What The Desert Revealed

That is at the bottom the only courage that is demanded of us; to have courage for the most strange, the most singular and the most inexplicable that we may encounter. That mankind has in this sense been cowardly has done life endless harm; the experiences that are called ‘visions’, the whole so called ‘spirit world’, death, all those things that are so close akin to us, have by daily parrying been so crowded out by life that the senses with which we could have grasped them are atrophied. – Rainer Maria Rilke

“I am so sorry, ‘Akash?’ Did you just say Akash?”

The Bangladeshi camp attendant, shocked, lowered his arm, from its position of pointing to the sky and stared at me. He looked like a child, caught red-handed in the act of something naughty. Confused, he then tried to catch the eye of his companion, seeking support.

However none was to be had from this direction. The would be back-up simply looked down at his feet on the sand. So he turned back to me nervously, as if expecting to be told off, like someone for whom this happened regularly.

“I truly am sorry… and I never normally eavesdrop… but… I really do need to know why you just said Akash… twice”. The Englishman, whom they had settled into his tent only a couple of hours ago, had come charging out, running barefooted towards the two, as they were quietly going about their business of setting twigs on what was to be that evening’s fire. Now, out of breath from the short scramble across the soft sand, this foreigner was suddenly in front of them, questioning them about a private conversation in their own language.

“Akash?” he said slowly, hesitantly, once more raising his arm and pointing upwards, to nowhere in particular. “That’s Akash”. He looked at me, expectantly, as if worried what, in the light of this new information, I might do next. I followed his arm, past his open palm and beyond the tips of his five fingers, each of which pointed upwards. Then, as if for emphasis, he raised his left arm, mirrored the position of the right, and finally, a little more confidently this time, stated; “Akash. Sky. Big sky. Akash?”

“I thought that’s what you said, so it does mean sky? But it which language? That’s not Arabic”. The two camp workers, responsible for guest well-being in the Legends Dune Camp had welcomed us, served us tea and asked for the nights’ payment when we arrived by jeep an hour or so before sunset. They had given their names, and when questioned by an English couple that had travelled into the desert with me, revealed they were Bangladeshi. Then they had escorted me, insisting on carrying my backpack, across the sand to my tent. The ten minutes or so this routine had taken revealed that between them they were masters of just about enough English to handle the set phrases required for these presumably oft repeated logistics. But, our unanswered questions, had further showed that just like their earlier warning not to stray far beyond the desert camp, it was also best not to stray far beyond these linguistic boundaries.

“In Bangladeshi Akash means just like this; big, open sky. In Bangladesh there are many people called Akash”. It is hard to describe the feeling inside me at that point and I am not sure I remember it clearly enough to put it into words. I do remember what I did; opened my phone to point to photos for the incredulous couple. I do remember what I said; “My son, my son is Akash. Oh I can’t tell you what it means to me, what you have just said”. If there were tears in my eyes I don’t recall. But something broke inside and it was as if months of doubt, hurt and sometimes despair were all suddenly justified and explained. A feeling that this very moment, right here in desert in Oman, was always going to happen; everything had lead to this.

I returned, slowly, to my tent and simply sat. I don’t know how long for, alone there on the edge of my bed in the growing dark. The rest of the evening passed in a bit of a blur. Soon it was time for dinner, taken in the dining camp in the company of the six other temporary residents of the camp and served in the simple, efficient, not seen, not heard style of the Bangladeshis. After dinner I shared a shisha with an English couple, who had travelled all the way with this in their suitcase from North London. We lay on our backs taking the smoke from the apple tobacco into the cavities of our cheeks and softly exhaling, the smoke clouds briefly dancing between the stars directly above. “I don’t think I have ever seen stars so close,” said the girl. She was right. It was simply incredible… Presently I got up and returned to my tent. Everything, just for once, was perfect.

The next morning a camel wandered into the camp.

All the humans had left early. Two couples, present at dinner, masters of a strange tongue I had failed to identify, much less understand, had changed their lift out to earlier than scheduled and were gone. The English shisha couple had left whilst stars were still in the sky. I had not heard their vehicle and wondered at first whether they might have overslept. But there were footprints in the sand leading away from their tent. All that remained was a profound silence, a silence the likes of which I had never felt.

And so just after sunrise I found myself the lone occupant of the camp. The previous day, through signs, watch pointing and some stick drawing in the sand, I had arranged for my driver to collect me at ten. I was in no particular hurry. During the night, without asking about the wisdom of doing so it occurred to me, I had slept with my tent wide open. Each time I awoke, the stars were there, like guests waiting to be invited in, each time closer. But instead of entering, they seemed to be tempting me to join them. Every time I woke, I saw at least one shooting star. They were indeed so close, I felt it was only a matter of time before one would land on the canopy above me. Yet, the canvas remained intact and deadly still. Every time, heavy with sleep, closing my eyes, I made the very same wish and sunk back in to the bed. As such the night had passed, dreamlike, big, real, tangible.

As dawn broke into an almost hazy blue light which gently extinguished the last of the stars, I was in no rush and felt comforted that the best place for me was in fact right here on my bed. The morning light in the desert is deceptive. Almost chilly, it casts the dunes in a pale yellow that hides what is to come. The blazing heat of the afternoon, the deep blue and golden yellow of the dunes, the uninitiated may doubt the blistering inferno that lies ahead. After sleepily pondering this difference, for this was my first morning in any desert, I picked up my book, from the arabic coloured-cloth clad, wooden bedside table. Reading with a view out onto the dunes, the backdrop beyond the frame of my book, I settled back into the many pillows.

