Wednesday, 28 October 2009

There is a garden beyond the desert

"When I was a kid, I also lived myself in the desert," I begin my story. "We had hardly enough to eat. Sometimes, a week went by without having eaten much beyond cheese and some dates."

The children, with wide-open eyes, are sitting on the ground, staring at me incredulously. For them, the whole world is a desert. They have never seen anything else. Their parents have never gone anywhere else. In their minds, life itself is a desert.

"I wanted to escape, to go somewhere else, to move to a better place," I continued my story. "Every morning, I walked around the tents looking at the horizon, hoping to find a path in the sand. Every evening, I prayed to see a far away light after the sun went down."

At that point, I always walk around the children, theatrically looking around in all directions, as though trying to find a city beyond the desert. They boys and girls turn their heads and follow me with their eyes. Nevertheless, they don't bother to look at the desert. They know that there is nothing to be found in the sand.

"Years passed and, one morning, when I was about to give up, a stranger arrived," I tell the children. "Nobody knew where he was coming from nor how he had found the way through the desert. I just woke up one day and the stranger was there."

The oldest kid in the group shakes his head. I doubt that he has heard my story before, but he is sceptical. I see him hesitate before asking me a question. "Who was that man? What did he come here for?"

"These are the same questions that I asked him myself," I reply, nodding to the kid. "The man was wearing garments in colours I had never seen and his eyes were unusually bright." The children, who are all wearing white tunics made of rough cotton, examine my new red-green shirt, my blue jeans, and my brown sport shoes.

I take a piece of old-yellow paper out of my pocket and show it to the children. "When the stranger told me that he was coming from a garden beyond the desert, I asked him the way and wrote his directions on this piece of paper."

A little girl stands up in the middle of the group. She must be nine or ten years old. She points at the paper in my hand and calls me a liar. The other kids tell her to shut up. Even if my story is not true, they want to hear the end. The girl repeats that I am a liar and sits down again.

I lift up the piece of paper and pretend to decipher some old unreadable lines. Of course, I do it all for effect, since I know the text by heart. "The advice from the stranger was very simple," I go on. "He told me to leave behind all that is useless, to take any direction I wanted, and to walk straight ahead until I found the garden."

The children are now silent, trying to make sense of my words. The oldest kid is the first to react. He asks me the same question that every kid had asked me before. The same question that every kid will always ask me until the end of time.

"Did you follow the stranger's advice?" the kid wants to know. "Did you find the garden?" Before I give a positive answer, I stretch my arms in order to let them admire my shirt, my blue jeans, and my sport shoes. Those are the proof that the garden exists.

The little girl stands up again and looks at me straight in the eye. Is she going to call me a liar once more? No, instead, she opts for drawing the other children's attention to the obvious contradiction in my story.

"If you found the garden, what are you doing here?" she shouts at me angrily. "Why did you come back to the desert?"

I never reply immediately to that last question. A long silence is the best way to underline my point. "I came back to the desert," I answer, "in order to tell you this story."


[Image by snowpeak under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under]