A bead of sweat dribbles down your forehead. The blazing Arabian sun's heat pulses against your sodden shirt. A trail of ants are marching up a poisonous tree. Wait... That can't be right! You trod closer to the tree and inspect the activity of the ants. Is there something you can learn from the tiny black creatures?! You watch them carefully stream into the flower of the tree. Surely they'd end up dead, won't they? After a few moments of scrutiny, they reappear and trace their path back down to the burning sand. Hesitantly, you move toward the tree. Starvation drives you to duplicate the insects' movements and reach inside the flower. What do you end up with? Something to eat -- out of a poisonous plant!
So General Mohammed Banounah of the Saudi Special Forces discovered in a desert mission. General Banounah, author of Surviving in the Desert (rough Arabic Translation), is an expert on how to survive on the desert. He gave me the absolute honor of interviewing him, post my Paul Salopek interview. The first guide and desert expert for Mr. Salopek's Saudi Arabian section of the Out Of Eden Walk, General Banounah accompanied Mr. Salopek when I first spoke to Mr. Salopek. (You can find the Paul Salopek interview here.
"When you're stuck in the desert, the way to survive is to watch the ants," General Banounah advised.
That's one of many useful and cool pointers.
"Watch the animals and insects to learn from them; that's how to survive." Animals and insects naturally survive in the desert, so copying them will only get you the best resources. How else would General Banounah have known to suck the water from leaves of a certain tree? What you really shouldn't do without water is panic. The only place that will get you is nowhere! "The biggest enemy is the fear inside yourself."
He would never be in the desert anyway without that hunger for excitement, which I think is a healthy adventure.
Adventure is something no one can do without, and that trait thrives in General Banounah. "The special forces -- they're still inside of me."
No one can doubt he's adventurous -- especially since he found a scorpion in his shirt! "It didn't sting me, but it went everywhere!" He says that to this day he can still feel a scuttling scorpion on his skin.
I'll never forget the story of the snake, either.
"Once, a poisonous snake bit me on my finger!" He was found and taken to the hospital, where he was confined for nine whole days. General Banounah is lucky to be alive, because apparently, that was an extremely poisonous snake.
This next injury will keep you away from mountains for years!
"When I was climbing in the mountain, I was going, going, going up! Then my foot slipped, and I fell down! I woke up and found me only in my underwear." (I didn't ask how he lost his clothes because I was too fascinated by his story telling technique.)
General Banounah was brave to go through all that without panicking. I guess that's where the rule "Fear is the biggest enemy inside yourself" appears. It's a good thing General Banounah was rescued by Bedouins, because he'd probably be toast by then. I was terrified when I found out he'd broken both arms in the fall.
You'd never visualize General Banounah as the survivor of such ghastly fates if you'd met him when I did. If you think sugar is sweet, it will seem bitter after meeting General Banounah. Special Forces should toughen one up, but that's not the case with this special fellow. "I wake up early and sleep early, also eat good food. I never smoke, and go away if someone else is smoking." He is a man who takes life easy, never giving in to nerves.
George Steinmetz recommended General Banounah as the guide, because Mr. Salopek wanted an expert on the desert, someone adventurous and easy-going. Who else but General Banounah? His philosophy is that simplicity is beautiful, letting all complications transform to just the thing they need to be.
"I'm unusual," says General Banounah. That's not always a bad thing.
General Banounah demonstrating melon medicine :D