Dubai: Jalal Bin Thaneya will make no new year's resolutions tonight because he is already living out the most important resolution of his 25-year-old life — his fund-raising walk from Abu Dhabi to Makkah.
The wind is howling all around him as he takes a break to allow Gulf News to catch up with him. It had been a very clear and calm day all along until the evening arrived, he says, which led to a finely choreographed dance between the wind and the sand. He is watching the performance as he speaks, pitching his voice just a bit above that of nature's drama. "It's been a good journey so far. We are getting there," he says. A slight hesitation later, he says, "But what is bothering me is the smell of fertilisers all around."
He is smack in the middle of land that is being nurtured for a dairy farm. "As far as the eye can see, we have dairy cultivation here and the smell of fertilisers can be a total distraction." He is trying to make it past this stretch as quickly as he can. But the same stretch has also given him an extraordinary sight to remember — a freight train.
"Two days back, I saw a blur of a motion in the landscape straight ahead of me. Somewhere at the back of my mind, I realised I was seeing a train receding into the distance but that thought slid off my mind. And then last night, suddenly, through the darkness of the desert came this thundering apparition. The whole desert seemed to shake with the weight of it as it charged through the night, its lights cutting through the dark like huge lasers. It turned out to be a two-kilometre long train."
Only after his body and mind were wired by the sound and sight of it did he remember that he had seen two straight lines cutting through the desert. "I did see the tracks back there but then they were not exactly like tracks, more like two parallel metal embeds in the sand that sometimes nearly get covered by it."
He is still, he confesses, amazed by the sight. The train has left tracks in his mind. "A train in a desert," he murmurs to himself, unable to leave the thought behind.
Bin Thaneya is about 1,100 kilometres away from Makkah. Put that way, it sounds like he is very far off but the truth is he has covered almost half the distance in the 21 days that he has been on this mission.
Still along the Al Harad highway, he aims to reach Riyadh Saturday or Sunday.
In all these days, he has met just three people. In the last six days, he has come across another person.
These stunningly bare meetings are however working to reiterate what he has come to believe every time he undertakes a mission — the less you own in life, the richer your evolution as an individual. "Look at these people," he says. "They don't have much material stuff. They live in extremely demanding surroundings. They don't have access to most of the stuff city dwellers do. And yet, they are so generous, genuine and able to connect with a stranger."
The single biggest truth he encounters in these minimal surroundings is that the basic human spirit is thriving. "I find innocence is alive. I see simplicity being lived out in front of my own eyes. In all that we are losing, we are also able to preserve something at least."
Of course the days are tumbling into one another, time is flying and the miles are food for his feet, but physical motion and mental acceleration do part ways at times — especially when it is time to eat. The familiar rustle of grains, dates and cereal — his staple diet on this mission — in a plastic bowl is not music to his ears all the time. "My rations are not satisfying on some days," he confesses. "The sacrifice is taking its toll." Dreaming about delicious foods, of course, is not a choice either given his circumstances.
That kind of mental debilitation is something he will not subject himself to as there is too much at stake. "But yes, sometimes, it can be an issue when you have not eaten hot food for days or you can't even cook a simple hot meal because the wind puts out any fire you want to start."
Right now, he is short on water and hasn't been able to wash his clothes for two days because of it. But the tribulation is an old one. He has been there before.
He is looking forward to reaching Riyadh because beyond that he will be taking on an entirely different terrain — rocky mountainous paths that change their mood after every step.
He may be a 1,000km away from Makkah but as he puts it, "it's always in my heart. I am never too far from it." It's a thought he will hold close for comfort tonight as he sleeps and the night segues into a new year.
Man with a mission
- Jalal Bin Thaneya is a 25-year-old Emirati based in Dubai
- He graduated from Middlesex University in Dubai in 2010
- This is his fourth endeavour to raise funds for children with special needs, following a walk across all seven emirates, climbing all the 90,000 steps to the top of Emirates Tower in 12 days and crossing the Rub Al Khali in a fortnight
- Corporate organisations and individuals wishing to donate for the Dubai Centre for Special Needs can contribute the funds directly to the centre