Deep in the heart of nomad country, an old clan leader asked if we would help him carry a briar bed to his compound. His goat pen was running a bit sparse and there had been hyenas casing the joint. These were good thorns, long and sharp, good pastoralist barbed wire. We agreed, so he hoisted the brush atop the luggage rack and held on to the Cruiser’s ladder. It was only a couple hundred meters, he said in his Cushite language.
I think of Moses’ father-in-law. Was he small and wispy like this clan leader? Did he light a fire at the midnight heckle of the hyenas? Was he a thorn dweller; did he make gates from desert quills?
I wonder about Moses. Those years before he turned the Nile to blood, did he wander with the camels? Did he rediscover his nomadic roots, the roots of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? What better preparation for a forty year wandering, I think.
We find the clan leaders hut and he unloads the thorns. He looks at me, sizes me up and points to my camera. He smiles broadly, laughs,and asks the translator if I could take his photograph. I oblige.
Then, he reaches for the camera, takes it from my neck with authority, and turns the lens to me. He holds the body a foot away from his eye, tries his best to frame me up. I half push the shutter button, in part to focus, in part to teach him how to capture a picture. He presses and the camera fires. He jumps a bit, surprised by the click. He sees the image display on the back of the camera and laughs with an ancient joy.
These people, they are good.