Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: TRAVELER (01/28/16)
- TITLE: Sand in my Shoe
By Jack Taylor
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The Sahara, as big as the United States, challenges the countries of Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Chad, Niger, Libya, Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, Sudan and the Western Sahara. There were tight restrictions on which sand my feet could walk across and to this day I don’t know if I stayed within my boundaries.
Time ended when I challenged the Sahara. I left my watch, my day-timer, my cellphone, and my calendar in my stored luggage and I walked. After all, I was a traveler.
The first days were glorious as the Atlas Mountains showed off their snow-capped majesty in the distance. Palm trees stood as sentinels graciously bowing as camel trains bobbed out into emptiness. Old men, faces wrapped in grey-black scarves and turbans, bodies looking petrified into the background of ancient walls, gazed silently at another generation carrying on the endless traditions of trade.
When I raised my camera the whole group turned away. They were alive. I kept traveling.
A camel and a Berber guide shadowed me to ensure I survived. Samir guided me from behind by wordlessly walking in the right direction. I would glance back and adjust to where he walked. In some places the sand dunes seemed to stretch on forever, upward toward the heavens.
As sure as I was that I would melt under the intense heat by day, I was just as sure I would freeze from the intense cold at night. I huddled by a blazing fire outside a walled tent where we bivouacked. All the blankets my camel carried didn’t seem to be enough. I lived on dates and flatbread, sipping water like it was as rare as gold.
The sunsets drenched my soul with ecstasy every night without fail. The swirling funnels of wind-blown sand and dust created divinely etched awe for the eye. The full moons I saw invited me to reach out and touch life that seemed as close as the next sand dune. A limitless band of stars multiplied before my eyes until they too seemed as numerous as the sand grains below. I finally understood what Abraham saw when God promised him the impossible. He was a traveler.
I wanted to ask Samir to show me where in this desert Star Wars was filmed. The landscape mesmerized me with its simplistic repetition, one dune after another. “A sure recipe to drive type-A personalities insane,” I said out loud. “Of course, I’m one of those personalities and here I am, talking to myself.”
In the city, the flowers would have been bursting into bloom. Here, I never saw the hint of rain.
My goal had been Timbuktu in Mali. We stopped somewhere short when I stumbled face first onto the sand and went delirious. Samir tied me onto his camel and walked me out.
I was almost claustrophobic coming back to the city. Out in the desert I learned to stop trying to judge how far I’d come and how far I still had to travel. In the city endless buildings boxed me in while the colors of neon lights, taillights, stop lights and even bicycle lights danced in surreal forms like northern lights unleashed.
In the desert there were hundreds and perhaps thousands of shades of grey, tan or beige blended into what artists call greige. In the city I had to train my eyes to believe the reality of what I saw. In the desert, the intense sunlight tricked me into believing mirages were real. In the city my ears were caught in the middle of a million marching bands all designed to deafen me. In the desert, I strained to hear anything apart from silence, but it swallowed me whole.
Some of my friends know I’ve traveled to climb mountains, to examine ancient ruins, to study ancient civilizations. Few of them understand why I would walk out into a desert like the Sahara. For me, the reason is simple. I wanted to meet God.
God was bigger than the Sahara. Like Samir, he walked in the right direction and waited for me to adjust my steps. He also saved this traveler and got me home.
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