June 5, 2012

Daily Routine in a Desert Town | Egyptian Deserts

Daily Routine in a Desert Town, 1923
Ahmad Hassanein

Egyptian Desert Town
The desert demands and induces a quite different attitude of mind and spirit from the bustling of the city. As I wandered about the little town Qaghbub in the Western Desert] and out into the oasis round it, or stood in the cool, shadowed spaces of the Mosque, or sat at times in the tower above it in conversation with learned Beduins, watching the night fall over the milk-white kubba and the brown mass of buildings it dominates, there dropped away from me all the worries and perplexities and problems that the sophisticated life of the crowded places brings in its train. Day after day passed, with a morning walk, midday prayers in the Mosque, a quiet meal, a little work with my instruments or cameras, afternoon prayers, another walk, a meal, followed by the distribution to my men of friendly glasses of tea according to Beduin custom, again prayers, and after quiet contemplation of the evening sky with its peaceful stars, retirement to sleep such as the harassed city dweller does not know.

Mirages and My Camel in the Nubian Desert, 1848
Dr. Richard Lepsius
At a very early hour in the day we saw the most beautiful mirages, both near us and at a distance, exhibiting a very deceptive resemblance to lakes and rivers, in which the mountains, blocks of stone, and everything around is reflected, as if in clear water. They form a strange contrast with the hard arid desert, and, as it is related, must have often bitterly deceived many a poor wanderer. When we are not aware that no water can be there, it is often totally impossible to distinguish the semblance from the reality. Only a few days ago, in the neighbourhood of El Mecheref, I felt perfectly certain that I saw either the Nile water which had overflowed, or a branch of the river, and I rode up, but only found Bahr Scheitan, ‘The water of Satan’, as it is called by the Arabs.

Even though the sand may have obliterated all traces of the caravan road, it cannot easily be missed during the day, as it is sufficiently marked by numerous skeletons of camels, several of which are always in view; yesterday I counted forty-one, which we passed the last half hour before sunset. We did not lose one of our own camels, although they had not rested long in Korosko, and had scarcely anything to eat or drink on the road. My own camel, into whose mouth I had sometimes put a piece of biscuit, used to look round in the middle of the march when it heard me biting, or twist round its long neck, till it laid its head, with its soft large eyes, on my lap, to get something more.

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