The Empty Quarter

My grandfather spent a number of years working in Saudi Arabia, and consequently both my mother and my uncle spent a good chunk of their childhood there. My uncle returned in adulthood and has lived there a couple of decades now, working for Aramco. He recently sent me this email referencing an incredible National Geographic web feature you should check out, a documentary on the Empty Quarter – the world’s largest sea of sand. But my uncle’s memory of the Empty Quarter is pretty haunting:

Some years ago I was in the Rhub Al Khali (Empty Quarter) doing reconnaissance work for the Transportation Department of Aramco, hopping around from drilling rig to drilling rig by small plane to see how unhappy everyone was with the supply chain. I asked one Texas foreman how he was doing and he said “without”. One day we flew over one of our convoys, and I asked the pilot to drop me off in the next subka (salt flat between the dunes) and that I would hitch hike from there. We were flying a Twin Otter that can land anywhere, so he did, and I waited for the convoy. It was actually very unnerving to stand out there after the plane took off in complete nothing, no sound, no insects, no nothing for what seemed like a long time, but probably only 30 minutes before I heard the sound of the Kenworth truck approaching, and then a red dot came over the faraway dune. I waved, and I waved, and he drove right by, ghuttra wrapped around his head in complete tunnel vision. The next truck, same thing, he drove right by. Finally I placed myself in the path of the next truck and he stopped and said “Mr. Jim, what are you doing out here?” Good question…

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