Copyright 2023 by Annie Leung
courtesy of MartinStr at Pixabay.
the airplane, I closed my eyes and reflected on my trip, feeling
foggy. The absolute stillness of the desert, the smiling girl with a
missing tooth, and the darkish blood―the
fragmented memory came to mind.
Sahara Desert in
Egypt has been a tourist attraction for
was one of those who were fascinated by the desert, and I was in
Egypt on a one-week vacation. Two days before, I had arrived in Cairo
from Luxor by overnight sleeper train. I was about to go on an
overnight trip to the desert that day.
came to the lobby of the hotel with no expression on his face. He had
been my guide since I arrived in Cairo.
approached me and motioned for me to follow him.
you have any other tourists other than me today?
were able to communicate with each other only in our poor English, so
we had become taciturn.
and I walked out of the hotel and got in a Toyota Land Cruiser. In
the car, a driver and a boy were in the front seat. I didnt
understand Arabic, but I said hello anyway and sat in the back seat.
The boy in the passenger seat turned around and smiled at me. I
placed a plastic bottle containing two liters of water between
Muhammad, who also sat in the back seat, and me. I assumed that water
would be crucial on the trip.
soon as we left, I got thirsty and drank some water. I thought that I
had to make the water last until the next day, but the more I was
worried that I might drink up my water, the thirstier I became.
except for me, no one else drank any water since it was the month of
Ramadan. Muslims taking part in Ramadan do not eat or drink anything
during daylight hours.
couldnt guess how I
seemed to the
men, apparently Muslims.
the way, we stopped for lunch at a cottage in Bahariya Oasis.
Muhammad left me alone in the room, and I ate lunch by myself.
was a dish of Aish served with cheese, green peppers, tomatoes, and
tuna. Muhammad and the other men were probably staying somewhere else
in the cottage without eating or drinking anything.
the meal, I walked around the room and found a guestbook. In the
guestbook, a lot of messages were written by a lot of guests from
English, French, and other languages that I did not recognize.
Immediately, one of the nasty messages written in my mother language,
Japanese, caught my eye.
woman went on a trip to the desert alone and got raped by guides.)
the fact that I was sweating, I felt my head grow cold. Actually, I
was the only guest and the only woman on the trip. Suppose I were
assaulted by the men. I would not be able to resist, run away, or ask
for help. I didn't know how to get to Cairo, and I had no way to
survive in the desert.
I being careless? Did I take traveling alone as a woman too lightly?
No matter what happens, could I brag about it as one of my exploits?
It would be possible only if I returned safely, though. Still, its
too late. I have come this far.
abruptly walked out to the patio and looked for a stone. I found a
rugged stone and put it quickly in my backpack.
trudged toward the car and got in, wondering if I had ended up coming
to a terrible place. The men in the car looked the same as before,
but I became rigid with fear. I put my hand in my backpack and
stroked the stone. I gazed at the men. The driver and the boy
sometimes talked to each other in Arabic. Muhammad rarely talked to
them. I didnt understand
left the cottage.
scenery from the car window became more and more desolate.
stopped again. Muhammad told me that we were going to take a bathroom
break, and I went outside. There stood a solitary house in the middle
of the dry land.
went to the house. It looked like the house doubled as a shop and
also had a bathroom.
the house, foodstuffs, such as snacks, drinks, and ice cream, were
sold. There seemed to be no air conditioner. Nevertheless, there was
a fridge with Nestlé ads.
