I sat at the top of a dune, panting with my mouth open, involuntarily collecting sand in my hair with every gust of wind, but I didn’t care. I was overwhelmed by both the amount of exhaustion from climbing as well as the incredible sunset burning before me, disappearing as each second passed.
“Dear God,” I prayed, “if you can hear me, please remind me to go to the gym more often, okay?”
I pulled my feet together butterfly-style as I wished away the soreness from the 2.5-hour ride I had just completed on a camel, whom I named Marvin Gaye. He was proof that there most definitely is a mountain too high, because he offered no help in climbing it.
It took me roughly 45 minutes to climb to the top, and I apologized to my Nikes with every step that flooded my shoes with sand. The power of natural beauty staggered me as I fumbled for my phone, trying to capture the view around me. It finally dawned on me that this was an experience that would exist beyond the realm of Facebook likes, blog posts, or even any possible explanation to my family back home.
Inshallah the next iOS update will include the ability to capture the sunset over the Sahara, this waterless ocean of sand flooded by darkness with hues of orange and yellow racing to meet the sun at the horizon.
But in those few minutes with the failed shots of the sunset, it felt as if a spiritual presence was begging me to just put the phone down. I don’t even care how cheesy that sounds. In that moment, I finally overcame the desperate need to digitally document every moment that has plagued me for the past three weeks. Really, I just wanted to own the magnitude of this moment for my viewing pleasure only, so much so that I felt a pang of selfishness.
Since I began by trip, I’ve entertained myself with new friends by asking them for five things they miss about life in the United States. This little game is a fascinating way to get to know people; it provides insights to creature comforts, guilty pleasures, little facets of personality that bring people out of their shells.
My five things change pretty much every day, but are usually within the realm of Netflix (which isn’t available in Morocco), binge eating, driving a car, feminism, watching TLC with my roommates, and ice cubes. No, I don’t miss peanut butter because I brought a jar with me.
As I sat on top of the world with sand in my pants, I couldn’t think of a single thing that I missed about the United States. Not Wifi, or Cookout, or hot showers, or set prices in a store. All I had on this sand dune were my heart, my soul, my mind, and whatever strength was left to climb back down. I didn’t need anything else but this quiet conversation with God, which I spent thanking Him for this trackless desert sea, the perfect breeze, the richness of Berber drums echoing from the camp below me, the helping hand that pulled me further up the dune just as I was about to give up.
The view was obviously the point of the entire trip, and it was as satisfying as it was fleeting. Never had I witnessed such an expanse of no-man’s-land, space and time that belonged to no one and everyone simultaneously.
Beneath the riot of diamond stars I began to consider the magnitude of this space as well as its lack of ownership. It was nothing like I had ever seen in the United States; it was a place where land and animals and people thrive without the imposition of ownership and regulation. I felt comfortable knowing that the oases flourished without human involvement, that plants and animals belonged to Mother Earth alone, as opposed to a Berber tribe or a government institution.
It was in this moment that I, too, felt I belonged to the earth, but also that none of it belonged to me. Humbled, I was overwhelmed by the people and experiences that had helped me get to Morocco, to the desert, to the top of this very mountain of sand. Yet the only thing of which I could take ownership was the memory of this experience.
As much as I wanted to have the moment to myself, I inevitably shared it with the group of people around me. I didn’t actually own the view, or the moment, or the sound of panting students fumbling for a camera. None of it was mine, because all of it was God’s. I realized the only thing that was really mine was the sand in my underwear, and that’s only because I know Mother Nature didn’t want it back.
I laid back onto the sand, soaking in the last few minutes of sunshine, and I noticed two or three stars standing their ground in the fading light. I watched as they began to dominate the skyline throughout the next hour. It was as if the early stars had gone unselfishly home and invited all of their friends, telling them, “you have got to see this.”