Behind the Camel of the Cook:

On Foot and On Camel in The Sahara Desert with Sansea Sparling

Thursday, June 24, 2010
7:00pm, Free, Lawrence Memorial Library. For a map to the library, click here.

Sansea Sparling traveled to the Tasseli Region of the Sahara Desert, in Southern Algeria, to live and trek with The Tuareg Nomads for a month. Sansea, a long-time New Haven resident, yoga instructor and adventure traveler, loves desert and loves to ride camel--yet this trip with the Tuareg into little-known hidden high valleys offered more challenges than she had expected. Thinking that only the first day of the trek would be walking, it turned out that all the many mountain passes were on foot, in the heat of the day, after cold nights. Walking, riding, eating, and making camp each night with eight Tuareg guides, thirteen Europeans, and thirty seven camels was exhilarating, exhausting and educational. 

Two Americans, one Irish man, one German and six Swiss met in Geneva, Switzerland, to board a plane for Algiers, then on to Tamanrasset, southern Algeria. Setting out in Landcruisers for our entry to the great Sahara, after one day of travel, we met our camels, the vehicles departed, and  we made our beds on the desert floor. The following morning, we struck out for the mountains, packing, walking, riding; unpacking, finding firewood, helping our Tuareg cook prepare meals, eating from common bowls, sitting on the ground; then  packing, walking, riding, finding firewood, finding our sleeping places. We had two guides, one American, one Swiss, and a translator. In one way, the rhythm of the days was the same; the guides taught us camel and desert safety, Tuareg manners, and helped us shape our intentions for the journey, deepen our individual quests. In another way, each day was dazzlingly different from any other, because the fabulous beauty of the Sahara, ever-shifting, ever-changing, entranced and amazed us.

We dressed in Tuareg men's clothing; we traveled in the "Leave no Trace" ethic; we drank fossil water from ancient Tuareg wells and springs. We saw Neolithic stone animal art--ostrich, hippos, giraffe and elephant-- from the time when the Sahara was a sahel, rivers and lakes everywhere. The centerpiece of the journey, our three solo days, took place in a valley so hidden that we were told that it may be that no humankind had ever dwelled in that place.

The Tuareg are a nomadic people who live in Algeria, Niger, Mali, Libya and Burkina Fasso. Renowned for centuries as unmatched caravan leaders and warriors, their language is Tamachek; their alphabet unique. Like nomads the world over, their ancient life-stye is threatened by their governments' pressures to settle, to acquire addresses; camel and sheep and goat herds have diminished, as has viable pasture land; the old freedom to roam across national borders in search  of seasonal grazing has disappeared. Named as Park Rangers, some find that the subsistence salaries can combine with the herding income to make ends meet; some few tourist caravans occur each year, despite years of warfare in their region. Caravan leaders are scrupulous to hire some camels, some camel masters, some guides from each family, to spread the sparse opportunities across as many households as possible. Their society is matrilineal, matriarchal. The men veil their faces; the women do not. Proud, energetic, able people, the Tuareg work to preserve their ways, to propitiate their intimate knowledge of survival in the desert--how to find water, how to find food for the camels, how to live in the seasons when no rain comes. Their Code of Honor, ashek, tolerates no breach of integrity; courage, patience and honor lead to trustworthiness, and good humor.  The young learn by the example of the elders.

To travel with the Tuareg is an honor and a privilege. Under the fantastic dome of constellations and shooting stars, campfire were cosy circles of camaraderie, language a funny soup of German, SwitzeDeutche, French, English Tamachek and Gaelic--stories sometimes were told in rounds: German, English, French and Tamachek. The Tuareg have amazing strength and stamina, are affectionate with one another, have obvious, strong familial bonds, and took exemplary care of us.  We went on the journey to deepen inner quests; we came away with the Tuareg in our hearts

For a map to the library, click here.

The One-World Library Project is a “world library within a library” with a collection of books, films, and other media about world cultures. OWLP items are available for community members to check out at the Lawrence Memorial Library in Bristol. The One-World Library Project also hosts regular programs at the library on the various fascinating cultures that fill our planet. For more information about the One-World Library Project please call 453-4147 or go to

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People are encouraged to recommend or donate items to OWLP that express the richness of their personal experiences with other cultures whether through family, study, travel, language, food, history, art or music. To purchase books or other media to donate to the project, the OWLP encourages the support of local bookstores such as the Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury.