As I sit in some random suite in Xaluca Dades in Boumalene, I keep thinking about the most magical night I have ever had in my life. But before I tell you the details of one of the most romantic nights I’ve ever had in my life, I have to tell you about the day.
Driss, my driver, took me to a castle that was only 300 years old. It was the first castle built for the current Moroccan dynasty. The entire place is under renovation. It’s basically a ruin. The only thing left in good form is the harem. Nowhere else in the castle has anything survived the test of time. Only the harem still has its original mosaics in perfect form. Everywhere else in the castle…it’s completely ruined by time.
Afterwards, we headed to the local market in the next town. He showed me the vegetable, dates, animal and regular wares stalls. It’s just one large market that sells everything you could possibly need.
Since I’m still sick, Driss stopped in front of an herb shop and pointed out a bag of herbs. He told me that there were so many different types of flowers and plants in this mixture that it could heal almost everything when you drink it in tea form. Considering my throat has been very scratchy the past few days, he recommended that I buy this tea and drink it to help relieve my throat.
He then took me to the market where the donkeys were kept. I stopped and petted one of them ad then went around to take a few photos. We then headed over to see the different sheep and the cows.
A few minutes after we had finished looking at the sheep, a donkey came running right up to me with a kid on it. As soon as it got to me, it stopped right in front of me. It was that same donkey I petted 15-20 minutes earlier. It was like he had a smile on his face. The kid re-directed the donkey away from me and we went on our separate ways. I couldn’t help but feel amazed that the one act of kindness I showed that donkey earlier had him find me in the market again…as if to say hello again. You can’t tell me that animals are not smart.
Driss had also stopped at a fossil factory so that I could learn all about how the Moroccan desert was filled with fossils over 2 million years old. In Morocco they mine the fossils from the ground. They then polish it and turn the fossils into furniture or marble floors (depending on what formation it fossilized into…like marble or limestone). They even create sculptures and everyday household items. It’s rather beautiful.
In the afternoon, we stopped to eat at a cafe. We had a chicken tagine that was so tasty and spicy. It hit the spot.
While we sat drinking tea infused with mint, we awaited my next driver who would drive me in a 4×4 to the sand dunes of the Sahara. When Josef arrived, I was surprised by how beautiful and handsome he was. But then again, this is Morocco. Many of the men here are just beautiful.
Josef drove me across the Sahara where there are no roads. The car swerved from one side to the other, almost as if we were on an amusement park ride.
We talked about his life as a nomad and how he loved the desert. The desert was his home. He had traveled to Majorca, Spain a few years prior to stay for a month, just to see if he would like someplace else besides the desert. But after spending some time away from his homeland, he realized that he missed the desert, so he went back because the desert was where he belonged.
When we arrived at the Berber tents, Josef escorted me in to meet my guide for the night who would end up staying with me the entire night in the desert. His name was Hamid.
I drank a cup of mint tea as we chatted. He gave me the lowdown on what to expect for the evening.
After finishing my tea, we headed to the camel, Jimi Hendrix, who would take me to the top of the dunes to watch the sunset over the Sahara. I was petrified of Jimi. The camel driver and Hamid tried to encourage me to get onto the camel with little instruction on how one mounts a camel.
After they poked a little fun and I had finally swung my short leg over Jimi’s hump, he stood up and let’s just say it was a WHOA moment. It took about five minutes before I could adjust to riding a camel. It was like riding a horse…except for the whole camel standing up or laying down bit. You just pray it doesn’t throw you across the desert when he gets up or sits down.
When we finally reached a good spot, Jimi sat down and I tried to climb off of him without falling face first into the sand. Luckily, I was able to succeed without embarrassing the hell out of myself. The camel driver then helped me get to the top of the sand dune and we sat down and watched the sunset together. We talked about his life as a nomad, and I told him about the life of New York City.
After the sunset, I got back on Jimi and we headed down to my tent. I was the only tourist staying the night in the Berber tents. It was fully deluxe all the way down to the running bathroom and shower in my room.
I had a porter, a cook and Hamid for the evening. We started off the evening sitting around a small fire as the stars began to light up the sky. I learned a little Berber and Arabic sitting around the fire, awaiting the cook to arrive. Hamid told me that he was going to give me a new nickname. He said that my desert name was now Fatima. I asked him what it meant and he said, “It’s like a person who has big dreams and makes them come true.”
It was a sweet desert name he had given to me.
When the cook finally arrived we sat around the fire a little longer before I decided I was ready to eat. I sat down at the dinner table and they served a tagine with beef and prunes, another tagine with lamb chops, and couscous with chicken and vegetables. It was a lot of food. A LOT! After dinner, they brought out a plate of fruit with the biggest red grapes I’ve ever seen.
While the staff ate their dinner in the kitchen and cleaned up my plates, I went and laid down on the divan and stared up at the stars. Hamid came out and suggested that we go out into the dunes and watch the stars.
After the rest of the staff left and headed home, Hamid grabbed a blanket and we headed out to the dunes. He helped me up to the top of the dunes, because it’s not so easy when your feet sinks into the sand the closer you get to the top of the ridge.
