Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

“Tin Hinan”, Book II, Chapter 5. “Sandstorm”

September 21, 2012

Most writers work on a number of projects. I do. I don’t really have any thought out reasons, but I have since I began writing. “Tin Hinan” is an unfinished (but almost finished….) novel I have posted chapters from time to time. I see by my stats that there are consistant readers of those chapters I have posted, and I would think these readers are coming from Morocco, Algeria, the Sudan, and other parts of the Middle East. I have heard from a few readers who are Berbers, and that is very gratifying. When one attempts to write about another culture, it is good to have readers who stand as critics and help with these important cultural details. Thank you all who have written in with suggestions and your own cultural knowledge that stems from your origin.

This chapter is a work in progress, and needs rewrite. But! Bill Penrose, the man who stands as my publisher on these issues, and especially is awaiting my meandering completion of this novel, will be glad that I am back on the camel.

Lady Nyo

Tin Hinan, Book II, Chapter 5

We could see the Amour, the Ksour mountains. They were blue-gray blurs in the far distance. These were lower ranges, but would be arduous enough. I had never travelled this route, even with the few months Takama, Niefa and I plodded to the mountain range where Immel and his men found us. We were still in the desert, where our small party traveled from oasis to oasis. We had traversed the wadis, the Chelif and Tonil riverbeds, long stretches of oasis. The grass grew along the riverbeds when there was water enough to cultivate the foliage and where the palms and dates could dig deep into the sandy soil. Our scouts proceeded us a day out. We needed to be careful of the other caravans along the way. They also made sure we were headed in the direction of oasis, for water was our greatest concern. Ours was so small, less a caravan more a raiding party. We were not, but we still could draw suspicion. Immel said the majority of caravans had a thousand camels, but some of the Arab caravans had up to twelve thousand camels! What a sight that must be, stretching out as far on the horizon. Surely these caravans would carry the wealth of nations. From what Immel and his tribemen said around the fire at night, this wealth was made up of many things. Gold, salt, slaves, cotton and silks. Watermelons, spices, fruit, the kola nut and cotton seeds for planting.

Ah! Cotton was essential. There was no other cloth to use in the desert. It protected from heat of the sun, and the bite of sand. I learned to spin thread and weave cloth on small looms only two feet wide, but there were bigger looms in some tribes. We stitched the lengths of cloth together and dyed it with indigo for the rich, dark blue that our men wore around their heads and across their faces. We also dyed the cloth with different flowers and herbs and fixed the color with camel urine. But mostly we left it white and let it bleach out in lengths in the sun. It looked like strips of snow in the sunlight!

Several times we watched long caravans from a distance. They were hidden by dunes, or distance. We did not get not close because we didn’t want to attract attention. Our little party of twenty some camels and pack animals would be of little interest to these big outfits. But we were careful, only approaching the smaller caravans. Of course, we knew the Berbers were the guides even in these big Arab caravans. They were well paid crossing the deserts from far flung towns with produce or booty. Large slabs of salt, to be cut into smaller portions sold in the markets to the east and west had been brought from Mali in the south. All this would make their way to foreign cities. This salt was so necessary for daily life. It was the basis of preservation of food.

It was a miracle that Takama and I didn’t succumb in the desert during our first crossing to the mountain where Immel found us. Our navigation was from oasis to oasis, but we were more guided by luck and the scent of water in Niefa’s nose than our own abilities. Now I understood how much of a miracle it was: yes, our course was different, and there was some purpose for this much longer route Immel was taking but still, it was by favor of the gods and goddesses. Path- finding in the desert was a reading by stars, wind patterns, sand dune formations and even the color of the sand. Immel and his men knew all these things of the desert, and we didn’t. Perhaps that is why our appearance before them occasioned such wonder and disbelief from the elders of their mountain ksar.

Somehow we had survived.

There is a saying, probably Berber, as we are a wise people. “Sahara surrenders very few realities, only illusions”. Perhaps it was also because our perception of distance was so unreal. What looked like an oasis in the distance was only a shimmering of heat on the endless landscape. Our trek from oasis to oasis had to be exact, within a day’s foretelling as we could die in the desert if our reckoning was off even by a few miles. But Immel and his men were experienced in the desert, and I felt safe we would not perish. Of course, there were other factors to consider about our survival, but that was not assured by any god or goddess.

