In Search of the Forty Days Road
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Asher is captivated by the Libyan Desert from the moment he sees it. He soon becomes frustrated with the confines of public transport and decides to buy his own camel. He discovers that this is the best way to live the experience of traversing the land of sun, sand, and stars, and tries to adapt. He sets out to trace the path of the once historic Forty Days Road. After riding solo for a while, he attaches himself to desert tribes but gets caught up in their conflicts. With the authorities frowning on his excursion, he finds himself battling for acceptance, freedom, and survival.
Hamar were the most powerful tribe in Kordofan,’ cut in ’Ali. ‘By the life of my eyes, we had more than the Kababish—they only had goats! Then the watering-places dried up, and the Kababish stole many Hamar camels.’ ‘Is there still trouble between the Kababish and the Hamar?’ I asked. ‘The Kababish are savage men, and they have many weapons. They respect no one,’ Osman said. ‘And sometimes they take Hamar animals.’ ‘The Kawahla are the same,’ continued his brother. ‘They come into our country to
agriculture: what crops did we grow? When did we harvest them? What type of soil did we grow them in? These were things which interested the tribesmen and with which they could identify. Most of them seemed to imagine the world as a great plain of sand and grass, populated by tribes of varying speech, colour, and custom, but with basically the same lifestyle as their own. They rarely asked about the ‘wonders’ of modern technology, which they did not understand, and which had little bearing on
determined to reach this oasis, even though I might have to travel alone for some of the way. I made the mistake of forgetting the companions, and thinking only of the way. My direct route to the oasis lay through dar Zaghawa, and though I received many warnings of the delicate situation there, I was driven on by lack of time, and secretly by a desire to see this inaccessible region in which few Europeans had travelled. It was to the shaykh, Rashid Omar, that I turned for advice in this matter,
surprise that most of it was in ruins, like the ones I had seen previously. Only the old man’s house seemed to be in good repair with a freshly made stockade of grass. ‘Where are all the people?’ I asked. ‘Gone!’ he replied. ‘All gone off to Libya, or south to the towns, to El Fasher or Kutum, or Mellit. I’m the only one left now, me and my daughters. I was the shaykh of this place. I could leave like the others, but I’ve been here most of my life.’ ‘God is generous.’ ‘Yes, God is generous.’ He
some islands in the stream which were verdant and leaf-shaped. A little closer the nailparings of green along the riverbanks, Dongola’s famous palm groves, became visible, but from this height any greenery was swallowed up by the enormity of the desert and rendered as insignificant as scum along the edges of its vast emptiness. My view of the scene was both obscured and distracted by the face of a pretty English girl, who was rapt in contemplation of the same landscape. Her name was Katie, and we