I was looking for mineral water, an adorable little girl was coming
closer to me. She had a missing front tooth, and her lips were
chapped. I pointed to the soft drinks in the fridge and asked her,
with a gesture, if she wanted something to drink. However, a woman,
apparently her mother, sitting with her back against the wall, shook
her head. I supposed that the girl was the daughter of the woman who
was the shopkeeper and that even a kid was not allowed to drink
anything during Ramadan in the family. For some reason, I gave her a
ballpoint pen that I held. I regretted later that I should have given
her something that she would be able to use longer.
woman sneaks up from behind and strikes several hard blows against
the man with a blunt instrument.
man flops on the ground.
has a blood‐smeared stone
right hand. The blood dripping from the stone drops into the sand.
is huffing and puffing. Her shirt and pants are torn. Her face is
covered with sand, and her lips are chapped. The more she panics, the
more her feet sink into the sand. The scorching sun burns her exposed
takes out a plastic bottle of water from her backpack and finds that
there is only a little water left. She drinks it up.
stands still in the middle of the desert.
I going to die here?
I opened my eyes.
Land Cruiser was heading off to the desert in a cloud of dust. There
was no blood‐smeared stone
My clothes were not disheveled. Two liters of water still remained in
the plastic bottle. The three men were looking straight ahead. I
wondered if I was dreaming.
that things had come to this, I had no clue where I was in the vast
desert. The painting-like blue sky and the desolate earth spread out
before my eyes.
stopped on the pure white sand. This was the White Desert.
got out of the car and motioned for me to follow him. I took his back
carefully. I felt the weight of the stone in my backpack on my back.
told me about the origin of the White Desert.
desert's distinct white appearance can be attributed to chalk and
limestone formations. These sedimentary rocks, formed from the
accumulation of shell fragments and coral, were once submerged
beneath ancient seas that covered the region. Over a long period, the
natural elements worked tirelessly, carving out intricate shapes and
structures and leaving behind the surreal landscape."
seemed that he was used to talking about it. He must have explained
over and over.
he pointed to the mushroom-shaped rock. That was the most famous rock
in the White Desert. Another rock next to the mushroom-shaped rock
you want me to take pictures?
was my small resistance against the image of Japanese with glasses,
buck teeth, and cameras.
headed back to our car.
finally looked around. I saw a spectacular view of white, fantastic,
and strange rocks eroded by the wind. It looked as if the desert was
dotted with snow-covered mountains. The contrast between the blue sky
and the white rocks was incredibly beautiful.
we went to see the Black Desert. The mountains and ground were
scattered with small black stones.
black hills and rocks stand as compelling evidence of volcano
activity and have iron ore and other igneous rocks thrown with the
lava from the volcano when it erupted.
asked, Are there still
replied in a slightly irritated tone, Volcanoes."
was so scared that I tried to move past, not knowing if the way I
said it was not good or if he did not understand my question.
we went to see the Crystal Mountains.
told me that the entire mountain was composed of quartz. It seemed to
me as if dull-colored bumps and lumps were growing in clusters. It
even looked disgusting.
I no longer listened to Muhammad. The sun was still shining brightly,
and the sweltering heat was killing me. I had already lost my
went on driving through the pathless desert.
a while, we stopped in the middle. That appeared to be the place
where we would stay tonight.
set foot in the sand. The sand was blowing in the wind. I felt sand
crawling into every hole and crevice in my body.
driver unloaded some boxes and made room skillfully for us to sit
down, spreading out and hanging out mats on the side of the car. The
boy helped him.
had nothing to do,
so I went for a walk. I tried to walk as far as I could while still
keeping the men and the car in sight. I was conscious of the stone in
my backpack on my back. Walking away, I looked back a few
driver and the
boy went on working. Muhammad just stood there.
wanted to watch
what the men were doing while I was gone.
farther I went, the smaller their figures became. Even as
I kept my eyes fixed on them, I could no longer see them very well,
even through my glasses.
sun was halfway to setting.
took off my shoes and socks and walked barefoot in the desert. I felt
the sand get cooler, and the soles of my feet felt good.
squatted on the ground and looked at the sunset. There was no sound
except for the sand blowing in the wind. No matter how far we went,
it would be desert. I felt like I had lost my sense of perspective. I
just watched the sky changing colors, the lights fading away, and the
darkness enveloping me.
got a little dark, and I thought of doing my business. I looked for a
place where there was a hidden spot in the sand.
