For a person who grew up in the place where he was born, there is no other place more natural and real than his birthplace. All the sights, the people and activities came out as not surprising to him. Yet others can point out a different perspective on what he had considered natural all his life. I am talking specifically about the oasis and the surrounding desert of my hometown in Alhasa. As I grew and met many people from different countries, I had often wondered what they think about my land as I had often wondered about theirs.
I am especially intrigue with those people who never had a desert in their country. I had come to the conclusion that most people had come to think of Saudi Arabia as a wide expanse of a desert space alone. They think it is a hot, barren place of sandstorm, cactus and camels and good only for the oilfields. I have concluded that there is no better way to find out what others think of Saudi Arabia, Alhasa specifically, by conducting an interview with one acquaintance of mine, Polo Reyes, who had lived in my hometown for eight years now.
Polo is a Filipino, an overseas contract worker, who does skilled labor in one of Alhasa’s oil fields. Polo was only 24 when he came to work in my country. According to him, he was like a scared little boy, afraid to leave his home but excited to visit another one. The Philippines do not have any desert for it is composed of many islands surrounded by seas. Polo knew about deserts only in his school but had never actually experienced one. He had imagined and was expecting a wild expanse of barren land that is so hot he feared he might actually get dehydrated.
He was not disappointed all right, for Saudi Arabia is a desert country, but he was overjoyed to learn, when he had landed, that he was actually heading for an oasis, Alhasa Oasis. In an interview, Polo stated that he knew about oasis, but he had expected it to be just a tiny round pool of water in which around it grew a few palm trees or cactus and all around it are wide expanses of the deserts where camels occasionally make their appearance as they headed somewhere.
In addition, Polo had expected that he would see only some residential buildings scattered here and there near massive building structures of an oil field. At least that is what he had seen in a picture. When he arrived in Alhasa, however, he was surprised to see how wide the oasis is. Alhasa oasis, in fact, encompasses an area of 2,500 kilometers in the South Eastern Part of Saudi Arabia with an estimated population of 600,000. Moreover, Alhasa oasis is the largest oasis of the country and ranks as one of the largest oasis in the world.
It consists of 50 villages scattered all around the area complete with a government and private hospitals as well as a sports complex. Polo was more surprised that many palm trees grew there (about two million) and that indeed, aside from oil, the central activity of the place is agriculture which also produces rice , corn , citrus and other fruits ( “Al-hasa”, no date). He realized that Saudi Arabia was not as barren as he had thought. In the past, he had wondered why some people would choose to live in Saudi Arabia, and now he admits that it is indeed capable of comfortably sustaining human life.
Polo had admitted that he was in awe of the oasis for a long time, treating it as a special favor from God. Having traveled from one place to another across deserts, he had realized that the oasis is like a ray of hope after an endless dark tunnel of desert sands, a water that quenches the thirst. However, thirst is not the only one that the oasis seeks to satisfy, it also consisted of springs (Al-Oyan) that constantly provides curative mineral water for the aching bodies (Al-hasa, no date).
With the presence of oasis and springs, God seems to say that he had not forgotten after all to water the land. Having lived in a country with an abundance of water all around, Polo had come to value the importance of water when he came to live in Alhasa. He is really overjoyed to see people swimming its waters and having fun. According to him, there is a lesson that can be derived from the abundance and scarcity of resources in each country, that whatever God had withheld, he also replaced.
For example, Philippines had much water, but they do not have oil (at least not yet found one beneath it), whereas, while Saudi Arabia had not much water, it had plenty of oil. Another thing that Polo appreciates about Alhasa is that it is rich in history; a history that had helped shaped the world. Al-Kabeer Mosque can be found here, which was built by Imam Faisal bin Turki Al-Saud. Al-Saud was the great-grandfather of King Abdulaziz, the founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is said that the mosque itself is patterned after the Cordova mosque built in Southern Spain.
More significantly, as most people know, Islam originates in Saudi Arabia and it is here that the Juwana mosque can be found. This mosque is acknowledged to be the second mosque built under Islam. Alhasa had indeed bore with pride the mark of Islam religion which had successfully affected and penetrated the lives of millions even until today. Another thing that Alhasa can be proud of is the historical Qasr (Castle) Ibrahim in Al-Hofu city and the Samoud Palace in Al-Mobarraz both built during Ottoman rule (Al-hasa, no date).
As I had stated earlier, Alhasa for me was just Alhasa, an oasis in the desert. However, to some people, Alhasa functions in a very important role, and that is, to eliminate people’s general idea that Saudi Arabia is nothing but a wide expanse of desert space and oil fields alone. Alhasa gave them the idea that Saudi Arabia is a habitable place, rich in history and home to 600,000 people. And I am happy and thankful to be a part of those people who considers Saudi Arabia as home sweet home.