So there I was, after an eight-hour bus ride through the northern mountainous regions of Morocco - our group of students finally made it to the pick-up location. There to greet us were about 18 4x4 vehicles ready to take us to the camp location that was based an hour or so north of the Algerian border. I hopped off the bus with just my backpack and a duffel bag containing a light load of clothes for the next few days, and with my heart beating, I headed for the parked vehicles. With all of our belongings loaded on top, we were off down the dark, desert road. The sun had just set and the sky to the right of the vehicle was illuminated by colors of blue, red, and yellow all perfectly blended together as the backdrop for the quarter crescent moon. About 10 minutes go by, and all of a sudden, the 4x4s in front of our own hit the brakes and made a quick swing to the right, onto the rocky, barren land. We joined behind them.
Bumping up and down, swerving left and right to dodge the crevasses in the land, we sped through the night at a record pace. Up ahead, there were parked vehicles at the top of a hill all shutting down their engines. "Wait, where is the camp? Why are we stopping?" I thought to myself. It wasn't until our own vehicle came to a roaring stop and I stepped out the passenger side door that I understood the pause in journey. I looked up and couldn't believe what I was looking at. It was the most beautiful night sky I had ever had the privilege of gazing upon - I could hardly breathe. I walked outside the premise of the vehicles and just observed. Without breaking eye contact with the galaxies, I heard a friend approach me from behind and I stammered, "How...how do you... do you even describe this in words?" Silence. Then, it came together, like a delicate steak paired with the finest wine and I whispered, "It's white brushed paint on black velvet that's been sprinkled with glitter." I looked down at my friend and smirked, "Or spilled skim milk on a black countertop." We chuckled and glanced back up to the ceiling of the night.
I got one more glance before I got back into the vehicle, and I closed the door. "With a world this big, why do I think that my own problems are so huge?" A simple stop in the outskirts of the Saharan desert suddenly gave me a little perspective of my own life.
We made it to camp, which consisted of three, big white tents strung together for main meals, and a tiny enclosure made of connecting blankets and supporting joints for sleeping. Nothing but a few blankets, a thin mattress, and some thick socks to separate myself from the cold, night air. I called it a night after dinner and made my way to my tent. From what I hear, waking up early is a must-do here in the Sahara.
I hear the shuffling of a few blankets and the crunching of sand underneath feet leaving the entrance of the tent. My left shoulder is stiff from sleeping on it all night, and I sit up to massage it. I look to my left and the person planted next to me is no longer there. Then I realize what time it is, and I quickly crawl my way out of the tent and onto the cold sand. There it is, the beginning of the sunrise over the sand dunes. This being the first time seeing the landscape in light is phenomenal, but what is even more breathtaking is witnessing the purple horizon break way to the red and yellow rays of the rising sun. There are a dozen or so students making their way out of camp to get a better spot for the show that is about to happen. I find a spot to sit 5 minutes away from camp, and wait in pure silence. Then, it happens. The sun appears over the top of the tallest dunes on the horizon and the land is instantly painted orange symbolizing the start of the day. It's as if the land beneath me starts to breathe, and the air is made pure by the light.
The final night of camping in the Moroccan desert is the night that I cherished most. After dinner, two friends and I make our way into the dark dunes to stargaze. We find a spot a few minutes outside the camp and lay down to look at the canopy of glowing stars. We start to talk and laugh about everything and anything that comes to our minds. There is a moment when I settle my eyes on a cluster of stars and start to ponder about my own life. The relationships that I've created, the family that I love, the things I've accomplished, the things I have yet to accomplish, and the things that I value the most. These are some of the thoughts that cross my mind: I love my family so much, and it kills me to know that I won't be there for Thanksgiving dinner. I have so much that I want to do in my life, but it feels like time slips away like the sand between my fingers. I have so much love to give, and I want to spend my life showing this. I begin to realize that I may never get a chance to be at the edge of the Sahara desert in Morocco again, and this is the first time in a long time that I am fully present for the moment I am living in. It was a beautiful and enriching moment.
The soul of the desert helped me find a little more of mine, and I cannot help myself from staying put in this moment for a little bit longer.