A group goes on a trip. The group is small, young and European and the trip is to the desert. I mean to the dunes ‘cos only the dunes are a desert. The group knows that, they saw pictures on the net. It’d be best, if next to a dune there was a single palm tree. That would get many likes on facebook.
They get on a minivan, ride, get off to take a photo and ride again. It’s far. They visit something on the way but the group isn’t sure what it was. They have to walk while sightseeing and that’s tiring. Riding is also tiring. They stop for lunch. It’s three times more expensive than it should be but that’s not a problem for the group. They only get irritated when someone asks for baksheesh. They were told the trip is all inclusive, except for lunch.
In the end there’s a camel ride and a night in the desert. The highlight.
Camels are led by Said.
A camel is a tall animal, it isn’t easy to mount it. There’s some nervous laughter. Then, the camel gets up and it feels like a rodeo. There’s squeaking and snapping photos ‘Me on a camel’. The group will show them to their friends. They don’t hide their excitement: ‘Oh, look there, unbelievable, the camel is peeing! It’s really peeing! Yak!’. There’s finger pointing.
Said looks at the group which has graduated from European universities but didn’t know that a camel also pees. Said was born among camels. He’s known about the peeing since he was a baby. What’s the fuss about?
The group feels like a bag of potatoes on the camel’s hump. They attend samba classes and ski but they can’t find a natural position on a camel. And the camp is far. The group is surrounded by dunes. They all look the same. The group feels lost. They check where they are on google maps.
Said says: ‘The desert is my home. How can you get lost in your own home?’
Finally, they reach the camp. The group rushes to the top of a dune to watch the sunset. They will post it on instagram. The disappointment comes later when, in the twilight, they can calmly take a look around the camp. There’s no shower, no toilet and no electricity. But the worst of all is that there’s no range! The group spreads around to check every spot. But no, nothing. So there will be no posting. That’s regrettable.
Said says: ‘It’s a desert. There’s freedom here.’
The group has a different idea of freedom than Said.
Leaving behind useless chargers and soaps, they head for dinner. That call sounds familiar. They go to restaurants for shrimps or sushi. They know what dinner is. The group is served food on one big clay plate. The group expects more things to come but there’s nothing. They need to eat from the shared plate. The group is not used to eating like that. But the stomachs are empty so they force themselves.
But without washing, without connection to the world and without a private plate the group feels rather limited in its freedom.
Said didn’t take anything. He came only with a Berber djellaba. Blankets and food are at the camp anyway. He doesn’t need anything else. Maybe only this vastness around.
The group is called to attend a bonfire. They go. Principally because there’s only darkness around and it’s cold. They sit and wait for things to happen. There is music. The group is happy ‘cos they like music. They go to big festivals and opera houses. They have spotify. They know the hits.
Said and other Berbers play drums and sing. Together. That’s how it’s done here.
The group doesn’t sing. They are ashamed. They know that if you don’t have Adele’s voice, you don’t sing. There would be hate. The group is given a small drum to play. But they can’t repeat a simple rhythm. The Berbers give up.
A part of the group goes to sleep. But first, there’s planning. The group needs to set alarm clocks. There’s enquiring. They want to know the exact time. The group is used to planning everything. They have busy schedules every day without any blank spaces. They have practiced job interviews and answered questions: ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ They know that the future has to be arranged precisely today.
Said says:’Tomorrow will be tomorrow and today is today. If I had two lives, I’d worry about tomorrow. But I have only one and I have to live it. I can’t waste my time thinking about tomorrow. Who knows if it ever comes? That will only be revealed tomorrow.’
The other part of the group remains by the fire. Talking. But not too much. They can’t tell a good story or a tale. The Berbers steer the conversation. They ask about the group’s countries of origin and pass from one language to another, saying hellos and naming faraway cities. Said and other camel shepherds from a small village by the Algerian border.
Said says: ‘I like it when a small group comes. There isn’t so much noise, so much talking. You can hear the silence of the desert better.’
But silence isn’t trending on twitter. It doesn’t fit the group’s schedule. They don’t have time to stay in the cold of the night and listen to silence. The group prefers to go to their tents. Knowing that they’ll have to get up early but still don’t know when exactly. And the group has this gloomy certainty that the night will be cold, beds uncomfortable, blankets unwashed and they’ll have to sleep with their clothes on. The group needs to prepare for this as if it was a battle. And the photos on camels will be uploaded on instagram only tomorrow. Hopefully, they’ll survive this night.
The sky over the Sahara is dark but illuminated with millions of stars. Inky but glittering. And there’s nothing around. Only the blackness of the night and the universe above. And Said, listening to the sound of silence.