Christmas in the Sahara

Today I woke up to my first Christmas in the Sahara.  I feel strangely close to the Christmas story here.  The images of first century Israel are still daily displayed on the unpaved streets of these cities and towns.  People riding donkeys and even camels, shepherds herding their sheep, the mud and thatch houses clustered together into the tiny dusty villages that dot the landscape, the dry arid emptiness of the windswept Sahel and the pungent tangy smell of burning garbage wafting above the naked children as they play – as children always have – laughing in the dust.  

And I am amazed because through the geography and the climate I see around me how improbable the Christmas story really is.  Breaking free of the oppressive anonymity of rural poverty is a hard task even in this upwardly mobile age of airplane travel, social media and easy money.  Two thousand years ago, the Lord’s request to Mary must have seemed not only bizarre but ridiculous.  From the womb of an unwed teenage mother in a patriarchal society, from a manger on the outskirts of a tiny stone and mud village in an occupied desert land of poverty and violence would arrive the savior of mankind?  Unlikely.  Wouldn’t a palace, an imperial lineage and a deep pocketbook be the preferred way to usher in such a profound spiritual and political movement?

Yet this is how He chose to bring his son into the world.  This has more meaning too for me this year – because it’s my first Christmas with my son.  As I look into his tiny innocent eyes this Christmas I realize what a fragile vessel the Lord used to deliver to us his most precious possession and our salvation.    

In America we have filled Christmas with pageantry and purpose; with live nativities and Santa Clause and family and presents and snow fights and music.  This is all good, and serves for us to commemorate that momentous occasion that happened two thousand years ago – something that changed everything.

But, for me far from home this year, I smile as I think that the first Christmas probably didn’t feel like Christmas – it probably felt like a Wednesday in the Sahara.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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3 Responses to Christmas in the Sahara

  1. John Wood says:

    Merry Christmas to you and to your family.


  2. Reblogged this on Joel D. Hirst's Blog and commented:

    I’m reblogging here something I wrote three years ago, my first Christmas in the Sahara. In Mali. I’ve moved on since then; but the thoughts are still with me as I wish you all a Merry Christmas!


  3. stevetravel04 says:

    Merry Christmas!


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