Khaled Elnimr

A CREATIVE LIGHT: OUARZAZATE STORIES
Original writing for the European Investment Bank, backed by the Neighbourhood Investment Facility of the European Union


You are in search of the light. The light of your heart.

Our plane landed late into the night. The small airport was awash in tranquility until the passengers started disembarking the plane that carried us from Casablanca. I moved along with the crowd to join the queue whilst listening to blurry sounds echoing from the corners of the arrivals hall. 

As I peeked outside the airport's waiting area, I was instantly taken aback by an enchanting artistic painting drawn by the genius of mother nature; the moon centered the sky and gently scattered its shimmering light to blanket the roads of the desert city, injecting every soul under its blessed rays with a bounteous dose of comfort and serenity.

My eyes were still hooked to the sky; as the car moved, the city boasted different garments of beauty. I saw hills of sand, traditional houses, and lots of different trees, which were all bathing under the glowing moonlight. I gazed back into the moon... I saw people floating atop of it... the moon unearthed life and many other details. 

I totally lost track of time until the driver's voice brought me back to reality. He told me that I had reached my destination. I got my hotel room key whilst still chasing the delicate, yet joyful moonlight. I threw my exhausted body down on the bed and succumbed to a deep sleep. When I woke up the next morning, I began my journey to "Ouarzazate", the gate of the desert. 

It caressed my face and instilled a sense of affability and vigor within my soul. The rays of the sun instantly drowned me in sweet childhood reveries. It swept me back in time when I used to leave my bedroom window open so as to wake up to the first sunbeam in the morning. The light used to cast itself upon my eyes whilst the cool breeze of the desert gently greeted my nose to awaken me. 

I had been missing the sun so much due to my long years in countries that barely feel its presence... countries that are coated in white in winter and carpeted in green in summer. When the sun finally decides to salute these parts of the world, it is always welcomed with festivities and a sense of gratefulness, especially when its golden rays intertwine with the lush and the snow.

I had been missing the sun so much due to my long years in countries that barely feel its presence... countries that are coated in white in winter and carpeted in green in summer.

I kept lying on the bed with my eyes closed, savoring the sun rays as they softly streamed through the window. I finally opened my eyes to a majestic view that I hadn't been able to relish the night before. Then, I left the bed for a closer look at the sun; it took the shape of a gigantic niche unconditionally sharing its warmth with the different parts of the city.

I marveled at the glory of the mountains and the hills of sand whilst the mischievous golden sun rays kept trying to capture my attention. I spotted a white bird whose flapping wings added a touch of blissful vibrancy to the morning painting; it seemed to have started its day early seeking a source of living. I traced it with my eyes as it danced up and down the sky until it finally landed in front of a statue whose details seemed unclear to me – perhaps it was that of a man or a woman. The statue was located near hills of sand, and it seemed as if someone had placed bird seeds and water in front of it.

Something mystical attracted me to the statue, so I decided to start my day by visiting it and checking its details closely. 

The relatively long distance from the hotel to the statue was made short with the city's enchanting terrain – narrow streets that resemble an entertaining maze, small orchids donning multi-hued flowers, and slender-stemmed palm trees guarding the sides of the main road. I took light, yet passionate steps towards the statue that stood countless hills away. The details of the statue became clearer as I got closer; it was that of a man whose head was covered with a desert scarf. Seeing him up close aroused my curiosity even more.

He welcomed me with smiling eyes whose sparkle resembled that of the moonlight that had welcomed me the night before. He seemed to be in his 60s, and had his head and face meticulously covered with blue fabric. I saluted him:

- “How are you?”

- “I'm fine thank you. Welcome to our city.”

- “Thank you. Can I join you?”

- “Of course.”

Then he gazed at me for a little while and said:

- “Your facial features say that you're similar to us, yet you're a stranger.”

- “In fact, I am a stranger. I'm here on a working visit, and this is the first time for me in the Moroccan desert. Yesterday was my first night. Today is my first morning, and you're the first person I talk to.”

He responded with nothing more than:

- “You're most welcome.”

