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Tie Your Camel First - Visiting The Eight Billionth Person On Earth
by Jeff Campagna
Originally published in Esquire, #3151, March 23rd, 2064.
I’ve never liked the Islamic world. For no reason other than I can’t relate to the lifestyle. I enjoy alcohol, recreational drug use, a hearty political debate and gawking at beautiful women. Here, in the somehow-still-ancient Muslim city of Marrakech, these simple pleasures are out of the question. Liquor is not sold anywhere. Drug dealers are perfectly camouflaged. Freedom of speech is a myth, and women, gorgeous or ghastly, are covered up like statutes in museum basements. It’s simply impossible for a self-indulgent, mid-21st-century journalist to feel at home here. It’s a bit like rehab.
Shortly after arriving at the hotel my wife and I make love. During which, the haunting calls to prayer begin rolling out over the twisted durbs from the scattered mosques in the medina. I can’t help but feel vulgar: having sex while a city prays. After, we lay naked and exposed on the bed and drink cold champagne. We eat dried dates and the syrup sticks to our teeth but the bubbly champagne washes it away. Thank god I was allowed to bring Nancy along.
I flip on the BBC. The hotel room has an old three-dimensional vertical hologram setup from the 50’s. I always watch the news after making love. Nancy hates it. Especially the BBC. Reports are on the dissent among the remaining nations of the European Union, rebel fire in the de facto sovereign state of Quebec, a system of super-hurricanes wiping out the Malay Archipelago and a special report on terrorist strikes at Mars One’s South American manufacturing headquarters.
Nancy is right. The BBC paints such horrid, ominous landscapes of the world and it doesn’t do much for the post-love-making spirit. It’s a crazy, messed up world. Perhaps crazier and more messed up than ever before. And it is into this crazy, messed up world that a nomadic tribe in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco just welcomed a new baby girl — the 8,000,000,000th living human on planet Earth.
I have been sent here by The Atlantic. What exactly they think I am going to write about, I’m not sure. The international headlines have been scrolling for just over fifty-three hours. It’s big news. But no other journalist really cares to walk for days into the mountains just to see a wiggling little newborn who can’t do much besides shit and cry. Yet here I am, wiping the dust off my hiking boots.
Over a hundred years ago, in 1939, Soviet inventor and electrician, Semyon Kirlian, accidentally discovered that an object, if connected to a high-voltage source, would appear to have an aura when placed on a photographic plate. Almost immediately, the Kirlian Photography Method became the talk of the town among parapsychologists and pseudo-scientists.
In 2009, Russian scientist and deputy director of the St. Petersburg Research Institute of Physical Culture, Konstatin Korotkov, captured in a photograph what he claimed to be the soul leaving the human body at the exact moment of death. He did this by using an advanced Kirlian Photography technique that he developed called Gas-Discharge Visualization (GDV). In 2013, the news of Korotkov’s findings went viral on the internet. And again, the research was exiled to the realm of pseudoscience. Korotkov quit his research and disappeared. The public moved on.
In the fall of 2018, during the peak of the Libyan invasion, the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) dusted off the Korotkov files and began covertly researching gas-discharge visualization with advanced computer thermal imaging in hopes of better tracking rebel movements and casualties. By Christmas, Tripoli had fallen, crowded refugee camps were set up along the Tunisian border, and rebel forces had all but disappeared into the Algerian mountains. The war was over. The Department of Defence tightened its leash in a post-war climate and the Korotkov experiments were terminated.
Fifteen years later, The People’s Republic of China found themselves losing a war against over-population (1,620.05m), land shortages, resource scarcity, extreme poverty and famine. The Republic’s famous One-Child Policy was discontinued in favour of the much-protested No-Child Policy of 2033. The Korotkov files were sold off to China in secret. The People’s Liberation Army began tracking illegal births using thermal emission satellites and a reversed method of Korotkov’s gas-discharge visualization. Even before a newborn’s umbilical cord was cut, armed PLA soldiers would arrive on the scene. Rebel obstetricians were jailed. Nurses were fined. New mothers and fathers were often shot on sight. And newborns were whisked away.
