May 31, 2012

Night in the Western Desert | Egyptian Deserts

Night in the Western Desert, 1923
Ahmad Hassanein

Egyptian Western Desert
Then, the day’s work is at an end. Camp is pitched. No tents are erected, for the men are too exhausted, too careless to mind what happens to their bodies. And night falls. It may be a starlit night, or there may be a moon. Gradually, a serenity gets hold of you. Gradually, after a day of silence, conversation starts. Feeble jokes are cracked. One of the men, probably the youngest of the caravan, ventures a joke with more cheerfulness than the rest and his voice is pitched to a higher key. Unconsciously the Beduins attune their voices to that higher, louder pitch and the volume of sound increases. The desert is working her charm.

The gentle night breeze revives the spirits of the caravan. In a few minutes the empty jantasses are used as drums and there is song and dance. At the first sound of music men may have been tending the camels, repairing the luggage, or the camels’ saddles, but that first note brings all the caravan round the embers of the dying fire. Every one looks at his comrades to make sure that all are alive and happy, and every one tries to be a little more cheerful than his neighbour, to give him more confidence. . . .

Song and dance take out of the men of the caravan the little vitality that is left after the ravages of the day. Their spirit is exhausted and they fall asleep. They sleep beneath the beautiful dome of the stars. Few people in civilization know the pleasure of just sitting down and looking at the stars. No wonder Arabs were masters of the science of astronomy! So when the day’s work is done the solitary Beduin has nothing left but to sit down and watch the movements of the stars and absorb the uplifting sense of comfort that they give to the spirit.

These stars become like friends that one meets every day. And when they go, it is not abruptly as when men say farewell at a parting, but it is like watching a friend fade gradually from view, with the hope of seeing him again the following night.

“To prayers, O ye believers prayers are better than sleep!” The cry comes from the first man of the caravan to awaken. A few stars are still scattered in the sky.

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