When I was a young girl, I used to love reading about Nomads crossing and crisscrossing the great Sahara. The idea of using camels as transportation was very appealing to me. Plus dates. Plus oases. I wasn’t thinking about women’s rights or the real obstacles people faced just to stay alive, I was enchanted by the endless vistas of sand and dunes, the clear moon over the stillness, the stillness itself. I knew about sandstorms but they were magical in the National Geographic pictures. Some of the tribes wore eyeliner and jewelry and had intricate patterns of henna or something like it. Everyone was clothed with robes over robes, people wore sandals.
These people were organized in tribes. I assumed that these tribes were friendly to other similar tribes, that when they got together it was a great, friendly celebration, like a family reunion or fourth of July picnics.
One thing that I loved about it was that to my untutored eyes the Great Sahara seemed like a beautiful, sparse canvas on which people and animals embroidered their lives among friendly, sometimes stately animals and loving family.
I never thought to wonder about why they were there. Had they always been there? Did they live in the desert for the same reasons that I lived in Los Angeles? Because my family lived there? I never asked myself why they didn’t move somewhere else where raising sheep was easier. I accepted that people lived where they landed, that, like flowers or cacti they accepted their fate and tried to flourish there. More, that they were content.
I come from a lonely, restless tribe. My family came from The Pale in Europe where conditions were as hard as in the Sahara but where, in addition, people sometimes killed them just because they were from a different tribe. They took arduous journeys over land and sea to get to America so that they could raise their children in safety, or relative safety. Then they moved for better opportunities and possibly more safety.
I have struggled to feel safe in this world and like many people, the twin threats of Trumpism and COVID-19 made me feel very threatened. I know, in my heart, that I am as safe as anyone else on this beautiful planet but I long sometimes for the great stillness of a camel and the moon.