Saturday, Jan. 29, 2005 - 10:48 p.m.
Inside his tent, his sons and nephews sit with the two Westerners and their guides, finishing the last of the tea, talking and occasionally breaking into laughter. The Westerners are photographers from America, and they had traveled hundreds of kilometers of the Empty Quarter looking for Bedouins.
Earlier, in the golden light of the evening, the taller one took a photograph of him posing with his old bolt action Lee-Enfield rifle. It was given to him by the British when he helped them fight a war he now does not remember much of. His sons laugh at him every time he wields it, and have given up getting the old man to switch to a Kalishnikov. He is adamant and says there is a purity every time he pulls the steel bolt back.
After the photograph, the old man pointed his rifle at a network of small mounds nearby, each the size of a camel's hump but flatter. These are shaped by the wind, the old man said. All the little mounds taken together, is like a single living creature that moves across the desert floor in one direction, as some mounds get flattened and new ones sprout up.
It might make a good photograph, he offers.
The Westerner nods and starts peering through his camera; the old man continues chewing his qat. Finally, the Westerner turns to him and says quietly, thank you for showing me the beauty of the world.
The old man did not think of the mounds as particularly special, but yes, after the Westerner photographed them, he could see how they are beautiful. He did not know how to respond to the Westerner's gratitude and so he just smiled.
But now, as he looks out at the moonlit sands, he thinks: you come across the dune and I welcome you as a stranger. We are all strangers, and all we can give each other is how we see the beautiful things of the world. It is the only thing that makes this vastness bearable.