Then he went all silent, so I asked him:

- “What are you doing here so early in the morning?”

- “This is my place. This is where I live... under the rays of the sun and the light of the moon. These sands are my home.”

He paused a little and then went on:

- “My life is very simple. I only talk to those I wish to converse with. The birds are my real friends, as well as some of the animals. They fill my loneliness. I like to reflect on nature, and here I am reflecting on you.”

I responded, shocked:

- “Me?!”

He answered calmly:

- “Yes. I know you so very well, and I know the reason that brought you here. You are here in search of the light.”

His response doubled my astonishment and got me sort of perplexed:

- “How did you know? I'm here on a working visit to ‘Noor – Arabic for light’ solar energy plant!”

He laughed and shook his head:

- “You don't speak my language and don't understand what I'm saying to start with... right?”

But I understood. I understood that I was talking to the man of the desert who has devoted his entire life to meditate in nature. He's one of the rare few who dedicate their lives for reflection and worship. They live a primitive life in which little food and water will suffice. They spend their time contemplating and reasoning in an attempt to ascend their souls to higher realms. Their souls are bonded to those of all the creatures surrounding them, and even to those of their ancestors. 

I understood that I was talking to the man of the desert who has devoted his entire life to meditate in nature. He's one of the rare few who dedicate their lives for reflection and worship.

I thought of what he said for a while and then asked:

- “What did you mean by saying that I was looking for the light?... which light were you referring to?”

He looked at me for a few seconds and then simply said:

- “The light of your heart.”

We delved into complete silence until our quietness was breached by a voice calling:

- “Sir... Sir....”

He was one of the people in charge of the delegation visiting Noor, the solar project. He had been waiting for me to head together to visit the plant in the city of Ouarzazate. I left the old man in a hurry and rushed to make it to my appointment.

I got into the car and apologized to my colleagues whilst trying to catch my breath. They gave me a worried look and asked me if I was doing ok; it was the first time in long years of work that I abandoned my usual sense of elegance -- no expensive suit and no colorful tie. My hair was also a mess. This had been the first time I arrived late to a work appointment. It had also been the first time I didn't have my personal mobile phone with me. This was totally new to my colleagues who had been used to my promptness and punctuality.

His words strongly resonated with me and shook me to the core:

- "You are in search of the light. The light of your heart."

You are in search of the light. The light of your heart.

These words touched my inner self and stirred within me overwhelming emotions. I tried to distract my thoughts by engaging in my colleagues' chat about the beauty of the road... the sand, the rock hills, and the lush that's garlanded with orange and yellow.

Once we arrived at our destination, a confused smile drew on my face when I read the sign of the plant, "Noor – Arabic for light".

The ones in charge of the solar project welcomed us and shared with us abundant information about the way it functioned. They briefed us on the plant's various stages and on the technology used to convert sunlight into energy to compensate for the lack of oil and gas in Morocco. They also explained to us how "Noor" contributes to protecting Earth by mitigating the growing risks of climate change.

A number of European Union officials joined the visiting delegation; the EU provided the plant with funds and support through the European Investment Bank and other European institutions.

The project's prime goal is providing locals with an array of services and multiplying job opportunities, especially as the implementation process moves forward. That's very important, but it isn't everything.

The solar plant Noor derives energy from the sun's radiation by means of harnessing, preserving, and converting sun rays to generate power. Thus, the sun's daily output could be used round the clock to help workers keep their machines running, to aid students en route to success, to keep the elderly in touch with the world, and to assist mothers with the burden of daily house chores. The project utilizes the sun's energy and gives it back to the region's locals in the form of light ‘Noor’ – it is a source of non-stop dynamic energy.

Alas, the light which the project will provide is not the same light that my heart seeks!

Despite enjoying the extensive details that enriched our plant tour, the words of the old sage kept echoing in my head and bogged me down in a deeper state of bewilderment, especially as the work day neared its end.

Back at the hotel, I tried to get some sleep after a long exhausting day of which most hours had been spent on the road. I couldn't sleep for I was overcome with stress and anxiety, so I stood at the window and watched the sunset; the old sage was still sitting in the same spot. I couldn't enjoy the sun's intertwining rays that rhythmically bid the blue sky farewell because the presence of the old man utterly confounded me. I observed him as he sat with the same serenity and tranquility since early morning.