Currently, The People’s Republic of China is enjoying its second decade of exponentially decreasing birth rates (-3.10%). Both The United States Department of Defence and The People’s Liberation Army have declassified the Korotkov research and the satellite tracking of births and deaths is now unrestricted technology. We can track our planet’s human population with shockingly real-time precision. Mathematicians, statisticians and system engineers have developed thousands of various algorithms to automatically sort, categorize and export the data for various corporate industries, world health organizations, governments and militaries. Five years ago, The Centre for World Population Control in Mumbai began tracking the data in order to pinpoint the exact date and time that our species’ population hit the eight billion mark.
Two days ago we hit that mark. Her name is Tanazârt n Ayt Atiq.
It’s 7:00am on Tuesday. I’m waiting for my guide to pick me up at the hotel. His name is Mou’ha and his parents were semi-nomadic Berbers from the mountains. We’re getting an early start because the family we are going to visit is at least a three day walk from any town or road. Morocco doesn’t exactly make getting around the country easy. In a 2031 vote, Mohamed VII, the 7th King of Morocco, vetoed the construction of Hyperloop tubes anywhere within his kingdom. A decision that the International High Speed Transit Commission attempted to have overturned by the United Nations in 2034 claiming that, “By refusing to allow the installation of a Hyperloop chunnel across the Straight of Gibraltar as well as a network of tubes inland, The Kingdom of Morocco has ensured that not only will their kingdom enjoy none of the economic benefits of Hyperloop connectivity, but neither will any other nation on the African continent below them”.
By noon we’re well on our way. Mou’ha is in the passenger seat, half turned around and talking to me in the backseat (Nancy chose to stay back in our luxurious suite in Marrakech and enjoy ancient black olive Hammam massages and mint tea). Amar is our driver and he’s recklessly swerving and jerking the old truck all over the bumpy road.
“We drive for five hours,” Mou’ha says, “until we reach the end of the road. There we meet our camels.”
“Camels?” I ask.
“Yes,” he responds with a smirk. “It’s the only way to get over the mountains.”
“Over the mountains?” I ask. This sort of foreboding call-and-answer routine goes on for at least a few hours.
Amar stops on a nameless little dirt path and Mou’ha gets out of the truck to go and buy grapes from a local vendor who is standing in a shady twig hut. I get out of the car and I immediately feel light-headed from change in altitude and clean air. Mou’ha comes back with the grapes and snaps me off a cluster. They taste incredible. Better than incredible. I don’t think I’ve eaten a grape this amazing.
“How much did that bag cost?” I ask Mou’ha.
“Around three American dollars.”
“Holy shit,” I respond. Mou’ha winces as I curse. “A bag of fresh grapes like that in Britain would cost well over a hundred quid. That is, if you can find them.”
“Why so much? It is only fruit.”
“There is no such thing as ‘only fruit’ anymore where I’m from, Mou’ha. All natural consumables are heavily regulated. An Englishman is not even allowed to grow a carrot in his own backyard and eat it. It’s a crime.”
“I don’t understand,” Mou’ha says as we get back into the truck and continue up the dirt path.
“Well,” I go on, “that carrot would have to be shipped off to a plant in Southern England for validation and inspection. If officials find that it is indeed a carrot and that is indeed safe to eat, they ship the carrot off to Essex to be categorized and added to the nation’s digital inventory. Once Essex has counted the carrot, they ship it off to a distribution centre where it sits for a day or two so that the distribution centre can add the carrot to its own official counts. Then, the distribution centre ships the carrot off to a retail outlet where the Englishman can go and buy it. He can then take it home and eat it. Of course, the chances of the same carrot coming back to the Englishman who grew it are slim to none. So he buys someone else’s carrot. It’s a lengthy and costly system. The fresh stuff is just for the upper class, really. Hence the popularity of synthetics like food cubes that work to combat hunger and help to curb skyrocketing costs of living.”
