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William Langewiesche
Excerpts from Sahara Unveiled: A Journey Across the Desert
(Pantheon, 1996)

From Chapter Eleven:


Prisoners of the Oasis



In the morning we strolled through town. Shrouded Mozabite women scurried close to the walls, like nervous one-eyed ghosts. One of them came toward us. At first she seemed like just another figure, as anonymous and uninteresting as she was; meant to be. But then we exchanged glances, she and I, and I discovered an eye of the most exquisite beauty -- oval, almond-colored, lightly made up, with long lashes and flawless skin. The eye was warm, lively, and inviting. I didn't need to see more.

I asked Hamim if he had noticed. He smiled and said, "But she is married."

"You know her?"

He shook his head. "That's why she veils herself."

"And your wife, does she wear a veil?"

"Of course!" I had gone too far. He was offended that I had asked.

Later I pointed to an unveiled woman crossing the street in a tailored suit. "And who is she?"

"A whore."

"You know her?"

He shook his head.

I said, "Maybe she works in an office." I thought of Malika's sister Zora, and of women workers I had seen in other oases.

Hamim was emphatic. "She is a whore."

It was like talking to someone about his faith. I said, "Okay, but why?"

"These are loose women who become known. They screw for the pleasure of it. Afterward, no one will marry them."

About that, he was probably right. Oases are the smallest kinds of towns. People are stained indelibly by their reputations. There is little mercy. A girl who succumbs too easily to love may become a woman who knows no love at all.


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    Copyright © 1996 by William Langewiesche. All rights reserved.