A Romantic Tale on the Sandy Side by Amy L. Bovaird
Life in the Arab Gulf improved daily—now that my Egyptian husband had joined me. We lived north of Dubai in a small, rural emirate called “Ras al Khaimah,” which meant ‘head of the tent.’ I had been teaching there for nearly a year.
“Habibi,” I said, liking how the endearment rolled off my tongue. “We’re going on a four-wheel drive excursion this weekend.”
“Have you forgotten one small detail?” Ihab shook his finger at me playfully. “We don’t have a 4x4.”
“Mafee Mushkalla,” No problem. “We’ll hitch a ride. We’re heading out early tomorrow. Grab your duffel bag!” I twirled away to pack my own.
As we assembled our gear, Ihab reminded me of a military exercise in the Sinai when he found a tarantula in his boot. He paused, a sweatshirt in hand. “Maybe I can help drive…”
I shuddered. Calamity seemed to follow Ihab around and driving was not his strong suit. We’d probably ride with Betty and her Moroccan husband. I couldn’t imagine him turning his vehicle over to anyone. But the Arab mindset was one-for-all and with Ihab’s winning ways, it could happen.
I tried to imagine my husband driving their 4X4 in the sand dunes. Would this become one of those stories … like the time we slammed into the presidential blockade at Mubarak’s summer palace in Heliopolis? Or after the harrowing shave in downtown Cairo’s chock-o-block traffic when Ihab barely missed a heavy-set woman—presumably a merchant—carrying a basket of aish on her head. She turned and threw up her arms. The basket toppled over and round bread littered the street. Those passing by shook their fists. Ihab had pulled over and the crowd that gathered congested the street even more—but the traffic continued around us.
Afterward, I teased him. “How did you ever get your driver’s license?”
Ihab finally came clean. “The process is so time-consuming and expensive here. It’s sometimes easier…” He took out his license and showed it to me.
My eyes grew round. “You mean you … bribed … someone?”
He shrugged and repocketed his license. “Maybe people do that in the United States, too.”
Cuddled in bed and looking forward to the desert jaunt, I left the driving up to them. Arab men decided such things without the help of women.
I enjoyed my new role as tour guide and considered myself a veteran 4x4 passenger. Though the dune bashing was wild, I always held on tight and proved my stamina. I imagined myself an intrepid character in an Indiana Jones movie. Ihab was about to see a new side to his docile wife.
Thursday—the start of the Arab weekend—brought hot breezes and was shield-your-eyes-even-with-sunglasses bright. A caravan of vehicles waited at the Lantern Roundabout. Canadian Dave, aka “Desert Trekker,” shouted into a megaphone. “Who’s ready for cooler temperatures?”
“Our plan is to head to Medam in Sharjah, where we’ll meet up with more drivers. Then we make our way over to Fossil Rock. Today’s goal is to reach Camel Back Rock in Oman. Who’s ready for that?”
Cheers rose at the mention of the favorite destination across country lines.
After making sure everyone had his and at least one other cell phone number, Dave shouted into his megaphone. “Let’s GO!”
Doors slammed shut and we set out. Ihab rolled down the front passenger window and rested his arm there. From the back, I grinned. Sunburn and caked sand would coat his skin. The window would go up—half hour tops.
The drive was in full swing when we veered onto a sharp incline in the dunes. Keith, one of the best drivers in the group, became completely stuck. We piled out of our 4x4s and snapped shots of this funny moment. The guides came to tow him out. Keith took the ribbing with his usual good humor.
“Look Ihab, a herd of camels!” They ambled along, the sun in the clear blue Arabian sky shining down on them casting thin shadows in the white sand. Stretching their gangly necks, they grazed nonchalantly on the acacia tree leaves.
When we sped up, I cracked my head on the side of the 4x4. “Oops.” Didn’t see that coming. I tried to laugh but my head ached and my stomach didn’t feel right. It had felt funny even before hitting my head. “Ihab, I’m sick,” I whispered, clinging to the handrail as the Land Rover dipped into the sand again.
Ihab called back, “Did you say something?”
I was probably overreacting. “Nothing.”
Little Sami pointed to me and Betty looked over with mild concern. “Are you okay? Do you want us to pull over?”
“No—yes! Please. Now!”
The vehicle skidded to a halt. I tumbled out and onto the hot, dear sand. Ihab rubbed my back while I retched.
Our Emirati guide riding behind us rushed to my side. “Don’t, uh, afraid. This usual. More adventure. Mafee mushkala.”
Back in the Land Rover, we continued. With my strong stomach, I had never gotten sick on any of my past trips. Even had a reputation for handling the curves and drop-offs better than most.
I threw up four more times before reaching our destination.
Ihab saw a new side all right—my behind in the air and face in the sand.
What was going on?
After feasting on goat meat cooked on a spit, fragrant foil-grilled saffron rice filled with plump raisins among other Middle Eastern fare, the curvaceous belly dancer arrived.
Miserable, I bent over double at the picnic table and cradled my stomach. Betty whispered something in my ear. I stared at her, new understanding dawning.
That night under a starry sky in Oman I shared my hope with Ihab. “What if I am … pregnant?”
He squeezed my hand. “I’ve never seen this side to you before.”
Three weeks later, our pregnancy test confirmed it. Who knew the sandy slopes could reveal such a positive spin to our lives?
Add your comments about this story on the Blog page.