art depicting harem life was a source of inspiration for some of
the chapters in Harem Girl. One of many slave girl pictures,
by painter Jean-Léon Gérôme, is used for the
front cover of Saalih's book . The scene is a slave market in Cairo,
Egypt, and I thought this commentary by William Muller made in
1830 was fitting:
"The slave market was one of my favorite haunts.
In the center of this court, the slave girls are exposed for sale,
often as many as thirty or forty. I did not see the dejection and
sorrow I was led to imagine, watching the Master remove the entire
covering of a female slave and expose her to the gaze of a bystander."
Click on any thumbnail below, or on "Read more", to
read the corresponding online chapter or except from Saalih's book
- Harem Girl.
To find a beginning I must go back to when I was
fourteen, when I was neither a child nor an adult. I had stopped
playing children's games such as pick-up-stones, dressing up in
my mother's too-big clothes, and climbing into the forked branches
of the old olive tree. Boys had become exciting to me, they made
me blush and feel uneasy, and I had my showings—but in my mind,
I was not yet a woman. At that point, I had no plans for my life—what
fourteen-year-old does? Certainly, I had romantic thoughts, love
and marriage, and other dreams young girls have, even so, being
a slave girl in a harem was not one of them. I was not seeking
change; I was content in life to follow the path that unfolded
before me—I still believed
in happy endings.
1001 Arabian Nights.
I was fifteen years old when I caught a glimpse of the book
on the bedside table, open at a colorful illustration showing a turbaned
Sultan and a naked woman in a close embrace.
(This illustration could
well have been the start of Sapphira's fascination with harems
- a fascination that ultimately led to her fateful journey.)
Carpet Merchant - lies and deceit.
“Sheik Ahmad, is Kassim your slave?”
is a traveling companion. I brought her back with me after a voyage
to India. She is under my care until I make other arrangements
for her. She wants to be placed in a harem.”
“I would like that for myself; to be placed
in a harem for a while,” I
Waxing - her journey starts.
“Are you,” he asked, pointing his
beard with long strokes of his fingers, “groomed in the style
of the harem?”
“Oh yes,” I replied, passing my fingers
through my long shiny hair and then tossing it back over my shoulder,
although I knew what he was alluding to.
“That is not what I meant. Have you been
smoothed? Have you been waxed or shaved? Lift your skirt. Let me see."
Sheik Ali bin Shareef al-Saalih was waiting.... “Reveal
yourself; Slave Sapphira, my eyes are curious.”
I stood unmoving before him, bashful and restrained.
Mustafa interpreted my hesitation to obey as shyness, and quickly
explained to the sheik.
“If that is the cause, some help is required.
Talil will encourage you,” he said. He had no sooner spoken
than the second eunuch rose to his feet, a whip in hand.
Bow - first lesson.
“Lean backwards, slowly, until your head
and hands touch the floor behind you. Now, raise your hips and
chest to make a smooth arch from your knees to your hands, letting
your hands slide back along the floor as you raise yourself. Your
breasts should be uppermost, at the top of the arch. We call this ‘making
the bow’,” he said, as the handle of his whip traced
the curved path from the front of my thighs, over my hips and breasts,
and down my neck.
At the snap of his fingers, the servant took away the wax and
brought to him another, smaller porcelain pot. “Henna,” he
offered by way of explanation. “The dark brown color that
comes from this Persian Black will look well against your skin.
It will improve the allure of your breasts when you are not rouged.”
Night in the Bedchamber .
“When you enter through these doors you disrobe
down to your night garments behind this screen, and then
walk around to here,” he said,
pointing to the start of the carpet, “and drop to your knees. Then you
will crawl on your hands and knees along this carpet until you reach the round
kneeling mat at the foot of the bed. There you will present yourself in any of
the ways I have shown you...
birthday his mother presented him with a new slave girl. This birthday
tradition ended with the death of his mother when he was twenty
years old and his harem held seven beautiful women.
Sitting down on the divan, he untied his caftan and leaned back
against the backrest, beckoning me to lay down naked beside him
and cradle my face in his lap. Arousal flickered within me, and
encouraged by his gentle words and caressing, I eagerly brought
about what he sought.
Enslaved Captives - destined for the harem.
Warring between nations
and tribes had always been the main source of slaves throughout
history. Spoils flowed to the victors, the vanquished taken as
slaves, and sold along with their seized possessions. Tribal
war and rivalries yielded black African men and women slaves, and
in the Far East, gold purchased Asian girls who came back overland
along with silks and other goods in one of the many trade caravans
traveling the Great Silk Road.
Between Dignity and Desire
Rings and dangling jewels graced nipples and ears, dark eyes
flashed beneath gold sprinkled eyelids, necklaces swung about elegant necks.
Taut bellies held brilliants tightly, and ankle bells and bracelets tinkled
their beguiling tune.
...our destination came
into welcomed view as we crossed over the brow of the last
of many tiresome dunes. Spread before us was the town of Ranyah
, shimmering in the heat.... I
saw people moving about, passing in and out of the cool dark
shadows cast by the colorful awnings of the souk and market square.
Two sturdy wood poles supported the canvas roof of his tent, and
ominously, hammered high into one of them was a black iron ring.
A chain with gaping open wrist shackles riveted to each end dangled
from the ring. A key hung from a small nail.
From the moment I saw the black braid hanging down her back I
knew she was one of Ahmad’s “Pearls of Allah” standing
on a raised platform, with her back to us, naked—hands and
feet bound. A slave for sale.
In the room that had been reserved for our exclusive use, our attendants,
two black women, were adding pitchers of heavily perfumed water to the hot
bath. I asked them to bring in a large mirror; Topaz would surely be curious
to see how she looked after her smoothing at the hands of the local barber.
Although I knew about them, this
was the first time I had seen metal breast bridles worn. Against the black
Oromo skin, they were most alluring. One of the girls, her pert and firm
breasts requiring no support, wore only many arm bangles, ankle bracelets,
and a large broach on the back of her flimsy skirt that drew the eye to the
graceful curve of her back and what lay below.
Most husbands, I suspect, have propositioned their wives at one time or
other for this kind of lovemaking. Most wives, I suspect, have refused. In
slave harems, nonbelievers accepted this invasion—they could not refuse
or question the propriety of it.
At sundown tomorrow, we had to go to the eunuchs’ quarters where Yasmeen
and Mustafa would make us ready. Later that night we would be marked as his
Surprise your lover - and yourself. Buy the book and
show another side of you!
Harem Girl is
available as an ebook and 9" x 6" trade paperback.
|Glossary and List of
the Girls of the Harem