A Day at the Well – Visiting Bir Al-Rowha and Badr
Gov showed up on time and brought empty water bottles for the trip. I wasn’t sure why they called him “Gov” nor have I ever found myself curious enough to ask. Since I lived at the crossroads of Medina and Haramain Road, we decided to meet at my place. The trip was 90 km north and then the mountain drive east—a shorter but more scenic excursion from the flat desert road and too far from the Red Sea to break the hot pitch the sun would always make everyone endure.
“There’s a well out there which was poison until the Prophet Muhammad spit in it“ he said chucking with his cockney grumble. Born in England, raised partially in Kenya, the fusion of the slangs and languages he knew made him sound like the pirates of yester-year. My son Ahmed, at his thirteen-yearold stage of confusion, seemed to be weathering the company of a stranger rather well, despite having expressed an inclination to not go, seldom excited at the prospect of anything remotely educational. Maybe it was because Gov had the effect of putting people at ease. I told Ahmed to fetch some of our empties, remembering the sweet well water in Chesapeake near my father’s house.
“Can I bring my Playstation to read books?”, he said in plea. I nodded, knowing what his true strategy really was but it was too early in the morning to argue about it. My first real lapse in judgment was to let Gov drive, not realizing at the time the phrase ‘bat out of hell’ may have been coined to describe his automotive bravado. I found out between Ruhailley, our starting point and the first road sentry post, three hundred kilometers of mostly grassless mountain range that Gov had issues with the time consuming formalities of safe driving. From its dried concrete appearance of the mountains as we careened past them on the way to Badr, I suspected they had been a consequence of a volcano or two cooking the landscape sometime before men were around.
“I can help out with the driving?” I said again.
“What’s wrong Ahki? You don’t like my drivin’ or some’in. No big ting. I love to drive… but thanks anyway,” declared Gov weaving through traffic in and around a construction site.
When we got to the Bir Al-Rowha well, Gov explained that once upon of time (specifically the Prophet’s), the well was poisoned.
“The Prophet spit in it and now it gives the sweet stuff—a bloody miracle,” he said with a chuckle. It looked like they were constructing buildings close to the well but we were able to drive to it by a makeshift road the bull dozers made in their work. I thought it strange something of such historical significance wouldn’t be better preserved. I was told that the official brain trust was rumored to see such relics as a source of religious corruption and unnecessary in the preservation of their history because people tend to worship them. Like most things you hear, finding the documentation to confirm or deny its validity always provoked an argument.
Some Saudis were there in an expedition just finishing their take. I went over to look at the well which was a large mound covered with chicken wire and appeared to be a bit larger and older than the ones portrayed in the movies about such places in the Arabian desert.
Next to the well was a man-made concrete obelisk surrounded by a small platform where Gov and the boy were setting the bottle we brought. An old Bedouin whom seemed to come from nowhere began to fill his ten liter container from the smallest of several valves like spigots jetting out the obelisk, a contraption apparently built to keep the careless and the foolhardy adding bodies to the mystique and legend of the well. I nodded to the Bedouin as Gov began to fill the bottles.
We Got Company
About a third through our load one of those giant tour buses somehow navigated the path and came to a screeching halt on the gravel the construction crew apparently laid for traction for the Bobcats working nearby. Pakistani tourists got out quickly. A van pulled up shortly afterwards with people who seemed to be with the same group.
“Looks like we got here just in time,” I said to Gov
“Can I have one of your bottles?,” said one of the women from the van who had came up after taking a peep at the historic hole like we had.
“Go ‘head,” said Gov. Being part Pakistani himself, I would have done the same. A few moments later the rest came and began snatching bottles from our queue.
“Hey, watcha doin’ there. These are my bottles!” he said with more of a bark than a shout.
“Oh brother, we come here all the way from Pakistan,” said one of the men. His hands really seemed to add to his plea.
“Yeah, well I’m from England and my mate, he’s from America. You knew you were comin’… you should have come prepared “, Gov said in a ‘ha-ha’ sort of way.
The Visit to Badr
We made Badr an hour later, the site of the first battle of the first Muslims lead by the Prophet Muhammed. Growing up in Pennsylvania and having been to Gettysburg, I expected more than an unkept graveyard surrounded by neighborhoods of the usual Spanish-style houses Arabs like to live in. We had to ask a local to confirm its identity because no signs were posted. Surrounded by a five foot wall, all that was left after fourteen centuries were shards of rock arranged in rows and a sign hastily spray painted in Arabic on a wooden plank to stay out. Though disappointed, I did take some pictures that I thought would wow the folks back home. Too bad the Saudis hadn’t figured out there was a lot of money in maintaining historical relics like the well, and ancient grave sites for serial gawkers like me who just love to visit such places.
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