May 27, 2012

A Day in the Desert, 1871 | Egyptian Deserts

A Day in the Desert, 1871 
E.H. Palmer

Egyptian Deserts Map
There is but little variety in camp-life in the desert, and a description of one day’s journey may answer for all the rest.

At sunrise every one is astir; a simple toilette, a still more simple meal, and you pack up your things in preparation for the start. Then comes a repetition of the noise and clamour incident on loading, you mount your dromedary, and, when once fairly under weigh, the whole caravan trails noiselessly along the sand. Following the path marked out by the skeleton of camels which lie bleaching in the sun, you ride on until the noonday heat and glare compel you to seek a little rest beneath some friendly shade, if there is any to be had, though very frequently you must put up with such shelter as a white umbrella, or the unsavoury vicinity of a kneeling camel can afford. In England one knows nothing of the luxury of shade, and cannot appreciate what it really means. How often, when reclining, five of us, beneath a dried-up furze-bush no bigger than a good-sized geranium, have consumed our bunch of dates and biscuits, washed down with just one drink of lukewarm water beautifully flavoured with goat-skin, and envied the happy terrier that laps the cool puddle of his native land!

After lunch the march is resumed until sunset, and then commences the really enjoyable part of the day. The tents are pitched, and dinner is prepared. The Arabs settle themselves cosily round the camp-fires to prepare their evening meal, and for an hour or so before retiring for the night comfort and repose reign around.

The first night in desert was an era in my life; it seemed as if all the vague images of my early dreams were about to assume a life-long reality which they had never worn for me till then. A fresh breeze blew into the tent, causing no apprehensions of nightly chills, but infusing new vigour into body and mind. The flickering camp-fires shed a lurid glow over the little knots of swarthy Bedouin as they reposed after the fatigues of the day, and produced a wondrously picturesque and Rembrandt-like effect. The hushed tones of those who had not yet fallen asleep, the whirring of a hand-mill here and there, the half-plaintive, half-surly groaning of the camels these were the only sounds which disturbed the stillness of the night.

I contemplated the scene around me with mingled feelings of delight and awe. I was reclining perchance upon the very spot where the Children of Israel had encamped when fleeing from their Egyptian persecutors, and I could not help comparing my situation to some extent with theirs. I had just left the noisy bustling crowd of Cairo’s streets, and had escaped into the freedom of the great lone wilderness, and I too felt that sense of Divine protection which must have been present to them, for never so much as in the desert does one feel that God is nigh. He it is that enables man to pass in safety through the dreary waste, and whether it be by direct miraculous intervention, ... or by the scarcely less wonderful agency of reason and foresight, still it is His hand alone that guides him on.


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