Into the Desert

04.10, sometime after midnight
I’m lying on a dune, doing a butterfly thing with my arms. Up and down, up and down. The sand is softer than silk on my bare skin, and it cools and warms as my arms move. It’s completely dark, that perfect darkness of solitude that a city inhabitant can only dream of. The sky is… A shooting star! A what – fourth, fifth one I’ve seen tonight? I’ve never seen any shooting stars before. On the other hand, I never found myself lying on the dune in Sahara desert, watching the breathtakingly beautiful starlit sky and listening to my friends humming some popular tune nearby.

This sky is just unbelievable. I wish everything and everyone around was silent and I could sink into this sand and this darkness. Every sound, laugh, or move disturbs me; my body and soul tuned to the silence and the calm of the desert, all-knowing, all-remembering desert… They just saw two shooting stars at once.
I want it to be silent, silent, silent, just the sand and the darkness and the stars. Forget the planetarium, forget all the movies you’ve seen; the sky is the television the berbers watch over here.
The fire is extinguishing in the camp; the drums and chants are now gone, replaced by the dreamy chatter and the attempts to locate the Milky Way (right above us), the constellations, and more shooting stars.
I want it to be silent, but there’s no place to go now, everyone’s looking and talking, laughing, disturbing. Maybe later. It all is so magical. It’s hard to believe I’m here.
Today – oh it was only today – we walked out of the hotel, following our driver to the square Jemaa al-Fna – was it the same square? It was empty, completely empty; no signs of the fires, and the lamps, and songs and dances, and the stalls – nothing. It was like one of the tales from 1001 Night came undone, and then all the charms vanished with the morning light as the storyteller closed the book.
We got to the train station and waited for another group of SASers for a couple of hours. At last it happened: the late (as always in Morocco) train arrived, and I joined the trip. It happened naturally, it went unplanned; and on we went in these small buses, along the rocky roads, and dried rivers, and palm tree forests, and red hills, and yellow hills, and little towns. We crossed the country today, spending about 8-9 hours in the cars, shortly interrupted by lunch and a few photo stops. It was long. These towns, all the same, tiny buildings made of this reddish clay or stone, with one or few mosque towers sticking out; palm trees, and children on bikes, with backpacks; boys running down the streets with no one to watch over them, chasing the tourists for candies and money; old men riding donkeys, women, all covered, mostly in black, walking along the dusty roads. I fell asleep a few times, and every time I woke up the scenery was different.
The camels are quietly grumbling – they’re just a few steps away. I did forget this feeling, of riding one – the height, and the rocky step. It’s been a while since I was in Egypt. Everyone was naming their camels, so I had to as well; I called him Righty, because he tended to sort of bend to the right a bit, so I had to pull one leg up and try to balance myself. At last I was relatively comfortable, but everyone’s butts hurt after the ride.
It took us about an hour to get to the bivouac, and it was a dreamy sunset journey, with stars getting brighter and brighter with every step.
People are all around, shooting pictures, and the flashes flash here and there. So annoying. I want to walk away, but my body won’t move; it’s sealed by the dune, it’s a part of the dune.
We drank Moroccan tea in a circle, and ate, and danced to the rhythms of the drums around the fire. And then we walked away to do stargazing, away from the bivouac lights.
It’s almost quiet now; people are leaving for their beds and mattresses in the little tents. Almost no lights left. It’s one of these moments when you want and don’t want to stay alone, when you want someone lying quietly nearby, sharing with you all this beauty in perfect silence, interrupted only by inhales and exhales. But there’s no one.
So I’ll just breath in, and out, and in, and out, light wind on my face, and sand in my hair, and dive into this unfamiliar, mystical starlit sky.

***
When a star falls down, all you see is a momentum of a silvery flourish, quick and sharp and bright, and if you blink – you miss it. One was long, very bright and long, maybe 3, 4 seconds. I succeeded to stay alone for a while. It was a thrill, feeling the sand slipping down my back, the sounds of the camels and the footsteps in the distance being the only sounds.
I got enough of my starry night; then one of the berbers interrupted my solitude with a friendly chatter. I like how they use the word “welcome”, with their low voices and the softened “l”; they ask you what country you are from, and you tell them, and they nod and say “welcome, welcome”. We exchanged a few phrases, me being too tired to keep up a conversation. We never learnt each other’s names and never saw each other’s faces. It was yet another desert mirage, this short talk; and then another berber approached us and addressed the guy I was talking to. I used this time to quietly climb the dune and slide down on the other side, and make my way to the tents.

***
Sitting by the dying fire with a few people; lazily talking about nothing; 1:25 am, probably time for bed… I wish I wasn’t so tired, but I had no normal sleep in a few days already. Time to sleep. I hope I see something meaningful in my dreams. That’s the place for it.

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