Last weekend, I joined the group of West Point cadets for a weekend camping in the Sahara desert. The cadets are led by a professor of comparative politics and anthropology, who has become an incredible resource to me as I research and observe the society and culture around me. Her perspective is poignant and challenges me to continue to search for new manifestations of women’s empowerment in the Islamist and Arab culture, as well as the Moroccan political identity. But besides that, she and the rest of the cadets have become very, very dear friends to me. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have been able to spend so much time with their group in the last few weeks. Below is a photo of our group (WP plus their four tagalongs!) on our way to the desert.
To get to the Sahara, we drove 10 hours through the Moroccan countryside before arriving in the neighboring town of Merzouga. It was incredible to watch the scenery change from urban residences to winding cliffs of dense forest, to eventually an infinite horizon of sand. To give you a better idea of where we were geographically, we were about 25 miles away from the Algerian border. We spent Friday evening in a hotel before waking up early Saturday morning to explore. We visited Berber artisan shops and attended an abidat ra concert. Abidat ra is a unique type of music that is native to Morocco , whose subject matter illustrate the nomadic roots and religious undertones of the Berber ethnicities prevalent throughout the region. It is extremely dissonant, but especially hypnotic and captivating when it’s performed live. Here is an action shot of us dancing with the performers! (Note the Audrey Hepburn-inspired headscarf... It was a great way to keep cool in the desert, and avoid getting sand in my face when it got windy!)
At around 6:00 PM that day, we embarked on our sunset camel trek to our campsite in the Sahara. The last time I was on a camel was two years ago in the Gobi desert in northwestern China, during a blistering hot afternoon. It was one of my favorite adventures in China, and so naturally I could hardly contain my excitement to mount a camel once again and enjoy a beautiful sunset as Merzouga disappeared behind me. I took the lead camel, feeling bold, and named him Hatim after my favorite child to care for at the local orphanage. After an incredible sunset and 45-minute ride, we arrived at our campsite for a mouthwatering dinner of tagine chicken and steamed vegetables. After that, we stayed up into the wee hours of the morning lying outside entranced by the constellations of stars above. The stargazing was the most incredible I’ve experienced... We saw five shooting stars and located two of my favorite constellations (Hercules and Pegasus) using the SkyGuide app (INVEST IN THIS APP) before falling asleep under the stars.
I woke up early with our guide Hamza to watch the sunrise, which was every bit as mesmerizing as the sunset we watched the night before. After we finished cleaning up camp, we saddled back up to return to Merzouga for breakfast before returning back to Rabat.
It was an absolutely indescribable weekend of experiencing the most majestic natural landscapes and culturally influenced art, and these pictures truly only scratch the surface.
I look forward to sharing more in detail about this weekend during my Lumos presentation this fall!
In my next post, I’ll be focusing about the changes happening once again in the classroom at Feminin Pluriel... Challenges and frustration are just as important to document as life changing weekends in the desert, after all!