted.Soon the bread is finished and we gather in the car. The kids bicker about the seats, chargers misplaced, and books. We drive through the traffic of Riyadh. My husband handles the erratic driving of other drivers with cool composure, eyes and ears alert as he navigates our Nissan Pathfinder out of the city.

We drive on a highway with villas, shops, restaurants, and mosques lining the way. Soon the villas become more sparse until we see grand peaks rise out of the beige desert sand. Typically, the air is dusty and hazy, but today the sky is so blue and bright. I feast my eyes on the vivid color of the sky, grateful for the view.

We drive for over an hour, trying to remember which exit we need to take. After three wrong turns, we find the right exit and drive away from the highway to the sand dunes. It is still spring and the heat doesn't quite scorch the earth yet. Green trees, not just palm trees, line fences. I look over and see a large swath of green breaking up the red sand. The green startles me, but I soon see a large sprinkler, indicating the green is a field of some sort.

We arrive at a rough parking lot of sorts. Directly at the edge of the lot is a large sand dune. At the base of the dune, remnants of others' picnics and desert excursions mar the beauty of the sand. I step out of the car, feeling the heat far more intensely than I expect for early March. The sand is hot, almost too hot to bear. My socks shield my feet from the worst part of it. But my kids who have too enthusiastically kicked off their shoes howl as they try and hop unsuccessfully on the sand to get their shoes.

We pull out plastic buckets and shovels along with large black plastic garbage bags. My husband begins to fill the bags with sand while the children make their way up to the top of the dune. I swelter and sweat in my black abaya, feeling grumpy at the way it focuses the heat. My husband takes pity on me and tells me to go to the top so I can remove my abaya without being seen. It is difficult to walk up the dune with my arms full of food and water. When I step the sand slips and I feel my progress is minimal.

I trudge on while my husband continues filling bags for our homemade sandbox. I finally get to the top and set down my things. I sink into the sand, feeling its surprising coolness. This side of the dune has been in the shade. I slip off my abaya and take off my shoes, shaking out the sand. After I remove my shoes, I dig my toes in the sand. My youngest son who is three, squeals in delight as he slides down the dune on his bottom. I revel in the soft, almost silky texture of the sand. I run my fingers through the sand, scooping up a handful of sand and bringing it close to my eyes to closely examine the fine grains. The array of colors dazzles my eyes. Looking out over the landscape, I see the dunes go on for miles, some gentle slopes while others have jagged, sharp edges. The dunes are beautiful.

My children are content as they play in the sand, running along the razor-like edge of the dune, throwing themselves down the side and laughing as they half-slide, half-scoot down. I brush the sand over my legs, and look up at the sky, still so blue, with bright white clouds lazily floating in the sky. The warm sand beats on my face, as I enjoy the coolness of the sand. Drinking water feels refreshing in the warmth.

My husband finishes filling bags with sand and comes up to join us, plopping down beside me and grabs a bottle of water. We open the containers of pizza bread and eat, enjoying the simple food. My husband buries the kids in the sand. They laugh and giggle as their toes poke out of the sand. They close their eyes tightly to enjoy the sensation of the sand covering their bodies. My youngest son, his cheeks flushed from the heat, keeps playing with all his might, refusing to stop and eat, though he does help himself to the water bottle.

After a time the sun heats up the sand and we pack up our stuff and slip and slide down the dune to our car. Brushing off our clothes and body energetically, we then pile ourselves into the car. The exertion and heat of the morning makes everyone quiet as we head home to Riyadh. I'm really going to miss the desert and its beauty. 

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