Strangers to Friends

Isn’t it funny how one decision can practically change your whole life? Before Morocco, I barely knew three people from our group. Now, after being thrown together in the world’s biggest sandbox, no one knew what the outcome would be. Would the Sahara, that vast, empty place, forge bonds or drive us apart?

Staring at the sun burning off the red-hued sand that first afternoon felt like I was stuck in a feverish dream.  As we then sat down for dinner, the laughing and joking over the loud music began. It felt like new connections were being made.

Dancing on the rug adorning the sand in front of the small DJ booth was exhilarating. All our energies were radiating off each other as we screamed at the top of our lungs to old classic American tunes. All at once, I had never felt so happy in my life. My smile felt like it was painted on with a sharpie. This was the life. The DJ booth slowly calmed, and we stumbled our way to the top of the nearby sand dune.

We collapsed in soft, cool sand, making sand angels while giggles slipped through our lips. It felt like I was a kid again, playing with my brothers and cousins at family reunions. Glancing up at the maze of stars decorating the night sky, we all grew quiet. It was as if we understood each other for one split second and the weight on our shoulders lifted with every breath we took. We continued our giggles as we rolled down the dune like it was recess time in elementary school. We buried people in the sand and soaked in the new friendships that had formed.

But the friendships didn’t stop between us. We sat on that dune for hours before two workers came up to us and snatched Chelsea’s legs, pulling her down the steep slope of sand, their peels of laughter echoing in the breeze. Their laughter was contagious, spreading to each of us as the two of them continued to drag various people down the dune.

We talked to the two workers, even though there was a communication barrier between us. Yet there is no difference between laughter, and that was the universal language that night. It seemed that our alacrity floated all the way down to the dining area, where another four workers walked out to meet us. We all sat around the fire for another couple hours, talking. It felt like a game of telephone as the workers who spoke English translated what we said into Arabic for the others.

As the fire died down, so did our energy. Our exuberance dwindled like the flame fighting for fuel on the last log in the pit.

ATV riding, drifting in cars on the dunes, camel riding, and sand boarding were electrifying, but for me nothing quite matched the relationships built in one of the most desolate places on earth. The next morning, the laughter picked up once again. Out of all nineteen years of my life, I’ve never had this much joy pulsating through my veins. I felt as though I could breathe no matter how much sand was filling my lungs. For those two days, I felt free.

Payton Sammons is an English major at the University of New England.

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