“But, if each Englishman simply grew his own carrot and ate it,” Mou’ha begins, “there would be no hungry Englishmen.”
I start to realize that King Mohamed VII of Morocco has very successfully isolated his kingdom, shielding it from the good, the bad and the ugly that lies beyond its red adobe gates. It’s a knee-jerk reaction, I suppose, when a nation’s leader grows disenchanted with the perils of progress and decides to casually quarantine his sovereign state. But it’s a decision that can benefit only the current leader’s legacy, for he leaves to his successor a nation of closed doors and closed minds shrouded in mystery and counterfeit antiquity.
Amar is snaking us along a mountainside dirt road high in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. The dirt road is no wider than a goat path. I toss grape seeds out the window and over the steep cliff face. I’ve never seen towns embedded so naturally, so invisibly, into their surrounding landscape. If a town is on the slope of a caramel-coloured mountain, than that town will be built out of caramel-coloured stone and mud. So shall a town be built out of terracotta-red clay if it happens to sit at the foot of a terracotta-red clay hillside. From the backseat of the truck, looking out my lowered window and across the massive, sweeping valleys, I know that towns are out there in the distance but they lay hidden, camouflaged by vernacular design and architecture. I can barely spot the towns until I’m pretty much driving through them.
One by one, signs of modern civilization grow rapidly smaller in Amar’s cracked rear view mirror. Power lines, cell towers, gas stations and above-ground sewage systems all become a thing of the past inside this diesel-spurting time machine.
“Shouldn’t we buy some drinking water?” I ask Mou’ha as we pass what looks like the last corner store on Earth.
“We have some drinking water packed on the camels.” Mou’ha says. (I had forgotten about the camels.) “But only enough for this afternoon and tomorrow morning. By mid-day tomorrow, we’ll be high enough in the Atlas that we can drink right from the source.”
I’m not entirely sure what Mou’ha means by this. When he says ‘source’ he may be referring to clean water shooting out of a rock somewhere, but I’m pretty certain such springs have all dried up. In fact, the Chinese Himalayas, (the so-called ‘Roof of the World’) was the last remaining region on Earth to officially join the Water-Stressed list in 2057. Even still, reports of glacial runoff in the Greater Himalayas have gone unconfirmed for almost a decade.
The truck comes to a stop with a whiplash-inducing jerk that wakes me up. As the dust from our abrupt halt settles, I see a line of five dromedaries standing daisy-chained together maybe fifty feet in front of the truck. They are pissing and shitting and chewing. Mou’ha knocks on my window.
“I must have fallen asleep,” I report awkwardly.
“Now, we walk!” he says, again with that damned trivializing grin.
And boy, do we walk! We walk for four hours uphill across inclines of jagged rocks, then downhill through cactus brush and gravel, and, when we are lucky, we walk along flat plateaus of soft red clay. We walk through one-mule towns where villagers ogle at our curious convoy (funded by The Atlantic), and we walk through dust-bowls as big as ones on Mars. At times, there are only narrow paths carved out by small animals. Most of the time, there are no paths at all. And because I am the slowest member of the convoy, I walk through puddles of camel piss and try my best to dodge balls of shit that fall from the camels’ asses to the ground like meteorites. At 8:00pm, we arrive at our campsite.
The two camel drivers from the Western Sahara, Afra and Hussein, begin to unpack the loads off the camels’ back while Mou’ha sets up tents. Hamou, our cook, sits barefoot while peeling carrots and potatoes. I can feel the temperature dropping drastically as the sun scuttles behind the mountains to the west. I grab my winter jacket from my pack and a mickey of whiskey I brought from London. One by one, the camels wander off into the brush behind camp to chew grass and grind their teeth (which they do all night long).
The camp is a fairly modest affair. There are four canvas tents: my sleeping tent, a dining tent, a kitchen tent and a bathroom tent with a bucket of hot water for washing and a small plastic box filled with chemicals to be used as a toilet. As the temperature continues to plummet, Mou’ha and the two camel drivers put on head scarfs and long flowing robes that look like ladies’ nightgowns. Hamou seems quite content in his old rugby shirt, shorts and sandals. He wears a headlamp to provide extra light in the dark kitchen tent. I start to secretly swig away at my whiskey.
