I was a hot, sticky mess. Only 3 hours in the desert and my mind had gone still. Still from the silence around me, but also still from the lack of thoughts in my brain. As far as my eyes could see, the desert loomed ahead. Pink and orange sand dunes stretched out endlessly ahead of me, leading me to a horizon that seemed altogether new. For once, my mind was not racing. For once, I was not thinking a million thoughts at the same time. My mind grew still.
After a few minutes of absolute silence, he came and stood next to me.
“You seem to enjoy this. I think you can finally appreciate the simplicity of our home.”
I nodded. After 2 years of living in the Middle East, I finally understood the allure of the desert. How looking at endless sand dunes can still your brain, stir your heart and forever penetrate your soul. I had stopped craving for green, tropical lush vegetation and instead started appreciating the gentle slopes that sand can make when piled up together, or the simple contrast it could form under a clear blue sky.
“This place is so beautiful. Why would you ever want to leave?” were the words I found myself asking.
He answered me with another question: “Have you ever left a place that you loved?”
I instantly grew silent. Tears welled up in my eyes behind my sunglasses, as I thought about all the beautiful places I had lived and the cities I had once called home. Images of snow covered streets in Massachusetts mixed with memories of quaint cobbled streets in Copenhagen. My heart grew heavy as I answered:
“Yes. I do it all the time. Every few years, we leave and start a new life in another country.”
“You and I…we are not so different you see.”
“We both wander. I am a desert nomad, you are a modern-day nomad. For centuries we have wandered. For us the desert is home. But yet, we wander. We wander in search for grass and water for our animals. You too know something about wandering. People are by nature, nomadic. It’s in our blood. We wander not because we are lost, but because we want to be free. Free of constraints, free of restrictions and free of boundaries. What joy is there in living a life from only one spot? Are we meant to live in only one place our entire lives?”
His words made me smile.
Perhaps our expat lifestyle was not so strange after all. Perhaps, our wandering souls were not to be seen as the exceptions but rather the norm. Perhaps all of us would be so much happier, if we could answer the restless call in our souls.
Perhaps life was not meant to be lived in one spot only.
Perhaps, our addiction to wander had no cure.
Perhaps it wasn’t an ailment to begin with.
Perhaps, it was a gift instead.
A gift to grow, in new directions and in new places.
A gift to discover and explore.
A gift that allowed us to be who we really are.
The best gift of all.
Authors Note: These pictures are taken from my experience and talks with the Bedouin in Wadi Rum, the largest desert in Jordan. The stewardship of this desert lies with the local Arab Bedouin. Jordan is home to approx 380,000 Bedouins who settle in or near Wadi Rum. Our guide Omar pictured here explained us a lot about the Bedouin way of life and their culture. If you are visiting Jordan, I highly recommend a visit to Wadi Rum and a chance to meet and talk with the local Bedouin. You can book jeep tours at the Visitor Center in Wadi Rum.