And then, that solitary camel had quietly walked past the entrance to my tent.

It can have passed no more than two metres from my feet. Silent. Total silence, it and the surroundings. One instant it filled the rectangular exit of my canvas haven, casting everything in shadow, the very next, maybe three seconds later, it was gone. As quickly and as quietly as it had come. At first I just stared, for a second. Not sure whether I might in fact still have been dreaming.

I rushed outside, barefooted, onto the still cold sand. It had taken me a moment to find my camera and now in the direction the camel had passed I could see only the row of uninhabitated tents that formed our camp. It was a surreal moment, there really had been a camel (or had there?) but half a minute ago, larger than the frame of my tent, right outside, and now, left and right, there was nothing. Not a soul, not a sound. Then I looked down and saw gentle prints in the sand heading left and disappearing between two tents. “Hah“, I thought, “I am not going mad”…

And indeed there it was. Just a few feet away, grazing on a desert shrub. It was breakfast time for this camel, which had come from goodness knows where to now quietly, contently avail itself upon the low vegetation found in clusters around the edges of the camp. Presently it looked up, noticed me and presumably also another shrub in the distance for it set off, right past me once more, to this second course. The grace and utter stillness for such a large beast with which it moved was beautiful. If camels are referred to as ships of the desert I know believe it must surely also be for they way they move.

That evening I drew that camel from a photo I got of him as he quietly grazed. Here he is…

To the bedouin the camel (I have since concluded that what I saw was in fact the Camelus Dromedarius or dromedary, a fact I would no doubt have known aged five) are known as ‘Ata Allah’ or the gift of God. They say if the dromedary camel makes its way into your life, it is a sure sign you are trying to do the right thing. However they also see it as a sign that though your journey may be important, it is time to seek an oasis, replenish and take stock. To the people of the desert, one such beast walking through ones life, this is the spiritworld wishing to tell you that rewards ultimately lie ahead, but so to do hardship and obstacles before they can be reached.

I had always wanted to see the desert. A desert. Any desert. So often have I read how the desert has the power to truly change humans. How people have been touched by this unique landscape in a way no others on our planet can. Something happens they say, and if you are bitten, it never leaves you. I wanted to see if this would be the case for me. I had arrived with an attitude that made me wonder whether one can be sceptic and hopeful at the same time. I wanted so very desperately for something to happen, to feel something… something different. Would it happen?

Now it seems to me, given all this, that it was perhaps not the desert itself that was to be my ‘vision’, but the answer and reassurance that I was to find there which was the gift the ‘spirit world’ had in store for me among the dunes. And as I eventually did drive out that morning, I left lighter than I had entered, yet in my baggage I was now carrying a most precious gift; the gift of reassurance.

The sky with its stars, through its unusual mouthpiece of two Bangladeshis so far from their home, had confirmed my son’s name. And the camel had told his father to persist; that it won’t be easy (any absence from loved ones is hard), but that one day it will be worth it. The spirit world could not have made itself more clear. And I had not felt a contentment or happiness like it in a long time. It felt like the desert; it’s sky, sand, silence and camels had given me a collective hug. Everything will be alright.

My son, to me you were always meant to be called Akash, despite any last minute doubts people may have had over the ephemeral nature of that beautiful name. This your name, perhaps the only real link I have with you in your brief life to this point, means so much to me. Beyond its meaning, it is said people who are named as you are, grow up to be quite different to anyone else. The child Akash, is very inquisitive and tends to ask a lot of questions. His parents owe it to him to provide the answers if they can, to help quench his raging thirst for knowledge.

I don’t know if I have many answers for you, but I hope to teach you something one day about the joy of searching for them. How to listen to the spirit world and not be blind to visions. For answers are truly all around and in the strangest places. But to seek them we must keep our hearts and mind open to them.

In Oman, in an Arabian desert, in this most incredible of silences it was confirmed to me the meaning of a simple Bangladeshi word. Here amidst wind, sand and stars I found an answer to coping with missing you and the desert showed me that you are in fact always with me. The same sky that you look upon in your Catalan home, that sky is you, it is that very sky I named you after. And when I, always too many miles away, look up, we can be together. What the desert revealed is that it was just possible that things are perhaps exactly as they were always meant to be…

All other creatures look down toward the earth, but man was given a face so that he might turn his eyes towards the stars and his gaze upon the sky. – Ovid, Metamorphoses

~ by 2ndcupoftea on December 12, 2019.

6 Responses to “What The Desert Revealed”

  1. This one leaves me with tears in my eyes. I hope all is well with you!

  2. You amaze me.

  3. Some day Akash will read this love letter from his dad. He’ll already know, by then, how loved he is and has always been. ❤️

  4. Hugs for you and your son. Star light star bright.

  5. That little boy is so lucky to have you as his father, Thomas. The desert in the American west is all-encompassing too and you can drown in the stars there as well. Maybe someday you will have the chance to share it with Akash so he understands how powerful his name is. In any case, truly the sky is the limit for both of you! Happy holidays!

  6. Hello, Thomas! An older friend of mine, who has passed away, used to say that a coincidence means you’re where you’re supposed to be. My niece, who is a critical care nurse, recently returned from her fourth trip to Dhaka, Bengladesh, where she and her colleagues train local nurses in end-of-life care. Have a wonderful first Christmas with Akash.
    Karleen Erhardt

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