“During our trek,” I say to Mou’ha as we drink mint tea in the dining tent, “we passed many women standing precariously on cliff faces looking for something. What were they doing?”
“Every family,” Mou’ha responds, “has a goat, a sheep and maybe a cow that they keep in the lower level of their house and they need to feed the animals. It’s the women’s job to find grasses or brush and bring it back home for the livestock. But nowadays, they have found themselves having to walk further and further just to find greenery. Sometimes even having to climb cliff walls because they are more shielded from the harsh sun and so have more growth.”
“Why not buy feed from somewhere else?” I can’t help but ask.
“Villagers in our kingdom don’t think like this,” he replies. “They make do with what they have access to, instead of bringing what they need from all over the country, or the world. The grass is out there, they just have to find it. That’s all. It’s just a challenge. People in our kingdom are ready for challenges. Unlike other people in richer countries who try to outsmart the challenge and try to get rid of it and make life easier.”
“Shouldn’t life be as easy as possible?” I ask.
“No. Not at the cost of something else,” Mou’ha says. “Usually, to eliminate these challenges, rich people will invent something and that invention will no doubt cause harm to something else. Maybe it will harm the environment or maybe it will harm the poor. It will eliminate their challenge but create another challenge somewhere else, for somebody else. The world has to start living with challenges instead of try to fix them.” He pours some more mint tea as dinner is served. “It’s a God-given right to live. But it’s not a God-given right to live easily.”
“Your philosophy does not bode well for progress.”
“Progress is a strange thing,” says Mou’ha. “Everybody’s idea of it is different.”
“The invention of food cubes has curbed world hunger,” I say. “The invention of cloud-seeding has made crop harvesting in water-stressed countries a possibility again after decades of desertification. 3D printing has made organ donation waiting lists a thing of the past and developments in nano-particles have cured numerous diseases and forms of cancer that were previously thought incurable. Just look at this chip here,” I take the grain-of-rice sized chip out of my eyeglasses and display it the palm of my hand. “This is a DNA drive. It has more available space on it than a million of the largest digital data drives. It makes it possible to record every single thing I see and everything I hear during this entire trek.”
“The 3D printer that prints organs,” Mou’ha says, “don’t other people use it to print illegal weapons?”
Mou’ha thinks for a moment while slurping his harira soup.
“Make good with bread and butter,” he says, “until Allah brings the jam.”
“What does that mean?” I ask.
“We’d rather just walk a couple of miles to find grass for our animals,” he says.
Day two. Our convoy of man and beast has stopped at the peak of a 600m mount. At the top is the sixteenth century Sidi Moussa granary built out of stone and clay. Ancient villagers from Timmit used it for secure storage of surplus carpets, grains, jewels and food. With a 360 degree panorama, guards could see bands of thieves coming from miles away. And what a panorama it is! The mountain we’re on is dry and wild. A sepia-toned lump baking under the hot Moroccan sun. Same goes for the mountain beside us, and the mountain beside that. Every mountain in sight is parched.
But inside the hollow basin in the middle of the Addazen mountain range is an impossibly lush valley. As though every tree, every fat shrub, every blade of grass and pixel of moss lost its grip on the mountain slopes and slid down to form a perfect, uninterrupted carpet of green. It’s a Shangri-La. In more ways than one, in fact. Mou’ha tells me later that he has never been to a doctor. In the thirty-six years of his life, he has been perfectly healthy. He’s the first person I’ve ever met who has never seen the stark, depressing interior of a hospital. Most of his friends have a similarly perfect bill of health he claims. With unmodified life expectancy at its lowest point since 2021, it’s no wonder that Mohamed VII has sheltered his salubrious kingdom.
