Desert Songs: A Woman Explorer in Egypt and Sudan
Reviewed by Deborah Manley

Desert Songs: A Woman Explorer in Egypt and Sudan, by Arita Baijens.
American University in Cairo Press, 2011. Large format, colour photographs, 144 pp, ISBN 978-977-416-211-4. £29.95.

Arita Baijens came to the conference at Durham University from which ASTENE sprang. I learned that she had two lives: one in Amsterdam and another travelling with her very own three camels throughout the deserts of Egypt and Sudan—a traditional ASTENE traveller, but of the 20th century.

Now we can all see—in photographs and text— Arita’s desert life, starting with a wonderful picture of a lone human in a scene of total desert, striding out followed by three camels.The photographs range from everyday scenes—camels unpacked at the end of the day—to a great sweeping wave of desert at eventide.

Desert songs We are brought into the dream she made come true, resolving the conflicts of her two lives. She recalls the timelessness of her early travels and how she became absorbed into this harsh existence. As more and more tourists invaded the Egyptian deserts, she moved south to Sudan with its own dangers. She writes of the close bonds she formed with her camels and with camels generally—an animal for which most travellers have had little love. She writes—all surrounded by beautiful photographs—of water,
brackish water, and water where monsters lie in wait. She writes of those who went before: Frederick Cailliaud, of her wealthy but ill-fated countrywoman Alexandrine Tinne, and of Wilfred Thesiger; and then the deserts themselves take over with more wonderful photographs of the desert at night, rock carvings, a Roman fortress by the Forty Day Road, a cold-eyed horned viper emerging from the dark, and the people of the deserts: men, women and children. And then camels and more camels, and sand and more sand.I will never make these journeys Arita has made, and I greatly appreciate how much of them she has given us in this wonderful book. It is expensive—but cheap at the price.

Deborah Manley