Off to a small town at 42 kilometers from Jaisalmer called Sam, driving on the road leading to the Pakistani border. It is only 120 km away. I think I could step into another country, without any passport with me…one foot in India, the other in Pakistan…There is nothing to see in Sam really, I am going there to have a Camel ride in the Thar desert.
My camel is there waiting for me, its name is Mister Rocket and the camel driver is called Salim, he is 18 years old, has 4 brothers and 2 sisters, and spent his whole life in Sam. The atmosphere is so peaceful, the desert is extended miles and miles around me, there are a few trees that apparently do not need water from the sky to grow and live because their roots are very deep in the ground and they take the water from the earth.
Salim and I started talking and he was telling me he never went to school because in Sam, there is no school and the closest school is in Jaisalmer but unfortunately, the city is too far for him. He has always worked taking the tourists on his camel. The little English he has, he has learnt from the tourists but he said he does not have a good level still. But his hope is that by the time he is 20 years old, he improves his English and speaks as if he had been to school. When he told me that, his eyes were filled with stars, and it went straight to my heart. An Indian child’s dream, realistic and heartbreaking. He seems well aware that knowing English in his country is one of the key to success and it would help him find another job, if he wanted to.
However he looks happy, in his environment, and the love he has for his camel is striking. The camel is 6 years old and he does not spend a single day without Mister Rocket. His best friend I suppose…the one who hears all about his thoughts, dreams and complains about life. Even though, I think Indian people have a fascinating way of being happy with whatever they have, and never complain about anything. In public at least, maybe they do at the temple to their own Gods…
But as a matter of fact, it is so nice to have such people around and us, Europeans, have a tendency to complain too often: the bus is coming late, there are too many people, no seat, too much work, not enough free time to enjoy life with family and friends… and so on. To me, Indian people are an example in that kind of way.
At the start of the ride, there were people trying to sell drinks and souvenirs, one came a few meters along with us. Once on the dunes to see the sunset, he was back and I could hear his American accent.
Salim later explained that that guy (Vicky) had been to an American school, and his disappointed tone meant “he, at least, got a chance to go to school, and even better, an American one” and it broke my heart. So I got rid of the boy and told him I was really not interested in drinks and he should try the group of French people over there.
I found all the plastic and glass bottles thrown everywhere in the sand very sad, a lack of respect from the tourists and I told him. He said the Indian tourists are responsible for it, not the foreigners. Don’t know whether to believe it or not.
Now that I could spend some time with Salim, I showed him the pictures I had taken of him and Mister Rocket during the first part of the ride. He was so happy to see himself on the camera! He had a look at all the pictures and asked if I enjoyed my previous visits. We enjoyed the sunset together, chatting in this lunar landscape.
On the way back, he offered me to try a bit of running….it could be fun and I trusted him. So off we went! A camel always looks so calm that it is hard to think it can actually run!
Once the ride was over, I asked Jabbar, my guide, if he could take note of Salim’s address so I could print the pictures I had of him once back in Europe, and post them to him, that is something I wanted to do for him. This boy’s story had really touched me. I was thinking about him the whole way back to Jaisalmer, and at night before sleeping. That is the kind of people you meet and you may have spent only one hour or two with that person, you know you will never forget about them…