We make our way down the windward side of the mountain. I, with great effort, the others, with ease. Even the camels make the descent look like a stroll on the beach. They can traverse this craggy terrain and shit while doing it without missing as much as a step. I am having so much trouble finding my footing that Mou’ha lends me his walking stick. Using it makes me feel like a frail old spinster on a Sunday saunter through the woods. But I am in too much pain to give a damn.
On the floor of the next valley, Mou’ha and his men walk toward an old stone bridge that is covered in moss. By the time I catch up, I see them scaling down the dirt hill beside the bridge in order to get to a bathtub-sized reservoir that is filled with clear, gurgling water. “The source,” Mou’ha says as he fills up empty plastic water bottles. I follow them down to the reservoir, cup my hand in the water and bring it up to my mouth for a drink. It’s totally different from the processed or desalinated shit I’m used to. This water is so clean that drinking it is almost a religious experience.
“I told you there was a source,” Mou’ha says, grinning.
“I’ve never tasted natural mineral water,” I respond. “I’ve never seen it. Never tasted it. Don’t know anyone who has ever tasted it. Do you know how much a litre of this would go for on the streets of London? Rich men would part with their fortunes for a drink like this.” Suddenly, I wonder if it will make me sick. While Mou’ha continues to restock our water supply I go off exploring.
In this valley there are apple orchards, olive groves, orange groves, fields of corn, potatoes, carrots, lettuce, herbs and also grasses that are specifically grown for livestock feed. Old, leather-faced women carry giant sacks of crops on their backs as they walk, hunched and happy, to god-knows-where. Men twenty-years younger than they look are down upon bended knee pulling up fresh vegetables by the root and chucking them into growing piles. Patient camels and pack-mules idle in the distance, awaiting their daily burdens. And working through the entire landscape are irrigation channels. Some small dug-out ditches with large rocks crammed in the openings for dams. Other large concrete-sided gutters with fully built-out dams. Everywhere I go the sound of babbling water follows me. And everywhere I look, something is planted and growing. The scene depicts perfectly the still-possible harmony between man and his Mother Nature. It’s a beautiful setting and I forget, just for the moment, that my feet feel as though they’re in a meat grinder and my thighs burn like a thousand screaming suns.
Over dinner, I ask Mou’ha about the family we are to meet up with tomorrow.
“They are from the Ait Atta tribe,” he says. “Years ago, there were many nomadic Berber tribes and within those tribes were many families. Twice a year they would migrate. But now, the Ayt Atiq family is the very last of the nomadic Berbers.”
“Where have they all gone?”
“To the cities,” he says. “If they have many goats or sheep, they can sell them off and move to the city and live quite well. As more families did this, other families wanted to do the same.”
“Out of greed?”
“Perhaps a little,” he says with disappointment. “But life grew very hard for the nomads. Things like deforestation and climate change make it very difficult for them to find food for their animals. They have to walk farther, migrate farther every year. One generation from now, the nomadic Berber people will be extinct.”
“That’s a rather sad prospect,” I remark.
“Yes,” he says. “But humans have changed and ruined the planet so much that no life is left for people who live entirely off the fruits of the Earth.”
Mou’ha grows quiet for a few minutes. As a Moroccan with Berber blood, I am sure the systematic vanishing of his ancestors’ way of life hits him hard. According to the World Cultural Society, who have the last recorded census information from the region, the numbers of nomadic Berber in the High Atlas Mountains has plummeted consistently from 9,201 in 2015 to a trifling 129 in 2050. Now, in 2059, there is only the Ayt Atiq family left.
“You’d better get some sleep,” Mou’ha says, breaking the silence. “Tomorrow we hike up to the Izoughar lake bed where the family lives during the summer season. It’s a very wild and demanding trek.” I take my mint tea into my tent. It’s so cold through the night, I sleep with my jacket on and take swigs of whiskey whenever the chill is strong enough to wake me up.
