I’d come to the desert to take pictures of the Tuareg, indigenous tribes of North Africa, once called free people, now the orphans of the Sahara. In the post-colonial era, their freedom had been compromised, the caravan routes divided between various countries and the trade no longer flourishing. Nomadic by tradition, most had settled to become farmers, others had gone to big towns for work. Climate change and droughts further contributed to their plight. This was one of the last remaining tribes still crossing the desert as they had for centuries, guided by the stars in darkness.
The Chief spoke some French, and in my limited Arabic vocabulary, I tried to communicate as we dined on flat bread, dried meat, and dates.
He lifted his indigo veil from the bottom as he ate, never revealing his face, except for the eyes. I detected amusement in his gaze. “This protects us from evil spirits,” he chuckled. Probably a pre-Islamic tradition which has been passed down for several millennia.
Then he raised his hand and beckoned a tall man. Upon the Chief’s words, the man bowed, and sat by the fire. He rolled his sleeves, exposing blue-tinted skin, formed by sweat under the thick garment they wore.
“I’m his son,” he said in English. “I can help with the questions.”
The reflection of the flames danced in his topaz blue eyes as we spoke.
“I’ve never experienced a night sky like this.”
“It’s because there are no clouds. We’re in complete darkness, except for the fire.”
My mind drifted to other indigenous people of the world, lost cultures. “How long do you think this will last, I mean the traditions.”
“As long as we struggle to keep them alive. The Saharas are our home.”
They believed it wasn’t one desert, but many which they travelled through, in their ancestors’ footsteps. Footprints disappear in the sea of sand, but footsteps are carried through stories.
Listening to the tunes coming from a distant drum and a single string violin, I gazed at the stars, trying to name them. Could I live like this, bury my phone, computer, and burn all the bridges behind me? Something inside me wanted to disappear into this tribe where only men wore the veil and women didn’t. Would they survive reliving everything in their past? Civilization takes away the freedom of the blue people, limiting their movements and way of life. Once they accept the new rules, they must bury their past.
I woke with the dawn and watched the son pour tea, holding the pot high over the cup. “Drink it while it’s hot,” he said. I held the glass in my hands, blowing on it before daring to sip. He sat beside me and asked, “Will you tell our story?”
I nodded. “Only with pictures.”
After a fortnight on the road, I returned to my civilization, too frightened to stay and change, deserting the azure sky of day, the illuminated canopy of night, and his mischievous eyes.
Sebnem E. Sanders is a native of Istanbul, Turkey. Currently she lives on the eastern shores of the Southern Aegean where she dreams and writes Flash Fiction and Flash Poesy, as well as longer works of fiction. Her flash stories have appeared in the Harper Collins Authonomy Blog, The Drabble, Sick Lit Magazine, Twisted Sister Lit Mag, Spelk Fiction, The Bosphorus Review of Books, Three Drops from the Cauldron, The Rye Whiskey Review, CarpeArte Journal, Yellow Mama Webzine, Punk Noir Magazine, Flash Fiction Offensive, The Cabinet of Heed, and A Festival of Flash-8, Love in the Times of Covid, as well as two anthologies: Paws and Claws and One Million Project, Thriller Anthology. She has a completed manuscript, The Child of Heaven and two works in progress, The Child of Passion and The Lost Child. Her collection of short and flash fiction stories, Ripples on the Pond, was published in December 2017. More information can be found at her website where she publishes some of her work: