an almost lifelike substance, imposed on other images or painted in isolation. I asked Sarmi what these strange images meant, but he had noanswer and, even more surprising, no apparent interest in their origins.
It perplexed me that my companions, except for Mr. Sayed, were indifferent to the Neolithic people of the Sahara and the record of the lifethat came before them. In fact, the images of Tan Zoumiatek have inspired wild speculation about alien visitors that has been taken seriouslyby eccentric theorists as well as the famous French ethnologist HenriLhote, who wrote about the possible link to prehistoric extraterrestrialinvasions. I asked Sarmi if he believed in such things, but he just shookhis head.
Later that night around the campfire, as we were looking at the rising moon, Sarmi brought up space travel on his own and asked me, “Isit true that the Americans went to the moon? I’ve heard about it butwant to know if it’s really true.” He couldn’t imagine how such a journeythrough space could be accomplished. I confirmed that a spaceship hadbeen built with enough power to transport astronauts to the moon andthat three men had walked there. He took in this information and saidno more about it.
I looked up at the black Saharan sky. The moon hovered like an apparition on the horizon as I thought about the weekend of the Apollomoon landing in 1969. I wasn’t one of the 530 million people riveted bythe televised landing. Instead I had gone camping with several friends inthe mountains of Northern California. Despite the triumph of technology and space travel, I was too angry about the Vietnam War to rejoicein “one giant leap for mankind.” I couldn’t celebrate a country whosewealth might have been directed at addressing structural racism andeconomic disparity within its own borders rather than lavished on empire—in Southeast Asia as well as on the lunar surface. I didn’t sharethese thoughts with Sarmi.
The next day we trekked to Sefar to see more rock art from diverseperiods of life and climate. As I became more absorbed in my interactions with Sarmi and Kader, I became less interested in the paintings,despite their aesthetic quality and extraordinary place in Neolithic history. I was also preoccupied with the condition of my feet, which by thenwere blistered, bloodied, and aching.
When we stopped for our afternoon break, Kader approached mewith a basin of water. Before I understood what he was doing, he silently