Here I am, retracing the steps of prehistoric man and shitting into a plastic chemical loo in the dirt. Four-hundred and sixty-five babies are born every minute. Had Tanazârt n Ayt Atiq held on for a second or two more, I could have found myself basking in the tropical sun on a small Caribbean island or skiing the alps. The eight billionth person could have been the daughter of a classical French chef in Paris or of a wealthy foreign diplomat living in a colonial palace in Singapore. She could have been born to bohemian artists in Southern California or even small business owners in the Midwest. Hell, I’d have even preferred her to be the daughter of glassy-eyed junkies on a reserve in Canada somewhere. Anything but this. Anything but the daughter of a semi-nomadic tribe living upon dying mountain plains in Africa three days hike from civilization. And the last semi-nomadic Berber family on the planet! What are the odds?
I think about this as I tail our lumbering caravan up untrodden mountainous slopes. I think about this as I feel a morton’s neuroma start to develop in the ball of my right foot. I think about this as my cubesat phone loses the last little ticky of its signal thus leaving me with no way of communicating with Nancy back in Marrakech. I think about Nancy being scrubbed with fragrant black olive soap and massaged in a warm, humid room. Lucky.
It’s high noon on day three. We reach the peak of the mountain and look down the other side upon the sweeping, dried lakebed of Izoughar. It winds itself around the foundations of hulking mountains as far as the eye can see. Massive clouds of sand and dirt sail elegantly to and fro along the plateau like swarms of locusts in search of a feast. Sheep and goats dot the land like decimal points and the faint sounds of their bleating is carried towards us on the swirling winds. The spectacle is so grand that I imagine it could only be truly appreciated from the window of a space station or from the eye of a god.
“Where are they?” I ask Mou’ha.
“On the other side of the lake bed,” he responds (yes, with the fateful grin of impending torture he has so expertly mastered). And so we make our way down the windward slope and enter the majestic dust bowl, the valley of the gods.
After a few more torturous hours we come within sight of the family’s camp. It’s lodged slightly up the slope of a mountain on a level patch of earth. But, I am disappointed. I expected a series of a few different smaller tents, perhaps draped in velvet of a deep blue or purple colour. Perhaps with small jewels ordaining the seams. Perhaps some ornate carpets with decorative pillows scattered on them. Perhaps, even, a regal-looking camel standing guard. In my naiveté, I had based all my expectations on a Arabian story I heard as a child. Instead, I see old black cloth drapes depressively from one spindly wood pole to another. The fabric is worn away, ripped and faded. Beneath this shabby roof is a tangled mess of makeshift furniture with no apparent arrangement. A mangy dog barks at us. A sad little pack-mule beside the tent shits where it stands. Old, garish, plastic children’s toys are littered all over the place, inside and out. A baby cries, though I can’t see it. The tableau resembles more of a refugee camp than an exotic nomadic Berber encampment.
A man exits the tent and walks out to greet us. He is all smiles. Mou’ha begins speaking with him in old Berber. The man looks more like a tramp than a nomad. He wears an old gashed-up men’s blazer that’s at least four sizes too large for him. Old baggy slacks. American-made rubber sandals. Stubble. We seem to be in the throes of negotiation, though I can’t understand a word. After twenty minutes of back and forth, Mou’ha turns to me.
“We’re discussing the plan,” Mou’ha says.
“Is that her crying?” I ask.
“Yes,” Mou’ha says, “I think so.”
“Can we see her?” I ask.
“Well, it’s more complicated than that,” Mou’ha says.
“He wants money,” Mou’ha explains. “He says that you will come and look at his family and take photographs and write things down and then go home and make lots of money from it.”
“How much does he want?” I ask.
Mou’ha hesitates. He’s obviously put off. “Two thousand American dollars.”
“Holy shit!” I shout as Mou’ha winces. “What would he even do with that kind of money?”
“I don’t know,” Mou’ha says. “He also says that tonight is the family’s last night here on the lake. Tomorrow morning they leave for their migration, south to the Sahara. So he has a lot of work to do. He says it has to be worth his while.”
“Ask him if Allah condones extortion.”
“Go on,” I say, “ask him.”