One late morning near noon, when the day seemed to be exactly like the day before, and the day before that, a wind picked up and the camels started to be restless, bellowing and groaning , their nostrils flaring, as if they were scenting something in the air. Suddenly we knew why. There was an enormous cloud in the distance–stretching from the ground to heaven. The sky had turned a dull orange. It was very strange from the azure blue of just a few moments before. But it wasn’t a cloud, it was that most fearful of dangers– the sandstorm! We could hear it coming, though it was miles off, a pounding roar like nothing else. Immel and the other men gathered on their uneasy camels to discuss what to do.

There were some hills off to the west. Though we could not outrun a sandstorm, to attempt to do so would mean certain death, the hills might offer protection. We turned towards those barren hills, whipping our camels into a gallop and clustered together, making the camels and pack camels to lie down together. We got on the leeway side of the camels, and prepared for the storm. We huddled together, and I saw Takama’s face, her eyes black and fearful, before she pulled her hood and cloths over them. She had taken the two foxes in their cage, had covered them with the loose woven basket and heaped some of our luggage over them. If she had to, she would lay herself over their basket to save them. She had grown so fond of them.

Immel wrapped me in his burnoose and pulled me close. I could feel his excitement and fear, as his heart pounded hard in his chest. Takama cuddled behind me, almost digging underneath the camel. We had made it in time, as the wind and the sand came barreling down the desert, and even though we were protected by the men and the covering of cloth, the sand was hard, abrasive on our clothes. No one said a word, for to open your mouth would mean sand and dust, dust carried by the wind above the sand, small and dangerous pieces of rock and dirt, would enter our throats and go down our lungs, suffocating us. The sun was blotted out. It was if nighttime had fallen at noon.

The roar of the storm was ten thousand demons and zars riding the wind. Even if I didn’t have my ears wrapped shut, I could not have heard the sound of a human.

It seemed as if I had fallen asleep. I felt the heaviness of a deep sleep, but it was the heaping of sand all around and over us that was weighed me down. Suddenly the roaring stopped. The storm had worn itself out, and the silence around us was unnatural after the roar before.

I heard Immel’s voice, as if from a long distance. He was shaking me to consciousness. I wanted to go back to sleep, but this was not the sleep of the night. It was the sleep of an almost-death. We were covered in sand and we shook ourselves to feel our limbs. We had survived one of the worst of perils of the desert. Our camels had long lashes on their eyes, something to keep the sand out. Their nostrils closed to keep their lungs safe. Thick and rough coats were also the reason they had not been beaten, flayed by the sand, but they too, had to work their way out of the heaping sand. With bellows and groans and the help of the men, they pulled themselves upright, shaking themselves, creating miniature sandstorms in the doing.

Takama uncovered the basket and the foxes were gone! Her eyes caught mine and I saw her sadness. They were gone, swept away by the djinn of the sandstorm. Though Takama was desert bred and strong, she fought to hide her tears. One of the men, who saw her distress, came over and bending down, started to dig away at the sand. There, popping out their long noses, were the two foxes! With the intelligence of desert animals, they burrowed down in the sand, safer from the storm than we above.

It is said that “The Desert is the realm of the Spirits” and to pilgrimage there is to come face to face with your mortality. The night brought spirits, demons, zars, as they rode the cold night air. They also appeared during the day, when travelers were caught far from shelter, and had to survive the elements as best they could. The roar of the sandstorm carried the voices of ghosts—men and camels who had perished in the Great Sahara for millennium.

If history was to be believed, 50,000 soldiers of Cambyese’s army, had marched across the middle Sahara to fight the Ethiopians, only to perish in the desert in minutes, buried by ten feet of sand. Their bleached bones, arrowheads and lances were left scattered across the barren landscape for 2500 years.
The Sahara Desert was well called “The Mirror of the Soul”. It made or broke men, and those who survived had their lives changed forever.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2012

“Tin Hinan” Book II, Chapter 4

April 11, 2012


(courtesy of

LadyNyo A mountain Ksar in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco

I am working to finish this novel by this summer.  A reader can see this chapter is far towards the end, and I hope to conclude in a matter of weeks.  Of course, there is a long period of rewrite, but I can do this. It’s just one key in front of the other.

This chapter is about Tin and Immel and company leaving their mountain ksar.  A ksar is a mountain settlement, usually built into the side of a mountain, and in some regions, a forested mountain.  Some ksars look like beehives.  The lower parts are grainerys and the upper parts are residences.

Over the course of writing this novel, I had to do a lot of research into foods. I was fortunate to know modern day Berbers in Atlanta, and tried to consult them with the issues of ancient grains, foods, etc.  I found that much of what was researched was also eaten today in families, not restaurants.  This is more particular to desert tribes, but today in Morocco much of this food would be recognized in some form.

Thank you to the readers of these chapters of “Tin Hinan” especially those in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and the general Middle East.  All misinformation is mine in the writing of this book.

