Travels through Sudan VIII – Nomads

…continued from: Travels through Sudan VII – The Temple of Soleb

     NomadDay 7 …no shower. Ouch. It’s not so bad, its a dry heat. Yeah, right, a dry, searing, heat in a part of the world that hasn’t seen a drop of rain in almost eighteen months, resulting in a dry searing heat albeit with some cloud cover caused by the foot of bull-dust stirred up every time you take a step or drive an inch. If your into the dust/dirt ball grunge kind of look though, it’s kind of cool. You need some shade, just do a little dance. No problem, a cloud of dust to block out the sun like a canvas unbrella.

     It’s an end to another long day of driving. It’s been utterly desolate the past two days since we left The Nile, the town of Wawa, and The Temple of Soleb. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. Not a person in sight, a small tree or bush here and there, a burned out truck by the side of the road, an occasional camel crossing our tracks here and there. We’re getting closer to Khartoum now, and we’re now right in the heart of the Sahara. Desolate, dry, hot, yet absolutely stunningly beautiful. Depending on how you look at it, this could be the edge of heaven, the middle of hell, or anywhere or anyplace your dreams or nightmares could possibly conjure up. Once again the sun is setting, the temperature quickly falling, the desert changing colors quicker than I can snap pictures. Simply spectacular.

     We pull, well, over. No need to look for a spot to camp here. It’s like trying to pick a perfect spot out of an area where every spot is perfect, again. I guess tough decisions follow you everywhere… A few camels around, foraging on even fewer sun baked bushes trying to eak out a living in this environment. The sand is fine, drifting with the wind, snaking along the ground in endless ridges, moving like water in a calm open ocean.

     Not a sound except for what we provide, along with the ewwwing of a few camels which seem to be coming towards us. As the camels come closer I have to ask myself why it looks like these are six-legged camels. I take a second look, maybe the heats getting to me, I gotta lay down. No, I’m right, six legs. Maybe this is the edge of heaven, or hell, but I can’t really imagine any kind of camels in hell, they’re gods animals. They spend enough time in hell on earth. I look down, yep, my legs are still there, two arms, check, I look around, no bullet holes, I’m good, the truck isn’t on fire and everyone else seems to be fine, no new holes in my head, don’t think I’m dead yet. I take another look, yeah, six legs, but wait a minute, I see an extra head peek around a camel neck …there’s people with those camels. That explains it, got scared for a second there.

     I take a seat and watch as three camels and three men, dressed all in a dirty brownish white, the men that is, not the camels, the camels were much cleaner, part from each other and materialize into their separate entities. They come closer, they’re all smiling, the men and the camels. The men wave not saying anything, the camels ewww, not waving. These guys look, tough, for lack of better wording. I yell an “As-Salamu Alaykum” and wave with a smile, the men give me an “Aeikum-Salam” back, with smiles full of brown and/or missing teeth. Good, hearty, hard working man in a hard life, but without a care in the world type of smiles. I liked them all instantly, men and camels.

     I have to smile to myself. Even now looking back, one of those moments. I may as well be an alien from another planet, so far removed from the lifestyle of these men that it’s hard to even imagine. A chance encounter that you couldn’t come close to planning and will always look back on as “one of those moments”.

     The men come over and shake hands with heads bowing, I stand, shake and also bow. These guys are serious. Where did they come from? I’d like to see those camels in the Kentucky Derby. If they don’t win they would probably just eat the other horses at the finish line. These guys are big (the camels that is). I can’t resist. I invite the men over to our truck which is right over the dune behind us and, at this point, still out of sight. I wave the men along, they follow and crest the dune, I point their line of sight towards the truck, and I’ll tell you right now, you have never seen anyone’s eyes pop so wide open.

     The men rush down the other side of the dune, the camels aren’t so daring. Right up to the truck, they touch the orange giant and start to happily go into a tailspin of excited talk between each other. I’m not so sure these guys have ever seen a truck before. The “leader” spins around towards me (he is the one with the red cup in the picture below), he points, says …something, smiles and touches the truck again. My Lord, these are nomads. These guys are just wandering around the desert, everything they own on their camels. Tuareg maybe, but not sure. How do they survive out here? Eat your heart out Bear Grylls, you have nothin’ on these guys. The “leader” touches the truck again, than touches his camel, than points back and forth. Oh my Lord, he wants to trade the camels for the truck. I have to let him down easy, shaking my head no. He smiles, I smile. I show him him the mirror, he lets out a yell. Ian starts the engine, the men jump back in wonder, the camels let out a big “EWWWWW” and keep eating a bush. Not impressed whatsoever. They know who is king out here, and they act evey bit the indignant part.

