“But my real passion is the camel (please don’t think I’m joking): nothing has a more singular grace than this melancholic animal. You have to see a group of them in the desert when they advance in single file across the horizon, like soldiers, their necks stick out like those of ostriches, and they keep going, going…”
– Gustave Flaubert
They did not strike me as melancholic, the camels. Perhaps aloof, withdrawn, displaying deep lassitude even as they masticated, ceaselessly, their cud. But not melancholic. Before one can wake up to the Sahara, the penultimate stop in one’s thirtieth birthday tour, one must first arrive: we did so by camel, Farida and I. Dropped off at the shore of the dunes by our driver Abou, we were met by our camel guide, Hamou, a laconic boy of malt-coloured skin and a gaze as profound as a well hiding in the desert, who appeared far too young to be so at home in the wilderness. He was ostensibly as emotionally removed from the wonder as the new humped friends with whom he greeted us.
The notion that the undulating fields of sand ahead of us was quotidien to anyone to another was unfathomable. But the stripped T-shirt he wore over his traditional Berber power blue and gold embroidered robe betrayed that for him, this was a day like any other; a day he had probably been forced to look the part so as not to disrupt the fantasy of two tourists eager to fall for an arid land. I am grateful to for him for playing his part in the dream. Marhaba! The fulness of the abyss lay ahead.
Hamou knotted my tegelmust, the headress the nomadic Berber people and Taureg tribe of Northern Africa are known to wear to prevent the inhalation of wind-borne sand, fighting the wind as he draped the indigo fabric around my crown and over my chin. He tied Farida’s. Excessive luggage loaded onto our squatting train, Hamou clicked his teeth. The earth rocked beneath me, first a heave forward, then back as my camel rhythmically, if ungracefully, lurched up onto its stilt-like legs. Now off we rode in single file, into the dust.
The sun was sinking, the heat was no where near blistering as we rocked toward the Moroccan Sahara’s Erg Chebbi dunes. Hamou frequently glanced over his shoulder, looking at the sun’s position in the sky to ascertain the best place and time for us to pause and observe the miracle. What a wide kingdom to rule as our demesne: there wasn’t a sign of life besides our 18 legs, Farida’s cigarette smoke and tufts of grass sprinkled in across the sandy sea.
We rode the wave to the perfect vantage point to watch the sun doze off. Still and silent, I sensed the certain visual sibilance of sinusoidal sands of the Sahara. The troughs and crests of the dunes resulted in the sensation of sailing a cinnamon sea. The repetitive ripples on the sand’s surface themselves an element of calming subtle sibilance.
I had long dreamt of bringing the ocean to the desert in the form of pitting rich blue hues against brown granules of sand. This was our moment in the sun. I
slipped fought on a blue frock I had stuffed into my shoulder bag: the wind whipped the layers of pleated silk chiffon every which way. Hamou watched, bemused, his charges who had surely lost their minds. Perhaps I am sapping the magic out of the moment, marring the mirage, by telling you how we came about these shots, not unlike the moment I caught sight of Hamou’s cotton t-shirt peaking out beneath his frock (and certainly not unlike that damned fake baby in the American Sniper: talk about plucking one out of the world a film is supposed to temporarily create outside of the one we inhabit. But, I digress). Perhaps it is ideal to honour the magic of mystery and pretend no forethought went into the moments captured. But the truth is it’s the momentum of forethought that puts magic in motion. Five yards of thin accordion pleated chiffon did not just appear in the desert. It took the concerted effort of what my dear friend, Gail, has dubbed “The Couture Pony Express”, to shuttle fabric from Atlanta to Ghana and back, and several “virtual” fittings coupled with near mental breakdowns to make my dream dress happen. In much the same vein, The Sahara doesn’t just happen to you; she lies content in her obscurity. You must happen to the Sahara should you wish to be acquainted. You must strive, you must seek, you must find, you must dig. But as to the enchantment that will unfurl once you’ve crossed all the Ts, dotted all the Is, and driven all the miles (stopping for countless cups of mint tea), that magic can only be determined by gelassenheit. That the wind would sweep the yards of Berber-blue into its own billowy sine-waves to complement those of the warm sands, who could have divined? Magic will happen, if you carve yourself a wand.
What I Wore: Dress inspired by Michael Lo So rendered by House of Damaris; Berber scarf purchased in Rissani, Hermès and Kenneth Jay Lane bracelets, Dior So Real sunglasses
Special Thanks to the Trifecta herself, Ms. Farida Alabo for capturing magic (and crawling through the sand, as she vehemently asserts, for the perfect shot) and for simply being a friend.