Lady Nyo

Tin Hinan, Chapter 4 of Book II

Although I knew my purpose in returning to the desert, I felt reluctance in leaving our mountain.  The lush meadows, the pastures, the fruit trees and the early-planted fields of millet were a delight to my desert eyes.  Everything was so green and blooming around me, this first spring of my life in the mountains. 

Everything so different from the desert.  The smells were different too, not of the howling winds, but of budding leaves, blossoms of mountain wild flowers, even the soil smelled of life and regeneration.  I would miss the sharp smell of the walnut trees, when I crushed a leaf in my hand and saw the stain appear.  I especially would miss the beautiful apricots, the tender blossoms and the sweet fruit that would fill my mouth like honey.  And I would miss Niefa. She would have calved by the time I returned, and I wanted to be there, to help her in her first labor, and to guide her spindly-legged calf to her nipples.  Immel laughed at me, saying  Niefa would not need my help in this, but Immel was a man. What did he know about birth and especially Niefa?  She was hand raised by me, and would miss my presence as much as I missed her.

Ah, but by Isis, it could not be helped.  I had a purpose for leaving the mountains, and to return to the desert of my birth. I could not forget this.  I must revenge my tribe, my family, the great insult done to them. I must revenge myself by blood.  Each night I prayed silent prayers to Tanit, to Tinjis, and especially to Ifri, the War Goddess. I asked all that I remember my purpose and that my liver be not steered from my destiny.

But we did leave our mountain, and with Takama behind me on a war camel, this big beast who groaned and moaned like a tiny donkey, we came out of the mountains and approached the desert of our journey, the mighty Sahara.  We would cross other mountain ranges, as this route was different and longer than the way Takama and I had taken.  The course of our small caravan was set by the elders and Immel had purpose for this: he was still a raider, and still a mountain Berber, and he would seek the safety of a big caravan to travel with.  We left with only twenty men, but they were all warriors and skilled in fighting.  Perhaps we would increase our caravan’s wealth along the way, but this had only a secondary purpose.  We had a good flock of sheep and goats herded before us and some of these could be traded for salt and other essentials.  These would also make a greater impression on my tribe, though we carried enough booty to do that.  The bales of cottons and silk, hidden amongst the pack camels were something of great wealth, especially to my desert tribe.  There were even some steel needles and knives especially valuable to my tribes.

We didn’t find a caravan after a weeks travel, and had just left a small oasis. We watered the camels and replenished the water bags, when the fierce dogs accompaning us found a den of a desert fox.  A great howl and fury was heard, even by us in the middle of the caravan, and I saw Immel and other men kick and whip their camels to the source of the dog’s turmoil.  They were too late to save the nursing mother and two of her kits, but Immel grabbed two kits from the dogs and held them high over his head, kicking and shouting at the dogs as he did so.  They were only a few weeks old, and Immel hurried back and with a grin, threw them into my lap.  I looked at these tiny, terrified babies and my heart melted.  They were the color of sand, with huge ears, and big black eyes showing their fear.  Takama pushed her paw forward for one and I gave her a kit.  We knew enough, though I hadn’t seen a desert fox in a long time, to cover their heads, as the sun would blind them.  They came out at night, to hunt the rodents, the lizards of the night desert, and slept during the day.  We tucked them in our robes and they whimpered for a while, squirmed and then fell asleep to our heartbeat.  Later one of the men would make a small cage to fit over the cool water bag on the camel and we covered this with cloth.  They were babies, and I wondered if the rich camel’s milk would nourish them, but one of the men, who took a kindness to these babies, said  if we dilute the milk with water, it would do fine.  They also could eat fruit, if we tore it up into small pieces, or chewed it ourselves to a pulp. Within a few hours, they seemed to adjust to our feeding.  Mostly they slept during the day. During the night, they played in our tent, and would dig through the sand, making small burrows as their instinct directed them.  They had a strange yip, and would get into anything  not secured.   Finally, Takama put them under a loose woven basket during the night, as they tried to burrow under the tent.  The dogs outside would have killed them on sight, and we had grown attached in only a few days.  Immel  laughed at me, as I played with them during the evening hours, and said soon I would be replacing these foxes with my own babe to play with.  Perhaps, but that was away in the future, regardless his and his mother’s desire.

