I was deep in the desert of Wadi Rum, sharing a pile of sand and a starry night while a curry dinner was cooking on the stove when our guide Saba began to talk of his family. These long treks were a good source of pay for him, but nothing could replace the feeling of wealth from being back home, simple as it was, with his wife and three kids. He had seen more than anyone in his village (including two crazy American’s intent on trekking from Jeddah to Damascus) but nothing ever came close to the highest hierarchy of his family, his faith and his health.
We met them later in the journey, and realized just how simple this truth was. Saba waxed as poetic as a hardened deserts guide ever , in pidgin english and flowery arabi, about how important family and children were to his culture, his standing and his happiness. I was mildly embarrassed at my country and it’s focus on consumption of… everything.
Then he turned to us. And you? Do you have children?
We had been asked that question in every corner of Saudi, Jordan, and later Syria. Children: how many. Tad and I had heard it enough times to know that Tad always answered first in order to get the best reaction. I have SIX! And grandchildren as well! Hands raised in praise around the fire as everyone acknowledged the virility of my good friend. Jai’yed habibi!
And when the laughs died down and the stories were told about each of them, the eyes invariably turned to me. And what of you, Mr. Spencer. Do you have any children. I knew I would be asked, and they likely would have not much to say, perhaps some attempt at anything nice while their eyes glanced down and back into the fire. But I had been thinking a lot on the trek about just those same values, and what was important to me and my life. And I happened upon the most beautiful word, for me, for them, for the situation at hand, and for my future.
I simply said: Insha’allah.
When I said the word, and let it fall alone on the desert night it would take them a moment to realize that was my final answer. Complete. Insh’allah. They expected more (as in everyday arabic, every other word is insh’allah). It somehow still made everyone smile when they pondered further, and wish me the same good tidings as Mr Jones beside me. But for me, on that trip and ever since is was nearly a compact with myself.
It means God willing.
Grayson Max Spencer was born 12 October 2011, 5 years, 5 months, and 24 days after Saba lit that fire. Amazing what you can learn in the desert.
Another amazing adventure.