Sahara, Part I: “Camping” in the Desert

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I have never been tent-camping because I have been firmly sure I would hate it. The most I have compromised with the wild has been to live in camp cabins—dirty, bedbug-infested and filled with the stench of hundreds of past residents in the middle of the woods. I’m sure that, on those trips, mosquitoes deliberately targeted me.

However, when my Arabic school offered a camping trip to the Sahara, it was too riveting to miss. I swallowed my hesitations and wrote down my name. Sacrificing a weekend of wifi for shoes filled with sand is worth it if the sand is beautiful.

The Moroccan stretch of Sahara is near its border with Algeria and is more than a ten-hour ride from Rabat. Luckily, the driver supplements our inevitable boredom with periodic scenic stops.

It’s easy to understate the importance of preserving history, culture and beauty. When I was little, I spent most of my summers in China. I love my heritage, but I have since been disappointed in how culture has often been abandoned in favor of “modernization”. Traditional design is torn down in favor of Western aesthetic, instead of being repurposed or preserved. Modernization should not equate to Westernization and especially not the Westernization of all aesthetic ideals.

In Morocco, both in Rabat and elsewhere, traditional customs and 21st-century technologies whip together in a creamy, زوين (za-ween- Darija dialect for “beautiful”, used to describe any and everything) blend.

This is most evident at our stop at a Moroccan courtyard riad. Artwork is preserved around a traditional central fountain and garden.

Our desert trek begins late the second day. An hour and half of camel riding bring us to our “tents”.

My insect-despising self is pleasantly astonished.

These are no tents, but canvas residences fully furnished with even beds. There are no mosquitoes, no snakes and no poison ivy. The singular animal form seemingly to coexist with us manifests in the impolite yawning and burping of our camels. (This singular coexistence is later disproven by the existence of a singular scarab beetle. But I can deal with one beetle!) There are solar panels, a well (water!!) and a kitchen, where workers cook us a feast.

This is artificially-manufactured paradise for tourists.

Although I am ordinarily hesitant towards this kind of attraction, I can hardly mind breathing out a year of anxiety for at the night.

Nature is mysterious. Nature is scintillating. Nature is magical. Two and a half days without the Internet bring more relief than an entire generation of millennial care to realize (it’s difficult to say the same about my mother, who may have been at home worrying). Seeing the lights without light pollution was a reminder for a girl who grew up in New York City suburbs with very few stars that beauty is true, even if the pace of modern living has had her forget.

Just like the vast expanse of desert that changes with the wind, the vast expanse of people is dynamic. We all change every day, sometimes ever so slightly, sometimes in a tumultuous storm, and then become new people. Often, we forget to realize it. A year ago, I decided to study Arabic, but I never imagined one revolution around the sun would bring me to the Sahara Desert. I never imagined that its sand between my toes would sift away my stress. And, I never imagined that camping could be a wonderful experience.

Time, place and space change perspective, and I eagerly anticipate new changes they have yet to bring me.

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