Sitting in a small circle around the fire that evening, darkness fell all around us. Beyond the glow of the fire, the endless sand dunes that extended outward in every direction fell asleep in the alluring shadows of the night. Above us, the scintillating stars in the infinite sky twinkled with divine secrets to which we were not privy. Someone pointed out Mars in the starlight, while another, the Milky Way. We see what our eyes allow us to see; in the middle of the Sahara, your imagination takes rein and you find your wildest dreams taking flight.
Four snowy-white cats with features resembling that of leopards encircled us. I wondered if they were residents of the desert or nomads at heart, with an insatiable bout of wanderlust, not unlike myself. In the distance, the camels were sound asleep. I smiled at the thought of my intrepid camel with the jagged half-ear, who had hours before ventured into the heart of the Sahara with me at sunset. There are countless ways in which the losses in our lives manifest themselves.
Yet, there are also joys. For instance, the joy of hearing your sentiments being shared aloud by a Dominican traveler named Miguel, who had, at the sight of the sun setting over the undulating mountains of golden sand, exclaimed profusely in Spanish: “Gracias, muchas gracias, God, for creating this beauty, and for allowing me to be part of this beauty!”
Most of all, it is for me the joy of meeting like-minded wanderers on the road, with whom your paths cross ever so briefly, and yet, have the power to leave an indelible mark in the geography of your heart. In the desert, I met one such inspiring woman who caused me to tear while listening to her story by the fire. Her name was Alejandra Cardenas.
A single, immigrant mother who had painstakingly brought up her daughter to have had her heart broken when her child left home at the age of 20, Alejandra decided that she had to, for the first time, live not for others but for herself. She has had a trying life, but her lifelong dream was to travel the world. To embark on this journey, she sold all her material possessions, abandoned all forms of convention, and kept her zeal and courage shining in the paths she has chosen to walk, touching the lives of those she has met, mine included.
Despite having suffered humiliations, one of which included having to literally stand up by and for herself while ignoring the leering faces of unkind teenagers when she slipped and fell in a youth hostel in Italy, Alejandra remains stoic in the pursuit of her dream. She shared her uplifting stories from the road thus far, and the exotic destinations she planned to go after leaving Morocco: Kenya, Egypt, and subsequently, wherever else her heart led her.
Her face lit not only by the light of the fire, she effused: “Mija, I urge you to go travel. Travel as far and as widely as you can. Do it when you are young. When you reach my age, you’ll realize how the muscles start to ache and the bones, they hurt from walking too much. Travel is the best education anyone could ever have. You learn so much about people, about different cultures, about yourself. This is something no one and no university can ever teach you.” Smiling to herself, she said in a whisper: “And I want to do that now, to travel the world. Just imagine all the stories I can tell my grandchildren one day.”
That night, with neither electricity nor a proper toilet, I lay awake on the sand-crusted floorboard of my tent as the faces of all the individuals I have met in Morocco, who have each moved me so deeply in their own ways, floated in my mind. As the stifling heat gave way to the frigid cold, I drifted off to an intermittent sleep, wondering what new adventures and people awaited me when I awoke.
About the Author: Agnes Chew is a writer, traveler, and musician at heart, with an insatiable curiosity for life. Enamored with the notion of getting lost in places beautiful and hitherto unknown, she has no intention of removing the rose-tinted glasses everyone tells her have been left on for far too long.
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