Thursday, November 17, 2016

Lingering grains of thought from the Sahara Desert

     The desert changed me. I knew that instantly when I rode away in the 4x4 up and over the dunes to the main road over 45 miles away.
     A Sahara Desert (Northern Africa) tent camping experience in October made me a different person and I am barely able to put it into words. The mere notion that a writer is stumped is remarkable. I felt something powerful stirring deeply within my soul. I also assumed that thoughts would come to me, and I had to let things go. In fact, I needed to be far, far away from the desert to figure it all out.

      Wise men have gone to the desert in the past – some have wandered there for a long time - and filled their wells. Throughout my years I have had life changing experiences, and as a result, I discovered a new path. I was willing to trust and believed all would be well.
     I asked the fifteen other travelers if they had had a similar experience, and although the desert adventure was the highlight of everyone’s trip to exotic Morocco, no one felt it as intensely as me, or at least was willing to speak of it. Perhaps, we were all in a processing phase.
     Let me fill in the blanks for you about this adventure.  The travel company owes space about 25 miles from the Algerian border and manages a private camp with local staff. Each one of us had an individual tent with a toilet, shower and sink – thank you, solar power. Luxurious I would say, and not like my youthful tent camping days.

     Thinking about the movie, Lawrence of Arabia, and reading biographies of such desert aficionados as Gertrude Bell, all whom had a convoy of servants, survival on the desert must be taken seriously.
     When I showed up at camp – all my clothes had been previously bug-proofed - I looked out into a sandy expanse of flats and dunes with only a single lowly bush in sight. The beating sun overhead made sunglasses a necessity in high 80s temperatures – autumn in the desert – and I took another drink of water. I headed for a traditional tajine lunch – a stew cooked in a dome clay pot - with hot mint tea in the dining tent.
      Before our group arrived at camp, our caravan stopped in the last dusty little town at a grocery store that had a counter with an expanse of supplies behind it. We gave the owner our list – each of us contributed a couple dollars ‒ and he put the pile by the door. We bought essentials ‒ cooking oil, grains – in hopes of finding a nomad family somewhere near our camp to share our gifts.

     Later that afternoon we went out in our 4x4’s searching and we came upon an encampment. Our tour guide hopped out and spoke with a woman of about 45 or so, and she invited all 16 of us to sit under an open tent for mint tea and conversation (through our guide as interpreter) while she carded wool. Her teenage daughter was nearby herding in the goats, and was too shy to speak. The husband was off is a distant town working construction and came home infrequently. I had to pinch myself to remember what time period I was actually in.
      The woman and her daughter, like more than 80,000 estimated Berber people with a traditionally nomadic and pastoral lifestyle, are illiterate but desert savvy. Women hold down the home fort pretty much in Berber society.
     Who is to say that nomads should strive for more – education and health care ‒ for making a better future for their children? They don’t know any differently. That became a lively topic of discussion around the dinner table in the evening.
      After a tour of her humble shelter with its simple furnishings, we brought out our gifts. She was grateful, hung her head and averted her eyes, which is the custom. She said soon they would move on when the water supply got too low.

     Before bedtime the stars dotted the southern sky as far as I could stretch my neck and I played guessing games figuring out some of the constellations. The temperatures cooled to the mid 50s and I slept like a baby.
     The next morning I woke up way before the sun rose when all I could see was a faint outline of the other tents. I was too excited to stay in bed any longer and I climbed a nearby dune to the top. I proceeded to worship God in a natural sanctuary, and it was a special moment of thanksgiving. I saw the outline of a fellow traveler on a distant dune doing yoga, and another taking photos.
     Two highlights for me in the Sahara were the camel ride taking in the broad vista in slow motion, and a sunset walk out on the dunes far away from any civilization.
     Now looking back on those incredible days, I understand that the desert brought me to focusing on being in the present like nothing else has done before in my life.
     The desert’s solitude offered a message that quietness of mind and body is necessary for my existence.
     The daytime desert sky in its cerulean blue is always amazing because the light is just different and gives clarity to the visual.  But the night sky ... well, there is the stumbling for words. The stars. The stars.
     Natural beauty was imprinted on my soul.

If you want to see pictures and more from my Moroccan adventure go to my blog:

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