Updated: Dec 11, 2019
I've enjoyed having Lynn Lothman as a participant in my Monday afternoon Amherst Writers & Artists workshop, “Writing from the Heart.” Lynn has lived in the equatorial jungles of Sumatra and traipsed through the streets and underground of London, and her collection of personal essays, My Unlikely Journey, highlights these adventures and more.
Lynn also has been a classroom teacher, Special Education professional, and librarian. She, her husband, and two very spoiled Cavalier King Charles Spaniels named Henry and Georgina share a home in Leesburg, Virginia, close to children and grandchildren.
Lynn wrote this captivating piece in a workshop this spring in response to images from a photography book called Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees by Beth Moon. Look it up! Perhaps it will spark your own story of wonder.
I know a place where the sky is vast and seemingly unending. Only stars, moonlight, and an occasional lantern illuminate the darkness of night, and shifting mountains of sand define the daylight hours. It is on the northern edge of the Sahara Desert in Morocco.
On the second night of my tent camping in the desert I found myself perched on a sand dune near the camp. The dark sky was alive with shooting stars at the end of their given life and twinkling ones, surrounded by a hopeful veil of ethereal light, beginning theirs. I marveled; these were the same stars that filled the sky at home. Somehow here they seemed more significant, more purposeful.
I sat quietly and alone feeling unafraid yet overwhelmed by the surprising and unfamiliar spirituality of the moment. It enveloped me like a warm embrace.
The Moroccan guides were quiet shadows that drifted in and out of the tents as they prepared for the next day’s adventures followed by a well-earned night’s sleep. The camels were settled down behind the food tent, their rhythmic chomping and lowing both calming and reaffirming.
I wondered about the Bedouin woman we had met that day. Early on the morning of the second day, my travel buddies and I were driven out into the Sahara. Moroccan music blared and our jeep slid from side to side in order to navigate the sand. I never imagined that the color of sand came in so many hues of a warm golden tan depending on the angle and intensity of the sun. We came to a stop near a dwelling that was totally camouflaged until we came upon it. Ben, our guide, approached the hut and asked the woman inside if she would mind entertaining our questions. We congregated under a tent nearby. The lodging was nothing but three tiny rooms: just large enough for the bodies of two adults, two adults that had to stoop in order to enter. I don’t know what I expected, but the reality of mud walls, an open fire pit with few cooking tools, and a pile of camel blankets to stay warm in the cold Sahara nights sobered me. The woman prepared us mint tea served in clear glasses and we presented her with cones of salt, tea leaves, and bottled water.
Through our translator, we learned that she and her husband were Bedouins. He was away for weeks at a time to graze their goats on the occasional tufts of green scrub grass that grew in the desert. She and the baby stayed behind safely protected from the elements.
As I sat on that wind-rippled dune surrounded by the majesty of that dark night in August, the image of the woman stayed with me. I never learned her name and she refused to make eye contact with any of us even through the lens of a camera. She was dressed in black, indicating she was of the Arabic Shia Muslim sect that lives in Morocco. The Sunni Muslims of Morocco wear blue. Her head was covered with a hijab and her mouth and neck with a niqab; only her intense eyes peered from between the veils. She addressed the guide and politely waited to have him translate for us. In between translations I caught her and the baby exchanging glances. There was a deep connection: love, security, and trust. Something shifted inside of me that will never fall back into place. I captured the moment through the lens of my camera.
Could I survive life in the Sahara? The same sand day in and day out. Could I fall asleep at night under the dark endless sky knowing that tomorrow would be a repeat of today, hunting and gathering the sustenance to keep one alive… moving forward? Would I be satisfied? Perhaps…if that was all I knew.
"The Bedouin" ©2019 by Lynn Lothman
Photo by Lynn Lothman