the desert isn’t brown

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On your first visit to the desert of southern Morocco you might notice a lot of brown. On first glance your gaze may be filled with it. The mountains, filling the horizon. The ground, littered in sand and rocks. The houses, built out of the clay they stand on. Even the camels, if you are lucky enough to happen upon a herd, are brown.

But if you take the time to look, to really see the landscape around you, you wouldn’t describe it as brown.

Here’s what I see:

In the early hours of the morning, when the mountains are tinged with soft blues and purples,

The blue scarves, wrapped carefully atop men’s heads, protecting themselves from the harsh Saharan sun beating down,

The radiant purple flowers shooting up over the mountains after the torrential floods, signaling the beginning of spring,

The vibrant red of a freshly picked pomegranate from a tree in the oasis, its small fruits spilling across the ground as you crack its outer core,

The way the stars shine on a clear night, and seeing a shooting star is more of a when than an if,

The joy in little children’s eyes as we run and play and duck and hide, their happiness and inner light exuding carefree bliss, to which no passerby cannot mirror,

These are the things that I see. This is the desert that I love.

It’s anything but just brown.

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How To Stay Cool in the Sahara

These days I just can’t seem to stay cool. I don’t mean that in the sense that I’m not a “hip” person anymore, although that’s certainly true. Admittedly I’m actually pretty strange these days. Peace Corps does that to you after a while. I talk to myself a lot, and try to make friends with the cats that live on my stairs, and my personal hygiene habits leave a lot to be desired. I looked up the Billboard Top 10 songs playing in the USA right now and I’ve only heard of one artist. I wear the same outfit for several days in a row, and my clothes are usually dirty and already have holes in them. I spend most of my time with old ladies who feel bad for me that I’m not married and playing kids in never-ending rounds of UNO. My hobbies are finding new ways to eat chickpeas and reading as many books as I can get my hands on.

But I digress. Being “cool” in this sense doesn’t matter to me anymore. What really matters is staying “cool” in the temperature sense, which has become the biggest struggle I face each day. Last week the temperature gauge in town flashed an alarming 53° C, and while I’ve always been inclined to believe this sign overstates things a bit… we’re still talking in the vicinity of 127° F.

Here are my tips for staying cool in the Sahara (when you don’t have A/C, are fasting for Ramadan, and don’t have a freezer):

1. Buy a fan(s)

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And lay on the tile in the darkest room in your house.

2. Buy a mumu

The rule of thumb with clothes around here is loose and long. I used to tease my grandma a lot about how unfashionable mumus are, but like I said… these days I don’t care.

3. Hydrate

This is a lot easier if you aren’t fasting 16 hours a day for Ramadan. I’m drinking five liters of water a day (during break fast time), minimum.

4. Take a shower

Soap optional.

5. Reconcile with the fact that you are going to get nothing done during the day

6. Flip your schedule

Save all of your important work for the evening, when you’ve had something to eat and the temperatures have cooled off. These days I go to sleep around 4am, after the first call to prayer, and sleep until the afternoon.

7. Wear a wet scarf around your head outside

This isn’t just a fashion trend in the Middle East and North Africa.

8. Sleep on the roof

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9. Dream about cold things

10. Make curtains

And by curtains I mean I hung up a towel over my window that faces the sun, but that’s the same thing right?

11. Go to some place with A/C

I like to hang out at the post office. They think I like to check my mail a lot.

12. Use a cold cloth on your face

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(And drink a smoothie.)

13. Sleep with wet sheets

They’ll be dry again before you wake up.

14. Embrace the fact that you are sweating uncontrollably (and so is everyone else)

15. Remember that tomorrow is one day closer to the end of summer

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Thanks to my friend Alina, for the photos I used in this post! (Obviously not the selfies…)