woman traveling alone would welcome his advances. I firmly refused hisoffer, and Kader prepared my sleeping bag in a protected area far fromMr. Sayed’s tent.
It was not until I had maneuvered my way into the bag, fully clothedand wrapped in my long wool coat, that I looked up and saw the canopyof stars that had emerged in the black sky. I succumbed quickly to sleepas I watched the black give way to a milky incandescence. Much later Iawakened to a blinding light that I could scarcely look at, and I thoughtthe sun had risen in my eyes. But it was the moon, almost full, and itkept me awake until dawn.
The next morning, early, Sarmi was preparing sugary mint tea forbreakfast, along with bread and cheese, and reminded me that we wouldreach the first of the cave paintings that day. I mentioned to him thatthe moon had been so bright I couldn’t sleep after it rose. He laughedbut said nothing. We packed up and started off toward a rocky canyonin the distance. My ill-fitting sneakers chafed my already blistered heelsand pushed on my toes with every step. I asked Sarmi to stop so I couldchange shoes.
The only other pair I had brought were loafers, which I took out ofmy bag and slipped on, stepping down on the backs so they wouldn’t rubagainst my raw heels. Sarmi asked if I needed help walking and, without giving me a chance to respond, took my arm in his and guided methrough the uneven terrain.
He glanced at me and asked, as if he had been thinking about thequestion for a while, why I wasn’t married and why I was in Algeria.These were recurrent questions in Algeria, since the concept of a singlefemale working away from home and family was almost incomprehensible to most people I encountered.
I responded that many American women chose to put off marriageuntil they were older in order to earn a separate living and even be economically independent. My explanation wasn’t completely candid, sincefor me, marriage had never been a goal, but this information may havebeen too alien in a culture where I assumed marriage was the centralsocial and economic institution. I was sure this answer didn’t satisfySarmi, but he seemed to be thinking about it as we rambled over therocky terrain arm in arm.
“Why are men veiled in the Sahara while women aren’t?” I asked. Ihad read that Tuareg women were independent, but I wanted to learnmore.