removed my shoes and socks and began washing my feet. The cool water soothed the burning I had felt for days. He gently cleaned each foot,skillfully avoiding the blistered and red parts. No one had ever washedmy feet. I was astonished but deeply grateful, as images of Christ washing the feet of his disciples came to mind. I was stunned at what I perceived as a gesture of servitude, and I was moved by Kader’s act of purekindness. Was this a desert ritual of hospitality or a simple gift offeredwith the knowledge that I had struggled in discomfort for days? Whatever his motives, I quietly thanked him and asked no questions as hedried my feet.
The misfortunes of my feet during the journey seemed to bind memore closely to my companions, with Sarmi always at my side linkingarms while we trekked and now Kader ministering to my pain. Thatnight during the Tamasheq lesson around the campfire, Kader beganto joke lightheartedly about my sharing my sleeping bag with Sarmi,saying that we would make a good couple. Sarmi laughed, agreeing withKader. I wasn’t offended by what seemed to be their playful banter. I responded disingenuously that it wouldn’t be right to sleep with someonewho wasn’t my husband. That ended any further suggestions for the remainder of our trek. I wondered if, on previous tours, more adventurousWestern women might have taken any of these men up on their offers.
The next day, as we walked to our final stop before descending theplateau, Sarmi was again at my side, helping me navigate the slidingrocks beneath our feet. I glanced sideways at him, this tall, draped,laughing presence who seemed as pleased as I was at our camaraderie.We made up silly songs in French about the moon and invented fantasiesabout a life together in the desert. We talked about our families, and Itold him about my brother who lived in New York, a point of reference inthe world I was sure he knew. I suggested that learning to read and writeFrench would help him get a better job, learn about the world, and writeme letters so we could stay in touch. He said he would try.
After breakfast on our last day, I was walking with Sarmi when wecame upon an expanse of black ground that was cut into what resembled puzzle pieces of tough old leather, curled at the edges. I asked Sarmiwhat had caused the earth to look like this. He looked at me and triedout an answer: “It was the moon.” It was an unexpected response, sinceI guessed that it must have been the sun baking the ground after intermittent rainfall that the soil couldn’t absorb.