Monday, October 12, 2009

In memory of Ali

I met Ali on my first Sahara trek two years ago.

Bedouin guide extraordinaire. I called him Djinn Ali, because no matter how fast I tried to walk over the dunes, or no matter how fast the camels were urged to go, Ali was always just a dune ahead, like he had a flying carpet! It seemed like he glided and was never tired. He and his camels would disappear behind a dune in front of me, and it seemed like a minute later, like magic, they were on top of the next dune, Ali pausing to scope the best route for the camels to travel between the ever-shifting dunes.

Ali is now gone. A few weeks ago there was an accident and the creator decided to take Ali from this life.

Ali's black eyes sparkled and he was always laughing and creating something fun to do, a song to sing, a story to tell, a game to play - using nature around us as props. Ever watchful over the needs of others, I will never forget, the last day of my trek, when I couldn't stop myself from crying, Ali gathered us on the sand and led us in a version of "Pictionary" to distract me from my overwhelming feelings. We sat on the sand, drawing pictures for each other with our fingers on the sand.

I have never met another Bedouin with such stamina. Apparently he ran marathons in the Sahara during the summer - in temperatures sometimes reaching 50 degrees. Even the other Bedouin guides struggled to keep up with Ali.

During those ten unforgettable days we met up with many Algerian Bedouins, nomads grazing their goats and camels in the Tunisian Sahara. They all seemed to know and respect Ali, and he brought me into the wonderful circle of those friendships. Those memories will never leave me.

Ali loved to dance, but more than anything, he loved to play the gasbya or bendir. I can still hear the haunting beautiful sounds of the gasbya as he played. Every night we sat by the fire under the grand Sahara black sky studded with diamond stars, and I listened to him playing, or danced to the mesmerizing melodies. Other times his eyes lit up as he sang a silly song behind the traditional bendir.

During those ten days deep in the Sahara, my life changed profoundly. Soon after that I made the decision to move to Tunisia to be nearer to the Sahara, camels, and the gentle Bedouin people. Ali was part of that magic. Thank you, Djinn Ali.