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The Desert Dance
Special Feature

The Desert Dance

The Desert Dance

Photograph from Sir Wilfred Thesiger archives.

By Ghada Al-Muhanna
October 20th, 2021
Heat. Sun. Sweat. Deep breath in.

This. The faint scent - that of the arid desert. How it brought him comfort. For many years on end. Oh, how it brought him comfort. With squinted eyes, he placed his hand over his brows, gazing towards the dune-filled horizon while soft rays of light seeped their way through his fingers. There was no life in sight. Deep breath in. He had been alone for quite some time.

"Astaghfurallah! (I repent to God)," he thought to himself, "I am not alone." Raising his palms to the air, he exclaimed into the reddish and yellow hues of the landscape in front of him, “Ya Allah! (Oh God!) You have given me the dunes to climb on, the rains to quench my thirst, and your greatest gift in this camel. Ya Allah, you have blessed me. Alhamdulilah, hamdan katheera (Praise to God, indeed many praises)."

sudden gust of wind came through - dragging the dust along the side of his body.
Photograph from Sir Wilfred Thesiger archives.
Photograph from Sir Wilfred Thesiger archives.
Hastily, he grabbed the corner of the shemagh that sat atop of his head and wrapped it around his neck,

covering his mouth so that the grains of sand wouldn’t find a way in. Onwards he must go. Grabbing onto his camel's lead, he took the first step forward. An immediate chilling sensation overcame his body. The heat that the desert held within herself always prickled his soles when he would walk.

Deep breath in.With each bare step he took, he sunk a little into the warm sand. He felt as though the desert was trying to pull him in. This is where you belong, the wisps would whisper to him over and over again. But he knew, it was just a figment of his imagination. The heat can get to one's mind if they are not too careful, for this is the desert's greatest trick. Urgency fell upon him. He needed to keep moving. He knew there was no end to his journey, as there was no beginning. Straying aimlessly through the desert was what he was meant to do. 

He belonged to the desert, and she would not let him go. Stay here. Rest. She is his home. His freedom. His peace of mind. His family and tribe. She, the desert, is everything to him. He knew nothing else, nor did he want to know. She is the grandmother that doesn't speak, but knows of all that had happened throughout time, bearing witness to all that crossed her path. Stay here. Don't leave. The mother of all ancestors, she was here all along.

Deep breath in.

Up and down, he went through golden waves. Distance had no meaning. His feet became heavier as time passed; his knees were not able to carry his weight any longer. Signs of exertion showed on his garments - damp, stuck to his skin. He raised his head to the sky, his eyes momentarily catching its blue hues, before he closed them in serenity and spoke, "Ya Rab, (My God) by your grace grant me the patience of my camel so that I may not succumb to the desert. Bless me with the strength I need to bear the heat of your sun. I am tired, and the desert wishes for me to lay rest. Ya Rab, I seek your help and guidance to direct me to the safest path, and if you have written for me death, then I am your servant, and to you I shall return."

Photograph from Sir Wilfred Thesiger archives.

Deep breath in. Slowly opening his eyes, he pulled onto the lead of his camel to come closer to him and moved it to sit down. He brought a leg over and lifted himself onto the back of his friend. With a loud bellow, the camel heaved itself up with all its might and continued through the path they started. Stay. You belong here. His body swayed side to side with every step the majestic gift of God took. 

Oh, he wished for nothing more than rest. But he needed to move on, to survive as did all the people before him. After some time had gone by, for which only Allah knew of, a soft breeze began to weave its way around him. His muscles felt softer, his face a little cooler and overall he again felt alive. He survived the toughest part of this desert. 

Patting the side of his friend in gratitude he said, "You have been good to me, so let us rest for a moment." Setting himself down, and having the camel provide some shelter, he looked ahead into the horizon like always. 

"Oh desert," he chuckled softly, "It seems that you and I will continue to do this forever, as will my children and their children, God willing. If it is not written for them, I pray to God that He reminds them of your beauty and challenges, of all the lives that walked above you, of all the stories you have seen." Deep breath in. That scent. The faint smell of the arid desert. Oh, how it gave him comfort. Warmth. Sun. Comfort.

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