finished doing my business, looked from between my legs, and noticed
the darkish blood that I could see even in the dark.
was my period.
on a pad, I wondered, Is
the likelihood of getting pregnant during our period low or high?
but I thought again, I
wont get raped!
the end, I threw away the used toilet paper on the ground, wondering
how long it took for paper to decompose in the desert. I imagined
that the desert had swallowed urine and blood, plus sweat, saliva,
tears, and everything like that.
got back to where the men were. The driver built a fire and did the
chores. The boy and Muhammad helped him. Everyone worked without
eating or drinking anything yet. Only I wasnt
made no sense whatsoever for me, who was just a woman tourist from a
country, to hire three grown men in
I wondered why labor compensation varied so much from one country to
another in the modern economic and social world.
woman and three men, a developed
country and a developing
country, an employer and employees,
fair skin and
light tan skin, a non-believer and Muslims, the way I was looking at
them and the way they were looking at me―thinking
of our relationship between multiple dimensions, I was mixed up.
sun went down completely on the unobstructed horizon. It was night,
with no light except for the light emitted by the car and the
driver made dinner with limited ingredients and equipment. He was a
driver and a cook.
appetizer was a glass of homemade apricot juice and a few bunches of
grapes, and the meals were roasted chicken, Jew's mallow soup, and
rice served with potatoes.
ate in silence around the campfire. For
men, that must have been the first meal of the day.
dinner was flavorful and nutritious. I did not expect to be able to
eat such a decent meal in the desert. I didnt
mind if the driver hadnt
raw fruits, vegetables, or his hands. I had never washed my hands
since I came to the desert in the first place. It was ridiculous to
pay attention to hygiene in the desert.
dinner, we drank a glass of tea with too much sugar in it. The
campfire kept burning. We started to talk bit by bit about our
personal lives, communicating with each other in our poor English.
The driver didnt speak
the boy translated his Arabic into English.
boys name was Ali, and he
twenty-two years old. He said that he had worked as a cook for three
years and that he wanted to be a person who could make a living
anywhere. He hoped to return to his hometown one day and find a wife.
He vowed to be a person like his father.
Muhammad talked a little more. He said shyly that he had a fiancée.
driver (I couldn't catch his name) had a large family.
and the driver said in unison that they were going to have a
celebration with their family and friends after Ramadan.
was relieved to see that all the guys had their partners and family.
the night went on, the driver prepared a sleeping bag for me.
I got into the sleeping bag, it smelled dusty, but I felt warm and a
was the first time I slept
under the stars,
with no roof or walls. Gazing at a myriad of stars until just before
I fell asleep, I looked back on my messed-up life in absolute
appeared that Muhammad, Ali, and the driver spread out each mat on
the ground and slept.
worries about being assaulted slipped my mind during the night.
I woke up. No one seemed to be awake yet. In the sleeping bag, I
decided to wait for the sun to rise in the dim light of dawn.
time went by, the blue-green sky gradually faded, and the morning
morning, I didnt change
wash my face, or brush my teeth. I went to the open-air bathroom
and did my business. I abandoned the
paper and filth without hesitation.
was the desert.
driver had already prepared breakfast.
was a familiar Aish served with buttercream-like spread, apricot jam,
honey, and cheese.
ate quietly. Still, I felt cozy.
breakfast, Muhammad said, We
will leave as soon as we clean up, with
no expression on his face as usual. I came to find him rather
was going to be hot that day. As I thought of going back to Cairo, I
gulped down my water with peace of mind.
we left the desert in the Land Cruiser. Thinking of the stone in my
backpack, I decided to throw it away when we arrived in Cairo.
awoke from a light sleep on the airplane. This time, I could return
safely. It was fortunate that I didnt
have something to brag about as one of my exploits.
wished that I could add to the guestbook, I
was not raped.
Annie Leung is a
writer and translator based in Tokyo, Japan, using her spare time to
write both non-fiction and fiction.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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