It started out as a distant daydream of walking through the desert in search of soul healing.
In 2007, I headed back to France (my home country) to write my master’s mémoire. I had been working on two novels in the field of ‘the literature of the desert’, not only because this emerging branch was fascinating but more so because I felt the desert. It was in my soul, it was in my heart, it was in my body. I had just experienced some of the most gut hurting moments of my life. As a result, I was confused, lost in darkness. The desert seemed to me the only place that could contain the vastness of my sorrow.
In a moment of courage or crazy (the line between the two is often blurry!), I booked a solo trip to Morocco. Not the kind you imagine where you see the sites, enjoy traditional cooking and stay in comfy oasis hotels. This was a trip to the southern region, beginning in the city of Zagora, that would take me on a 15 day trek through the desert with two saharian guides and one very loaded dromedary.
On October 22, Mustapha (Blue man, 28), Ishu (Berber, 55), the dromedary and I (the ‘gazelle’, as they nicknamed me) set off by foot from Zagora towards the desert. We walked for hours, under the sun, at an intense pace, wearing our chechia wrapped around our heads and our plain leather and rope sandals. Around noon, we stopped in the shade of a single tree or a few bushes to rest. Traditional moroccan tea, dried dates soaked in camel’s milk, a simple moroccan salad and bread were our daily comfort. We ate from the same plate in the immensity of the desert, surrounded by plains or dunes or charcoal rocky mountains. In the evening, we stopped again just before sunset to eat, feed the dromedary, and rest in the cool. Once the sun had set behind the dunes, the sky would light up with a million stars (when we weren’t caught in a sand storm!). Nested in the dunes or lying on the hard soil of the valley, I listened to Mustapha’s melodious voice, carried by the wind, sing old saharian songs. In those moments, I felt like I was stepping out of time and seeing into eternity.
Along the way, we talked (though, some days, we were caught in extraordinary sand storms so that we had to cover our entire faces with our chechia as we fought against the whipping sand). I learned of their God, their worship, their lifestyle, their history. There were also moments of silence and moments when words of wisdom came surprisingly from my saharian guide. One day, in the middle of a stride, he stopped short and turned to me. He knelt down, picked up some dirt from the ground, looked me in the eyes, opened his hand slowly and loosely. Then he spoke these words: in life, we pick up a lot of things… big rocks, small rocks, sand… you have to open your hand and let the bad things fall to the ground so that only the beautiful ones stay with you. While he said this, he let sand and small rocks trickle through his fingers. Then, he put the rocks in his pocket and went on walking.
This image had a lot to make me think. Was I clenching my fist around the bad things and letting them hurt me all the more? Or was I letting go?
Though the desert seems still, it is far from stagnant. It has a life of its own. Its perpetual movement is due to the wind forever sweeping the sand along. Dunes are the result of the wind continually pushing the sand in one direction. After many years, it may form a hill, then a dune and sometimes an erg (a curve-shaped high dune). But even a dune might eventually move, join up with another dune. I ventured to think that if I were to open my hand and let the sand trickle through my fingers, it may be swept away and eventually form a beautiful erg, from the top of which I might see greater things, better things, sweeter things. I simply had to trust that the breath of God would do that. So I decided to open my hand and see what He would do.