OASIS

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Desert Walker, by Denis Bartel

 

A real life desert adventure, looking for that oasis

 

 

In geography, an oasis (plural: oases) is an isolated area of vegetation in a desert, typically surrounding a spring or similar water source. The word originated in Egypt.

 

The location of oases has been of critical importance for trade and transportation routes in desert areas. Caravans must travel via oases so that supplies of water and food can be replenished. Thus, political or military control of an oasis has in many cases meant control of trade on a particular route. For example, the oases of Awjila, Ghadames and Kufra, situated in modern-day Libya, have at various times been vital to both North-South and East-West trade in the Sahara desert.

  1. A fertile or green spot in a desert or wasteland, made so by the presence of water.

  2. A situation or place preserved from surrounding unpleasantness; a refuge: an oasis of serenity amid chaos.

[From Late Latin Oasis, an oasis in the Libyan desert, from Greek, from Coptic ouahe, from Egyptian wḥ't.]

 

Thousands of years before other parts of the world entered the pages of history, the ancient Egyptians created in the desert of North Africa an oasis not only of green fertile land but also of civilization. Their oasis was only as wide as the floodplain of a river, but the river was the world's longest, extending more than four thousand miles. The first Egyptian empire, encompassing the river from its delta to a thousand miles upstream, was founded there some five thousand years ago. Each year the river would flood, depositing new fertile soil on the farmland and making the desert bloom. In the idle farming time of the flood, rulers employed the farmers in public works like the building of the pyramids.

 

We think the Egyptians were the first to use the word oasis. It is not used in the written Egyptian records that have been preserved, but a word similar to oasis meaning "dwelling-place" is found in the descendant of Egyptian known as Coptic. From the Egyptians, Greek and Roman writers learned the word.

 

Its presence in English is much more recent, stemming from the time when English speakers were first becoming world travelers. In Samuel Purchas's 1613 travel book we find mention of Oasis as a fertile place in the Libyan desert. Nowadays we use oasis far from the deserts of Africa to mean a peaceful, flourishing place that makes a pleasant contrast to its surroundings, like an oasis of free time in the midst of a busy schedule.

 

Egyptian is a member of the Afro-Asiatic language family, cousin to Arabic and Hebrew. It is uniquely important to linguists and historians because its written records, beginning with the famous hieroglyphs, go back five thousand years. Through Latin and Greek it has given English a dozen or so other words that have stuck with us, including ammonia (1799) and basalt (1601), ebony (1382) and ivory (1300), and gum (1385)--the chewing kind. But there are no speakers of Egyptian today, the last having died about five hundred years ago. Arabic is now the language of Egypt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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