Thank you from The Bearded Stranger. Some of you faithful readers, those who signed up at the beginning, have been offered 178 stories, from 67 countries. What patience!
Next week is the last story. Deliberately, it comes from one of the two short periods since 1975 when I have not been bearded.
If you’ve enjoyed the stories please let me know. I’d particularly love to be told which one or two stories you’ve enjoyed most, or remembered. You can email me by clicking on ‘Contact’ towards the top of this page.
And here’s a slightly different post.
We met the bearded stranger, in 1984, at a time when our countries’ pace of change had been very fast, when history was really quite close.
Oman: It was nearly dusk. I pulled my Mercedes off the shiny tarmac of the dual carriageway and parked under some palm trees. ‘Ahead,’ I said to him, ‘are the outskirts of the port of Matruh, the old walls just a mile away from here. In 1970, at this time of day, we would have had to stop for the night right here, and wait till morning for the town gates to be opened.’
Saudi Arabia: I wasn’t born in Riyadh but I have lived here many years. I took him into the centre of the old town and we walked down a street, deserted and dusty. It was just wide enough for two cars to pass between the mud walls of the traditional old houses, now inhabited only by Afghan refugee workers. ‘In 1970,’ I told him, ‘this was the widest street in Riyadh.’ Now it is only a short walk to the ten-lane highway whose sliproads are threatening destruction of these old houses.
Yemen: I was drinking tea by one of entrances to the city of Sana’a. The old city walls are still intact and the tea shop was just outside one of the huge wooden gates, which are never closed nowadays. I turned to the bearded stranger and waved my hand at the houses, rough shelters, mechanics shops, street furniture, stalls and rubbish piles which were all around us. I said to him: ‘In 1972 there was nothing built outside these walls, there was nothing. And people were smashing the streetlights as being unacceptable to their traditions!’