February 27, 2006
Isabelle Eberhardt- Drowned in the desert
The life and death of mankind has always fascinated me. Even more so that of people who led lives beyond convention and category. I recently came across such a person. From beginning to end, every aspect of her life was beyond all norm. Long dead today, her person echoes on.
Isabelle Eberhardt, born in 1877 in Geneva, spent her first 19 years there only to move to Tunis with her mother in 1897, where both converted to Islam. Isabelle already knew how to speak Arabic since her father, an Armenian ex-priest, Alexander Trophimowsky had taught her that growing up.
In order to overcome certain obstacles being a woman could entail, she dressed as a man and called herself Si Mahmoud Essadi. This however didn't mean she was far from male company, for in 1901 she married Slimène Ehnni, an Algerian soldier she met in El Oued in the Algerian desert.
Perhaps the most fascinating legacy she leaves behind her, after joining the first, oldest and at the time secret Sufi brotherhood Qadriya where she became an influential figure in the politics of the region, are her writings on her adventures and life in North Africa. She died abruptly at the young age of 27 in a flash flood, buried under a beam in a clay house in Aïn Sefra, anticipating the arrival of her husband Slimène. In a clay pot in her house, her final manuscript was found and later published by her close friend, journalist Victor Barrucand, under the name Dans l'ombre chaude de l'Islam (In the hot shade of Islam).
Once in my life, in a soul that I thought was free, I watched a pure, strong passion grow, and I said to my friend: "Be careful, when we're happy we cease to understand another's suffering." He set off for happiness, or so he believed, and I toward my destiny.