Mou’ha asks. The man smiles as he responds to Mou’ha. There is an awkward levity afterward. I look to Mou’ha for the translation.
“He quoted an old Berber saying,” Mou’ha says bashfully, “‘Put your trust in Allah, but tie your camel first.'”
Ten minutes later, we settle on a price of one thousand dollars. The Atlantic will reimburse me. Everyone is happy and over the transaction, but I still feel swindled. This is why Nancy and I don’t travel. Nowhere is safe. Nowhere is sacred. The white man is not a man. He is a bank machine. But still, I am here to work. The man, who is introduced to me after the transaction as Izem, happily takes Mou’ha and myself under his blacktop. He doesn’t even bother to ask why I am so damn interested in his newborn daughter. He doesn’t care. He’s got his cash in his hand. Hamou and the camel drivers wander off to pitch our camp.
“He says her name is Tanazârt n Ayt Ati,” Mou’ha says to me as I remove my glasses to make sure that they are recording.
We’re standing over what can only be described as a manger and looking down at a dark brown ball of mush as she wails, mouth open like a yawn, with all her newborn might. After three days of peace and quiet, the sound is paralyzing. She is wrapped in an old bleached red cloth. It has fraying yellow embroidery on it. Izem tries to rock the crib back and forth subtly. It has absolutely no effect. The baby shrew remains untamed. Her mother appears, as if out of nowhere, to take her away. With the main attraction gone, Mou’ha and I head back down to our camp.
After dinner, Mou’ha, Hamou, the camel drivers and I all make our way back up to Izem’s camp. Night has come and profound darkness has come with it. There’s no electricity for hundreds of miles. A trillion stars, a million cube-sats, and a handful of space stations shimmering above us in a salt and pepper night sky are the only lights by which we can see our path back up the slope. The sky is so densely populated with twinkling lights that the mountains surrounding us are visible merely by their silhouettes. And in the middle of the sheet of stars, Jupiter shines brightest like a torchbearer for the cosmos.
The family has lit a small fire for warmth. Izem’s sons, maybe five and seven years old, are sitting in front of the fire with the palms of their hands stretched out to the heat. Mou’ha tells me that the two boys spend all day herding the flocks up in the mountains. Hamou and the camel drivers begin singing old Berber folk tunes as they sit around the fire. I take discreet sips from my mickey of whiskey. Izem brings some more firewood. Tanazârt is still in her mother’s arms. She is awake but quiet. Thank god.
“Would you like to hold her?” Izem asks me, through Mou’ha’s translation.
“Sure,” I say. Izem’s wife stands and walks over to me. She places Tanazârt in my arms.
This is it. I’m holding the eight billionth human on the planet and the farce of the last three days suddenly seems worth it. I can make out the distant silhouettes of our camels at the foot of the slope. I can see Jupiter still shining brightly. Hamou and the camel drivers sit side by side like three wise men. And the miraculous infant is falling asleep in my arms. The scene is distinctly biblical.
But Tanazârt is no saviour. In fact, she is the opposite. She is a symbol of our mortality. She is a reminder that even though humankind knows no limits, the planet upon which we reside does. As much as we rely on innovations and breakthroughs we must remember that Mother Nature, the great equalizer, is our final judge and jury. With the birth of Tanazârt, so too was born mankind’s next great challenge and while we can put our trust in technology, we should all tie our camels first.
I wake up the following morning and stumble out of my tent. It’s cold, I’m exhausted and my joints feel as though they’re mudded with concrete. I glance up the mountain slope for Izem’s camp but I see only an empty patch of level earth. The family is gone. Embarked upon their arduous migration south leaving behind only a field full of still-warm sheep dung. I wonder where they’ll make camp? I wonder how long they will keep migrating for? I wonder if Izem will be the last nomadic Berber on earth? I wonder if Tanazârt will ever know exactly who she is? I wonder if she would care?
Now, we start our journey back to Marrakech. Back to Nancy. Back to the other 7,999,999,999.
Jeff Campagna is a Canadian freelance journalist, author and world traveller
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