We approached another oasis when we spied a small caravan.  Immel and some of the men rode forth and talked with the leaders.  They were Berbers from the East,  travelling part of the way to Morocco.  That night, we joined their larger caravan and pitched our tents apart, which was the usual custom, but we slaughtered two goats and brought dates and salt to a shared dinner.  These Berbers were nomads, who came from pastures with great herds of sheep and goats. They were driving them as trade to the west.  They were very much like my parent’s tribe, wearing some of the same woven cloth and colors I was familiar with.  Of course, I did not ask any questions, as to my tribe, but Immel did find out that there had been wars and raiding to the west.  Information was vague enough but I could only wonder if Hasim and his tribe had been involved.  There were many tribes, and many raiders, some of them the hated Arabs, but I knew little of the world.  Now, from my position in the Spirit World, I know much more of history.  Then, as I said, I knew little.

Their women were like women everywhere. The young ones were shy, the older ones suspicious, and the few elderly on the caravan were wiser than all else.  Of course we sat together, as women would want to do, and exchanged gossip and some minor gifts. We ate their dishes with great relish, as Takama and I were not the best of cooks.  Our porridge was plain and only filled our bellies, but their dishes were so much better for not being made by us. 

Though we found our food was of a common kind, their taguella, a flat bread made from millet and cooked on charcoals in the sand, was eaten with a heavy sauce of spices and dried fruit.  They had yogurt, made along the route, by pouring goat’s milk into large skins and letting it ferment in the sun.  The roll of a camel’s pace stirred it nicely, and the essence of the leather bag contributed a smoky taste to the yogurt.  Ah! Their eghajira was the best I had ever tasted! For those who have had inferior drink,  it is a thick beverage drunk with a ladle, made by pounding millet, goat cheese, dates, dried apricots, camel’s milk and honey. Of course, there was lamb on a spit over the fire and gunpowder tea, sweetened with mint and honey.  Our mouths were greasy with the food and our bellies full. 

 Just when I saw Takama’s eyes close with sleep and mine doing the same, the sound of the rehad floated towards us. Soon bendirs, drums, added their rhythm to the one-stringed fiddle. An ajonuag, the reed flute joined the music,  and a woman started to sing., a strange song half way between a moan and a melody.

Some of the women got up to dance,  holding  large  walnut shells  in their hands, like castanets, as they added their own music to the night.  Stomping their bare feet in the cooling sand, tossing their long hair in circles, they would scare or entice a Zar in the desert night with their wild beauty!

There is nothing so mystical on earth as the sound of music in the desert. It floats like a benediction over the day. The night time air seems to draw forth the beauty of the voice and the pathos of life. Though it was not a song I knew, it didn’t matter.  Our lives, our souls, were of the same material, and we went to our tents late that night feeling cradled in the knowledge  wherever we were, we Berbers were part of the great stream of humanity and never alone in the world.

 Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2012

“Before the Zar”, posted for Oneshotpoetry….

May 17, 2011

"The Zar Tales", published by, 2010



The “Zar” is three things:  It’s a ritual exorcism (but not really, you never get rid of a Zar (Demon) you just give it new marching orders, or placate it);  The Zar is a Demon Spirit, or a collection of Spirits; and it’s also a female bonding dance.  It is a very old ritual and one of great importance in the Middle East and Africa for numerous reasons.

Presently, it is under attack in the Middle East and parts of Africa as being outside the bounds of Islamic religious belief.  However, it is a very important ‘mental health’ issue for women in these countries:  It is also a ‘social time’ where women from a village or town can get together and communicate with other women without restrictions.  I wrote my second book, “The Zar Tales” about the struggle to continue the Zar rituals.  I have been present during two Zar rituals and it is something errie and unforgetable.  Powerful stuff, indeed.

Lady Nyo


I am ready for the Zar.

Bathed, perfumed, hennaed,

my hands and feet tattooed

with proper designs,

silver amulets encircle my

arms, throat, ankles.

I have made

ritual prayers.

dance to open paths–

sweet incense bathes my soul.

This is old country,

possessed with Zars,

Selfish demons who

demand and torment

belabor and befuddle,

Creep up by our side

when we toil by day

sidle into our thoughts

when we pray at night for rest.


The Zar never purges

these troubling Spirits,


beguiles, baffles, bothers,

hopefully placates

and ultimately restores

Spirit to Flesh.

I beat out the rhythm:

DUM (space) teka-tek

DUM (space) teka-tek

gird my loins with faith-

prepare to do battle.

But hear my cry!

If my demon refuses

to quiet his Hell within,

then throw the stern net

of  reason over me.

Pin me down with  lucidity.

Use strength and increase it again

lay  your weight upon my twisting limbs,

nail me to the Earth

with your body and power.

And if I still dance out of control,

twisting under your hips,

stiffen your cock and pin me down

and growl into me:

“Woman, be still,

And know I am Man!”

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2008-2011