Between a Hump and a Lump


I'm nauseous and, despite sitting, my body sways ever so slightly. My stomach threatens to revolt every second, my lungs whoosh whenever I exhale, and the steady drizzle of rain just makes the ache in my bones worse. The air is refreshing, but the coldness sets off shivers that run from my nose to the tips of my toes.

No, I'm not sitting on a rocking chair, staring across the Adirondacks. Neither am I on a boat, waves lifting me up and down. Nor am I on a Jeep, swerving along the bends of high mountain roads.

Everywhere I look, it is the same: dark skies and dark sand. Black rocks break up the surface of the sand, making everything look like that thick and coarsely-ground Grey Poupon mustard. Far off in the distance, there might be people, there might be shelter, there might be food.

No, I'm not at the edge of a beach, waiting for the storm clouds to break. Neither am I standing in the aftermath of a tsunami, grains and glass gathered up in my hair.

Instead, I am somewhere in the Sahara. I am studying abroad in Morocco, and my class has an excursion, also known as “FIELD TRIP.” We are giddy with excitement at being outside of our classroom and seeing another part of the country. Three Jeeps have dropped us off in tan-colored isolation and now I am hunched over my so-called “seat”: a thick woolen blanket on the back of a one-humped camel, behind a very gassy one-humped camel and in front of a very loud one-humped camel.

There are no other camel tracks, the sky is an endless tinfoil gray and the rain mutes everything around me. While everyone else laughs at the experience, I cling to the blanket and try not to slide off. Nearly an hour later, I gratefully stumble into a closed room, scrub my skin clean in a boiling hot shower and collapse into the bed.

That night, my body shakes and shudders. The room is too cold, the bed is too hot, the toilet is too far away. In my feverish haze, I hear songs and chanting. I can pretend that the stars are above me, that the music is real and that I am in a film, maybe not Casablanca, but Lawrence of Arabia.

In the morning, my fever is gone but the nausea still remains. The three black Jeeps have come back to take us to civilization. As our driver blasts Arabic pop songs and swerves across sand, I start to relax. The windows are rolled down and the speed that he goes at causes the wind to rush across our faces, our hair whipping around us.

Suddenly, there is a loud bang, and then we stop. The other Jeeps have already sped away, dust trails marking the path they vanish along. Our driver climbs out and we realize there is a flat tire. He begins to unload another tire, pull out an iron, steady and mechanical, as the two other Jeeps return.

Despite the setback, we are relaxed. I sit on a large flat rock, the sun warming my face and neck. Three of my male classmates are playing Frisbee, flinging the disc haphazardly across the sand. Our program coordinator even joins in the fun, his laughter and attitude allowing him to blend in with the others.

There is still silence, but instead of feeling smothered and unable to breathe, it is more calming. The sunlight softens the sharp rocks, and the blue sky is water-colored. Three girls have decided to create a music video and we can't help but laugh as they try to rap.

Everything is going to be alright. Well, up until the point I set off the fire extinguisher. But that's another story.



L Cheng

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