Once upon a time there lived a young lady who was a nomad. Her name was Jasmine and today was her birthday. It was more significant than any other birthday because Jasmine had reached the “age of maturity” and therefore certain protocols had to be observed. Today was the day she prepared to separate from her entire family. Based on their nomadic culture Jasmine was required to become fully independent no later than two moons after this particular birthday. Over the course of her lifetime her family had relocated every five years, this fifth move though she would be going alone. Jasmine was required to take a solo journey westward from the settlement of her parents and keep going through the desert until she found an uninhabited oasis to call her own.
While this might seem like a daunting task, many had done so before her which gave her a certain degree of confidence and strength. In fact, a little over two decades ago Jasmine’s mother had taken a similar journey. She had left her entire family, traveled across the desert, and set up a home for herself in the oasis Jasmine had spent the first five years of her life. A few months later Jasmine’s mom was visited by a travelling nomad – Jasmine’s father, who had started with requesting some water and a rest in the shade and ended with a marriage proposal. The rest was history – and Jasmine and her four younger brothers.
And Then There Was One
Now it was Jasmine’s turn to venture away from her home, find a spring of water and patch of fertile land in the dry desert and make her new dwelling there. Jasmine had been training for this her whole life. She had been taught to ride camels, to source and make food for herself, to create a homestead from palm fronds and to weave blankets and carpets from a special yarn her people made. She knew how to navigate through the desert and survive the chill of the nights and sweltering heat of the days. She was excited and she felt prepared.
Jasmine spent the day packing her belongings and loading them up on her camel. She had prepared little gifts for her younger brothers to remind them of their big sister they were unlikely to ever see again. This departure marked the beginning of her own five-year rotation and her family would continue theirs – governed by rules that sent them in opposite directions the likelihood of their paths crossing again was slim to none. Therefore while struggling to keep her emotions at bay Jasmine spent time lovingly giving each one of them the engraved smooth stones. She kissed them each on the forehead, except for the oldest who shrugged her off. He was ‘too big for kisses’ according to him. She whispered blessings over each one of them and went to say a final goodbye to her mother and father.
While Jasmine technically had two more days until she had to separate from her family, she was never one to prolong an exercise and wanted to set off right away. Her father embraced her warmly and said nothing but “farewell strong one.” He had always been a man of few words so his prolonged embrace provided all the additional silent comfort she need. Jasmine’s mom grabbed her hand and said softly, “I will see you off.”
As they exited the dwelling and made their way towards Jasmine’s loaded camel, her mother reached into her shawl and fished out a bulky parchment. She handed it to Jasmine and said, “read this when you need it. At the earliest, six days after you have found your oasis and settled in. Remember everything I have taught you, be strong and stay positive. Remember, we are looking up at the same moon and the same stars. I will always think of you and pray for you. No challenge is too big to be solved, stay calm, look upwards always, and never give up. You will excel because you are excellent.”
At the depth of her mother’s words Jasmine’s eyes welled up with tears. She untied one of her scarves, wrapped it lovingly around her mother’s slender neck, squeezed her hand and turned to leave.
The Journey of A Thousand Miles Begins With
…A single step. Jasmine had mounted her camel and he had only taken a single step. If she turned around she would still be able to see her mother and three of her four brothers who had run outside to bid her farewell. In fact, she could even hear the low sobs of her youngest sibling as the distance between her and everything she had ever known increased. While she was still close by, she could feel that everything had already changed. She had already changed. It would never be the same again.
She was no longer the eldest and only daughter or the big sister. She was no longer her mother’s helper, caring for her family and serving water and morsels of food to passersby. She was a wanderer – in search of her own oasis. She would become a homemaker – turning the once vacant fertile land into a home of her own. She would be the oasis in the desert – providing shelter, water and food to other passersby until she deemed fit to accept the marriage proposal of another wanderer. Then she would become a wife and eventually probably a mother. One day she might stand on the edge of where the fertile land meets the harsh desert and wave goodbye to her own daughters. It was the tradition, and she was taking what felt like one of the hardest steps towards it.
Jasmine expected the journey to be hard and there were no surprises there. However the nights were not as biting cold and she had imagined them to be, now that she was exposed to the elements with no shelter or familiar bed. It was cold, yes, but shielded by her camel on one side who radiated comforting warmth on one side, the dying embers of the fire on the other and covered by a blanket her mother had woven with love, she was warm enough. The dark but clear starry night was also comforting. It was familiar. She fell asleep knowing her mother was probably looking up at this same sky whispering positive words and prayers for her wellbeing and happiness. Days passed like this, travelling a few miles in the sweltering heat, more in the cooler evening, and resting at night. She cooked early in the morning but drank mostly water during the day, saving the bulk of her meal till nightfall. Left alone with her thoughts Jasmine chatted with her camel, reminisced over a good life spent growing up with her family, and kept her eyes peeled for…
The Oasis in a Desert
Eventually, after about 14 days of travel, Jasmine stumbled across an oasis so beautiful she thought she was surely hallucinating. It was lush, with two sparkling pools of water, three clusters of palm trees, small shrubs that seemed to create a natural demarcation between the land and the desert, and a perfectly triangular piece of land in the center where she could eventually build a small structure. She was overjoyed! Jasmine dismounted, removed the heavy bags and bundles from her camel and led him to the water. When she had satisfied her own thirst, she began to walk the length and breadth of what she felt deep in her heart was her new dwelling place. It was the third oasis she had come across on her travels. The first was already inhabited, and she passed the night with the nondescript family that dwelt there, while the second just was not what she had in mind. The third one was certainly proving to be a charm.
Jasmine unpacked a broom the eldest of her four brothers had made a few months ago and swept a long expanse of land between two clusters of palm trees. Next she strode over to the rest of her belongings, dragged and untied her large carpet that was part of her inheritance, and lovingly rolled it out on to the cleared land. She unpacked other vital items and prepared her evening meal. As she settled in for the night Jasmine breathed a sigh of relief. The journey was over. She had arrived at her destination with few to no worries. She spent the week unpacking, settling in, putting up a temporary structure, and resting from her long journey. On the 8th day she awoke with a start. She sat up, attempted to peel back the curtain on her makeshift tent and her hand grasped at nothingness. There was nothing there. She looked around her as her heart raced and her stomach plummeted. What on earth was going on?
Her carpet was covered in sand, the temporary structure she had managed to erect laid strewn around her broken and scattered, and the water supply within her line of sight seemed to have a strange oily film on it. However these were the least of her worries as she looked further out. She stood up, her small hand casting a dark shadow over her face as she shielded her eyes from the sun and looked southward. It was then she saw them. She spotted them at the same exact time she heard the blood-curdling scream. In that moment she could not tell if the scream was coming from her own throat of from afar. Her knees buckled and she collapsed into a heap of scarves on the floor. Her head on the lush land of the oasis, her legs splayed out on the desert sand. None of the lessons she had learned served as adequate preparation for this moment.