Life-defining storypublished: 2010-01-03
We all have a life-defining story to tell. It’s that one story we tell people we meet, and often other people are telling each other about us. Someone will have been fired at age 59. Then what? Or has contracted an exotic neurological disease of some sort. Had parents who were missionaries.
Or if you’re lucky, you get to hear the story of a man who was kidnapped by Tuareg freedom fighters at age 27. He just so happened to be crossing the Sahara on a motorbike. Not his first time across the Sahara, of course. He’d done it many times before. He said the most reliable vehicle proved to be a Volkswagen bus. The Mercedes was a complete nightmare. All this took place in the early nineties, when adventures were still adventures and spending three nights alone at a waterhole (hoping to trick the bandits into believing you had disappeared) meant complete solitude. To then be hunted, chased, have guns held against your chest, wait with your hands on your head for one hour while your kidnappers discuss your fate. After which it is decided: thou shall be dumped in the middle of the Sahara with 17 liters of water in only the clothes you are wearing. Being leather pants, leather jacket, heavy boots.
He had bought a goatskin bag. In it a book by Aristotle. Not that he really felt like reading it while balancing on the border of death.
He walked nights and during the day he dug himself into the sand to protect himself from the sun
The 17 liters of water were finished by day two. The hallucinations weren’t scary. If anything, perhaps the pain in the throat was. And lucky enough, a jeep with locals turned up on a track in the distance. Otherwise he would have certainly died as he was 600 km away from the first village.
This is the story I was told today. I said, “you should write it down.”
“Maybe I will,” he said, “one day.”
He then turned to look at the same blue sea I was looking at, his oldest son was falling asleep between his knees. Mine was swimming.