We walked into the desert for a little bit before he found a spot at the top of a dune and laid out the blanket. I took off my shoes and sat down on the blanket. We then spent the next few hours watching the stars and talking.
As the wind started to pick up and it got to be a little colder, we headed down into the bottom of the dune.
As we sat there, I realized…this is one of the most romantic moments I’ve ever had in my life. I’m in the middle of the Sahara desert, sitting on a blanket, watching the stars, seeing comets in the distance and shooting stars quickly lighting up the sky. There’s a beautiful man next to me that is just as spiritual as I am, the same age as me, and just so in tune to the peace around us and the beauty of the moment.
I almost reached over and kissed him…this nomad…a man of the desert. But the modesty in me (as well as reminding myself that I am in a country where modesty is important) stopped myself from doing something that could be seen as inappropriate…a woman reaching out to a Muslim Arabic man and kissing him under the stars in the middle of the Sahara desert. Could I stop at just one kiss? I didn’t think I would.
I asked Hamid what time he thought it was. He told me that it was maybe 1AM. We had to be awake at 5AM for the sunrise, so I suggested we head back to the berber tent to sleep. He gathered up the blanket and we started heading towards the tents.
He took my hand and helped me up to the crest of the dune, but didn’t let go of my hand as we walked down into the next dune. As we got closer to the bottom, I started to pick up speed and then realized that we were all of a sudden running through the Sahara holding hands, smiling and laughing with the brilliant moon lighting our way and the stars twinkling above our heads. Could this moment be any more magical?
I headed into my tent to sleep the few hours before sunrise, while Hamid slept outside my room on the divan.
He woke me a few hours later as the sun started to peak through the sky. I cleaned up a little and we headed back to the sand dunes to await the sunrise.
This is Hamid’s life. Every morning he watches the sunrise. Every evening he watches the sunset. At night he watches the stars changing color before his very eyes. This is how he has spent every day of his life…surrounded by the Sahara desert.
After the sun rose, he gathered up the blanket again and said, “Let’s go back down into the dunes.” He took me back down into the dune so that I could see the sunrise twice that morning. First, from the distance and then again over the top of the crest.
After the second sunrise, it was still 5 in the morning. We had nothing else better to do than to head back to the tent.
The night before, he had told me that he was a Berber medicine man. He had told me all about nomad medicine. Basically, nomads rarely if ever get sick. They don’t even know what cancer is. No one has ever had it. Sometimes people get a little sick, but they know what plants to use for medicine. He is also well versed in accu-pressure.
He told me how many people with rheumatism and arthritis come to the Sahara to lay down in the sand, fully covered in it. The hot sand has healing properties. After they lay in the sand for a few hours for 3-6 days, they leave completely healed. That is the mystery of the healing properties of the Sahara.
Since I was still coughing from the cigarette smoke from Paris, Hamid wanted to treat it with some of his Berber medicine knowledge. He took out some olive oil with Argan oil and massaged it into my neck. He massaged my entire neck. When he reached the back of my neck he told me that I was running a fever.
He continued to massage the oil in and then after he was done, he took my scarf and made a turban with it and wrapped it around my neck so it could keep my neck warm.
As we awaited the cook and porter to come in to make breakfast for me, Hamid took my foot and started to massage it, applying accu-pressure to all of the points on both of my feet. Then it progressed on to a full body massage.
I realized as he touched the bare skin on my arms that this was his way of touching me (something that would be considered forbidden)…and I was letting him. I laid there thinking…I think I could live in the desert. I then realized with every touch, I was falling in love with this man.
He didn’t push himself onto me. He was very respectful of that. But as a Muslim Arab, for him to be seen touching me like he was…he would have been in a lot of trouble. What was happening was very private and moving into a direction that could lead to more. I was leaving the camp in a few hours and part of me thought…if you let this happen, you could walk away with a baby. Isn’t that what you want?
I laid there thinking about it as he reached out and ran his fingers through my hair, massaging my scalp. But as Allah would have it, the porter arrived and we had to stop.
Later, as I sat there eating my breakfast, I watched Hamid. I could see him getting sad, because the second I finished eating, Josef would take me back into town to meet Driss and we would head on to our next destination. I then realized that I wasn’t the only person feeling something…he had fallen in love too and these were our last moments together.
The porter asked me when I would come back to see them again. Hamid had told me that I should come back again and he would take me into the desert for six days. In all honesty, I’ve been seriously thinking about it. I’ve also been seriously thinking about going back to the desert and never going back home.
It’s funny what the Sahara can do to you. It can bring two very different people together…an American city girl and a Muslim Arab nomad…and give them a few hours together and have them fall in love.
I told Driss about this. He had asked me a few days ago if I would consider marrying an Arab/Moroccan. After my night in the desert, I think I would. When I told Driss I think I may have fallen in love, he got a huge smile on his face because one night in the desert was all God needed for this moment.
While Driss drove me to the mountains, I kept thinking about how just last night, I was running through the sand dunes with the moon shining above, the stars winking down upon the desert, holding the hand of a nomad.
It’s the stuff that would throw Casablanca (the movie) out of the water. It’s that book that waits to be written…it’s that moment I was looking for when I booked my trip to Morocco back in January. I knew something would happen that would change everything.