     Eventually everyone calms down. The men take a seat, yet don’t trust the chairs we give them, so two sit on the ground (smart guys). We offer tea, bread, a bit of honey and butter. The men are grateful for it. The camels start to nibble at the truck tires. One takes an opportunity to show what he thinks of this big metal bucket of breaking down desert rubbish, lifting his leg to let out a shower of pee. As the light fades away we go back and forth with the men. They are nothing but impressive. We end up shaking hands, they take another walk around the truck, take an extra low bow, and fade into the night with their camels with some extra bread and full skins of water.

     About 30 minutes total. A chance meeting in one of the harshest environments of the world with a few men who live here with no running water, no houses, nothing but their camels and a few belongings the camels can carry. We laughed with the men, we shared bread. The leader was married, his boy was a few hundred yards off with another camel, they wandered the desert for a living, they were very happy. They didn’t speak a lick of english and no one in our group spoke a lick of whatever language they were speaking, but the communication flowed. Language did not matter. They smiled, we smiled, and the rest came naturally. Even to this day I’m not sure how I found out so much about them without any kind of verbal similarity. I just don’t remember. It didn’t matter. I remember their smiles though, their demeanor, their movements. It’s kind of amazing really. Maybe language is just something to fall back on when all else fails. Still nothing like a good smile.

     …and that is it, that is why I travel. A chance meeting with a disappearing people. A few short words written for a short meeting with a few men, and some really big camels. If I met no one else in Sudan I would be, well, probably dissapointed, but looking back, this was the meeting of a lifetime. A few smiles from a people that most will never meet and, as a whole, could possibly be gone in the next few years. A few smiles, a few words, an exchange of lives and maybe just a bit of understanding of what it is truly like to a nomad. For me, it’s priceless. Worth the price I paid for the trip and all the hardships endured. I love it. I hope they keep wandering, keep smiling, keep that sense of freedom they have. I think though, and feel, deep down, they will always be there. The Sahara is more than any technology can tame. Camels, they can go further than any truck without maintenance or a gas station to fill up. I still smile. The iPad will never win, at least not with guys and camels like these still around.

…to be continued.
Next Edition: Travels through Sudan IX – Meroe


16 comments on “Travels through Sudan VIII – Nomads

  1. Lost in time, almost. How would they cope dropped into New York City? I suggest somewhat better than a New Yorker dropped into their environment, for these men have survival skills. Apart from the fact the New Yorker would most likely die, an exchange could be a good reality show!

    While not nearly as stark a comparison, for my children speak english, know what electricity and cars are, there is still major adjustments being made, such as thinking the “paper” displayed on the computer screen would pop out of the printer. 🙂

    I loved this recollection of yours.

  2. Pingback: We are honoured… | Love versus Goliath : A Partner Visa Journey

  3. Hey John,

    Its been a while again and I’m gearing up both myself and my blog for my up and coming trip to Peru in a couple weeks. While I was logged on again I figured I’d check out what you’ve been up to lately. The writing in this post is amazing. I found that even when customers walked into my store here at work, I could not bother myself to stray my eyes from your writing. The photographs are great too, but the best part about it is the story. That interaction between two cultures so unlikely to meet, to me, (as well as you obviously) that’s what traveling is all about. Great post man,


  4. “A few smiles, a few words, an exchange of lives and maybe just a bit of understanding of what it is truly like to a nomad. For me, it’s priceless”…. totally! Amazing to think that we all live under the same sky on this earth and yet some people live…survive… in such harsh and bleak environments. Thanks for this post, really beautiful thoughts on the simplicity of what it means to be human – being able to offer a smile and to get a smile back.

  5. wow…you are GOOD!!!! You have been to so many exotic places!!!:P..and you like photography too!!!! GREAT FIND!! I found you because I saw your comment from the other site that follow my blog..BUt the word which caught my eyes was you suggest Socotra, yemen as a popular spot!!!…that’s one of my destination of my upcoming trans-africa + middle east trip!!!….I am so excited!!! and you have been to so many places that I have never been…like sudan!!! ..and the photos!! OMG. breath-taking!!!! I just started to be so serious about photography……hope i can learn from you:)


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