“How could the moon possibly cause these cracks?” I challenged him.
With a quirky smile, he answered, “You should know about themoon; you’re an American.” I smiled, taking in his ironic explanationwith no further challenge.
After walking for hours on rough terrain and sliding down longstretches of small black rocks, we finally arrived at the base of the plateau. My legs ached from the exertion of the long descent. I was grateful to see the Land Rover waiting for us in the same spot where it haddropped us off six days before. After Kande and the driver loaded up thevehicle, we made our way back to Djanet and the hotel.
My plane was due to depart at sunrise on my journey back to Oran.I already felt the loss of Sarmi’s company. He said he would try to comeback to the hotel to say goodbye once again, and I waited in my roommost of the evening, but he never came. In the predawn hour when thesky seemed the blackest, I was driven to the landing strip and boardedthe small plane for the return journey. It was the first time in days thatSarmi wasn’t at my side. The fatigue of the long trek caught up with me,and I closed my eyes while the plane made a shaky ascent just as the skybegan to lighten on the rocky horizon.
When I returned to Oran, I was laid low with an unknown flu thatkept me in bed for almost three weeks. I was weak and dehydrated, andmy skin began to resemble the parched earth of the Tassili. I’d neverbeen so ill, and at times I thought I might not get better. But I slowlyrecovered and began to assume my teaching duties.
One day I found a strange letter in my mailbox, with no return address. When I opened it, I was baffled as to who had written it or whereit had been mailed from. I tried to read the words, but they seemed arandom collection of letters with a few decipherable French words gluing the rest together. To my amazement, the signature was from “SarmiMoussa.” I tried to fathom how he had managed to write the letter, sincehe wasn’t literate in French and we’d managed only a few lessons duringthe trek. I was thrilled that he had apparently taken my advice aboutlearning to write and thought enough about me to send the letter.
Each day I would parse the words and sentences, trying to make senseof them. I even enlisted the help of a friend from Djanet who lived inOran, thinking he might be able to figure out the syntax of his kinsman.Slowly, we managed to decode most of it. Sarmi had apparently workedwith a tutor, or at least someone who was partially literate in French,to produce the letter and wanted to let me know he had taken my ad