Changing Camp

Figure 21

[Page 151] The propounder of the puzzle makes a square of five rows of five hollows, whose sides lie north and south, and east and west. It represents an Arab encampment on the move in the rainy season. According to the direction in which it is supposed to be moving, indicated by an arrow, the first row is called [Page 152] the Selaf, No. 2 the Deshar, No. 3 the Da'n, No. 4 the Bagar, No. 5 the Ghanam.

The expert then turns his back and invites the company to agree secretly among themselves on a particular hollow. When they have done so he asks "Going north, where is it?", and supposing that the selected square is the one marked X in the figure, they will answer "Among the Bagar". Then he 'asks, "Going east, where is it?" and they will answer "Among the Deshar". Turning round he is able to point at once to the chosen square to the astonishment, as a rule, of the beholders, for whom this elementary exercise in Cartesian coordinates has a touch of the miraculous.

The white man may be inclined to smile at the simplicity which finds so easy a puzzle marvelous; but if he has lived with the Arabs the bare diagram will call up to his mind a vivid picture of the Arab ferik on the move on some cloudy day in the rainy season, when the desert for the time being was green and blossoming like the rose.

At the head of the procession is the Selaf, the vanguard of youths riding on camels, shouting and singing or galloping wildly after a gazelle which they have put up.

After them comes the Deshar, the herd of camels, male and female - round humped nagas and woolly frisking foals.

Then follows the main body, the Da'n, camels loaded with tents and baggage, and some bearing the 'Utfas, with long tassels swinging and bells jingling as they go.

Immediately behind the Da'n come the Bagar, the cattle, placed there so that if some infant in an 'Utfa becomes clamorous it can be appeased with milk straight from the cow.

Last of all the Ghanam, the sheep and goats, doing their best to straggle after the green grass, but kept going by vociferous children possessing a fluency of abuse far beyond their years.

Thus reminiscing, the town-dweller may be tempted to forget both the comforts of his present surroundings and the discomforts of the nomad life, and to recall favorably the Arab curse:

Allah yusak-kinak el mudun!"
"May God cause you to live in cities!"

Last update January 6, 2010