Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Under a Desert Sky

The day dawned still and clear with the sun slowly peaking over the Dunes.  Around me were the iconic images of the desert that had so drawn me here.  Camels sleeping in the dunes, and one early riser perfectly silhouetted.  As the sun rose. the desert glowed in reds and shadows. People moving about created images that were zen like in their small perfection against a desert pallet.  My pictures can’t capture the vastness of it, or the true beauty that surrounded me, but neither can my words:
After a long day on camels yesterday, we were all more than a little stiff and sore.  Even more of the group decided to walk, but I was determined to stick it out for another day.  Our camels were saddled up:

We headed out into the desert:
I found myself spellbound by the way the desert changed with the light.  When a cloud hid the sun, the dark colors popped out, but in sunlight the shades of the dunes were breathtaking.  This picture really captured that effect of sun and cloud.

I did find a couple of pictures that showed some of the flies, although I must admit that by the second day we did not notice them and had a better strategy to protect our food.  They seemed to prefer light fabric, but in the end, our backs were covered by their little black dots.
Throughout the day we would laugh when anyone found a reason to say hold on.  After a half day of riding, I was more than ready to get off my camel.  We drove to Auberge Oasis that is best found through its GPS coordinates.  In the middle of the desert, because of a spring, they had created a spot for weary travelers.
We were thirsty and tired, and they had that great American ambassador, Coca Cola.
The people in the village were decked out in their best because it was the feast of Eid al-Adha. We did not take their pictures out of respect, but one of our drivers who was from the Oasis, and took time out to visit his family let us take his picture.
We felt guilty that we were keeping our guide, drivers, the cameleers and the camp crew and cook from being with their families on such an important feast.  After a rest at the Oasis, we headed to our new camp site for our last night in the desert.  The sun was a treat again, but I enjoyed it and didn’t take a lot of pictures.  Here is our camp as the sun set and we relaxed with our desert chilled wine.
And of a lone figure in the dunes:
It is amazing how well an IPhone can capture a mood.
We were all in high spirits that night.  The flies were asleep, the wind and dust were gone, and we sat under a full moon as our cook brought us  a wonderful tagine of lamb and veggies.  As we talked, someone told Omar how much we regretted that they could not be with their families for the feast and that they were missing the sacrifice and ceremony. That is when Omar told us that they were not with their families, but that the entire crew did perform the ceremony of the sacrifice that morning,before we got up.  I thought of the cat noise I had heard.  Part of the feast is to share the food, so the lamb we had that night was from the sacrifice of the morning.  A couple of our group were vegetarian, but upon hearing this they ate some of the lamb to express their gratitude for being included in the festival.  We felt touched. 
As we sat under the glow of the moon, the cameleers and the camp crew gathered around the camp fire. Using pots, pans and the water jugs as drums, they began to sing.  Omar told us that the songs were part of the tradition of the festival and that there were two parts, one for men and one for women.  The crew had divided up and was singing both parts.  We listened with joy, for there was joy in their song, and I captured it in video on my phone.

Then they invited us to join them.  We thanked them for sharing their feast with us and gathered around the fire and sang.  It was repetitive and we were soon able to sing our parts.  I felt so much a part of the desert, and of the world, dancing by a fire under a moonlit desert sky.

Then one of the drivers asked us to sing an American song for them, to share our tradition.  We were unprepared but extraordinarily willing to comply.  All we needed to do was to find some song, any song, that our group, ranging in age from 28 to 80, could sing.  My mind was a blank, I could think of nothing.  Christie suggested we do a “doo wop” song, and for whatever reason Sue thought of “Chapel of Love” by the Dixie Cups.  I grabbed it like a drowning person.  I knew every word.  We launched in with enthusiasm and the repetitive chorus had us all dancing and singing at the top of our lungs.  Our audience spoke little or no English, so it was our joy and exuberance they reacted to (not our beautiful voices).  They thanked us for sharing our American tradition and at that moment, Chapel of Love had represented us well.  Spontaneous celebrations are always the best.  

As the crew continued to sing around the fire, we began to move to our tents.  It was the end of a long, perfect day.  The stars were disappointing, outshone by the moon. Omar told me the moon would set around 2 am and then the stars would all be visible.  I went to my tent to the sound of drums and singing, happy and tired.

I woke around 3 am and stood in the center of camp.  The stars were all bright and glowing, an umbrella over my head.  Their light was enough to outline the dunes and the faint shapes of the camels sleeping.  I thought of the scene from Alex Haley’s Roots,   “Behold the only thing in the universe greater than yourself." 

At the end of the feast of Eid al-Adha, surrounded by a sleeping camp, under a desert sky, I knew that this was one of those days that becomes a treasure you revisit for the rest of your life.  From the views of the deserts to the songs by the fire, we had connected to people without need of a common language.  Maybe it was because without common words, we shared common emotions.   I felt surrounded by friends, peace and beauty.

Tomorrow we will finish our time in the desert.  Hold on, there is one more sunrise.

Salaam alaikum.

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