Dave Eggers wrote a thing, a long piece about travel and trust and Saudia Arabian deserts, and while I know basically nothing about the desert (having never been to one), his writing really spoke to me:
“We are flying down an empty six-lane highway, on our way from Jeddah to Riyadh, a seven-hour drive, and I’m thinking of possible routes of escape. I’m in the passenger seat of a new Toyota sedan travelling at 140kph through the Saudi Arabian desert and I’m racing through the implications of opening my door and leaping free.
The driver is a stranger to me. He is young, no more than twenty-five, with a smooth face and a tentative moustache. His name is Shadad, but he is not a taxi driver, and this is not a taxi. This car and this driver were arranged hastily by my guide and friend, Majed, who helped me around Jeddah the previous week. Before this drive began, Majed and I considered it a decent, if necessary, idea to employ such a driver for this trip, but now I am pondering how I could leave this car. If I open the door and roll out, would I survive? And if I did survive, where would I go? There’s nothing but rocks and sand for miles in any direction.
But still. Vacating this car might be necessary, because though I want to trust this young driver, he is not really a professional driver, and he has no taxi licence, and most of all, moments ago, while he was talking to a friend on his cellphone, he looked over to me with a mischievous smile and said to his friend, “Yeah, American, boom boom.” Then he laughed. He did everything but point his finger at me and pull the trigger. I’m not sure how many ways there are to interpret this.”
I know this feeling, of being trapped in a car with strangers; driving on the only road around, and with each passing gas station or clapboard house, a feeling of fear (when will we pass another building, more evidence of human presence?) and regret (I should have barrel-rolled out of the car then; now it’s too late) and guilt (how can I assume this person wants to hurt me? I don’t even know them).
The small details of Eggers’s trip from Riyadh sparked many memories, but something else about his piece really struck me: that our ability and want and need to trust others supersedes the teachings of nationality or socio-religious dogma, which tell us to fear and hate those who hold different passports, who follow another god.
“We believe so little of what we would be expected to believe – we believe nothing of the foundational evil of our nations assumed by many – but we do believe that it feels good to be trusted; we believe in the constant movement of souls, the restless nature of the spirit, the profound game of make-believe necessary for either one of us to assume a set of values or motives of the other based on our passports; we believe that we are tired, so tired, of being asked to distrust or hate the people of this country or that culture, the people wearing this uniform or that one, the people who worship this prophet or that god; that we can do better than our fathers and grandfathers and forgo the pretence of rivalries and suspicions; that what we really want are not inherited antagonisms but only some measure of human and material comfort; some frequent stimulation and delight of the mind; some sense of progress for the rights of people; some possibilities and choices for our progeny and the progeny of our neighbours; the ability to love who we want to love; the ability to move freely around the planet as time and means allow.”
Read the whole thing, which was published this May by the New Statesman, here.
I took this picture from the car of an Azerbaijani stranger, on a ride from Baku to Qabala, in August 2013. Tarkan blasted on the radio.