Travel really is the best teacher. It introduces us to places, tribes, and lifestyles we never would’ve imagined. It forces us out of our comfort zones and is a constant reminder of how much of a bubble we live in. I’m grateful for my everyday world, but I do love going beyond it. During this past stay in the Sahara Desert, we set up a day trip that turned out to be an eye-opening visit with a local nomadic Berber family. We scheduled this trip with Kam Kam Dunes, and our original driver was our guide.
Not that long ago, there used to be over 600 nomadic families living in the Sahara Desert. But as the resources became more and more scarce, the majority of families moved to nearby cities and adopted a more modern lifestyle.
Now, there are around 40 families still living the nomadic way in the Sahara. These families live, survive, and thrive off the desert. When their animals run out of nature’s food, they pick up their home and move to a more abundant location in the desert where their animals can graze.
The families that chose to stay did it because they’re deeply rooted in their traditions. They believe that since their parents died there, they need to die there too. Nowadays, it’s a lot harder for them to keep following this lifestyle because they don’t have as many animals as they used to. The animals provide food and finances. The driver mentioned that some of the families who moved away still return to help the remaining families any way they can.
The families that we visited during our trip weren’t always open to visitors. The driver shared that they feared outsiders. But as people brought them clothes and donated money, they realized how helpful these visitors could be.
What about when they get sick?! Our driver said that everything they need is in the desert. He shared a story about how people heal when a poisonous snake bites them. When this happens to someone, they cut into their scalp and apply a bitter fruit found in the desert that sucks out the poison. This melon-like fruit has saved many lives! I was in awe just hearing these stories.
Their homes are traditional Berber tents. They are not like the ones you book during your glamping experience in the Sahara no matter how “traditional” the camps say they are. Below you’ll see the carpets that they sleep on. During the summer months, the weather can hit 120ºF so they sleep outside of the tents during that season.
This is their kitchen. They commonly eat foods that don’t spoil quickly such as legumes. They also enjoy fruit about once a month.
This is where they make their bread (left side) and boil their water (on the right).
And when they need to chill their milk or water they use this animal’s skin as a refrigerator. They put the liquid inside for 24 hours, and the next day it’s fresh and ready to drink.
There were a number of kids living in the area we visited. We even met newborn twin girls! Imagine giving birth and raising kids in the desert where doctors don’t exist and the resources are limited. A city girl like me can’t wrap my mind around it, but they do this life well and have everything they need to survive.
Our driver grew up in the desert as well before his family moved to the city. He knows the ins and outs of nomadic life and we were fascinated with the stories he was sharing. He says that when he visits, he lets the kids watch videos on his phone and they absolutely love it. They have zero technology/electricity there, but they’re still all about that phone.
When a child is born, the parents take 7 days to choose the perfect name. Then they have a mini celebration to announce the chosen name. As the kids grow older, they don’t receive a formal education, they just learn whatever the adults know. When they’re old enough to marry, the mom goes out and chooses a wife for her son. The chosen girl’s family talks it over with the community before agreeing to the marriage. The couple doesn’t meet until the day of the wedding. A proper wedding will cost the groom’s family around $10,000 and lasts 3 days! They sell some of their animals to pay for the grand event.
Our driver also took us to a local Berber cemetery. The stones and their angles show whether a male or female is buried there, but otherwise, they’re unidentifiable to the untrained eye.
Toward the end of the day trip, we visited a separate location to see a traditional Sudanese dance. The Sudanese dancers are now living in the Sahara Desert after fleeing the dangers in their home country.
Overall, I was grateful for the experience. It was unlike any other day trip we’ve ever done before. I would recommend it to anyone looking to learn more about true nomads and the Berber families who are still thriving.
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