I instantly headed his way. The closer I got, the further he seemed. The distance was growing longer as I approached him. I felt heavy weight burdening my entirety, and all I wished was to get to get rid of this feeling by throwing it his way; maybe he could help ease my apprehension.

Once I reached him, I asked him eagerly:

- "How do I find the light?"

But all he did was respond with a smile and utter stillness; however, I kept repeating my question with consistent urgency, but to no avail. He maintained the same smile and stillness.

I sat by his side all lost and weary. I tracked the moon as its creatures made an appearance with what seemed to be gentle smiles. The light of the moon cast its rays on the sand hills, killing their darkness and livening their light.

Shrouded in disappointment, I finally left the old sage. I felt my steps growing heavier and heavier when I spotted a lantern flashing light in my direction. It belonged to a small house in which a crowd of people sat and chattered. The roof was sealed with many wooden logs, and outside there was a big stone bench fully covered with cushions and surrounded by wooden chairs. Palm trees scattered all around the house.

My body went feeble as I gradually started losing energy. The closer I approached the small house, the more it faded before my eyes... I saw the years of my life rushing ahead of me in a glimpse. I couldn't see clearly. All I heard were whispers that I failed to decipher. There I was faltering... I fell to the ground.

I felt them carrying me and seating me on one of the wooden chairs. Their voices went on top of each other as they asked me with empathy:

- "What's wrong with you?"

I told them that I felt shortness of breath, and that I wasn't capable of moving. So one of them instantly said:

- "Stay with us and get some rest."

Then another one asked me with a scolding tone:

- "Why are you dressed in such light clothes? It's cold."

And another said:

- "I'll bring you a cup of tea. We will not disturb you with our conversations. Just sit and relax."

I sat by their side with my limbs all frozen. They handed me a cup of hot tea, and then warmth started flowing into my body. I noticed that they were speaking about me:

- "He's a city dweller; they all live this way. They waste their lives in pursuit of money and power, forgetting all about the real essence of life."

His friend responded in support:

- "Yes. His condition is not but a warning that he's missing out on his life that has gone by. It's as if life is reminding him that he is no longer young enough to wear such light clothes."

- "True. Thank God for the all the blessings of good health. May God heal him and guide him the right way."

Then a third one said:

- "The life of urban dwellers is so strange! Believe me... they live like machines and don't realize the gravity of what they've done to themselves until diseases start invading their bodies. Over time, they become similar to rusty machines without even feeling it."

- "Thank God for everything!"

Their dialogues varied as each one of them shared with the others how his/her day had been spent. I watched their content faces and joyful smiles. Their positive energy and exuberance were so contagious that I gradually began to regain my power. I was no longer feeling cold.

As I was leaving, I thanked them for their help and generosity. They insisted that I stayed and joined them for supper, but I was adamant to leave. One of them abruptly asked me about the reason I had spent hours near the statue. I smiled and responded with silence.

I crossed the road back to the hotel when I found myself standing near the man of the desert. I felt as if he was addressing me. He said:

- "Are you aware of the fact that the sun endures in one day what you endure in years? It is a fetus when it rises at dawn, and then it crawls like an infant towards the sand. It reaches the peak of its youth at midday, and then it starts losing its power as the day hours go by -- exactly the way people age."

He added:

- "I'm the man of the desert. I have learned to see in the dark with the light that comes from within. I can see you clearly; you are a good person, but you have been transformed into a machine. My son, the heart is the source of light. You have closed the door to your heart. You have hidden the light inside, but I can see it. Open your heart to people and share with them your light -- let it enlighten your way and theirs."

He added with a somewhat warning tone:

- "If you close your heart, you will only be able to listen and see with your mind, and this is not good. Never ignore your heart and feelings."

I nodded my head as I listened to what he had to tell me and then headed back to the hotel with lighter steps as my worries subsided... I finally found the answer that I'd been looking for.