The girls finally left around 5 AM. They were so accustomed to journeying at night, that they knew their home territory even in the dark. Until the day broke, they counted on the positions of the stars to guide them northwest beyond their home territory, toward the closest well. For the first few hours of the journey, the girls walked alongside their donkeys, not wanting to tire their animals before the heat set in. Already temperatures were over 38 degrees; by 7 AM the heat would be nearly unbearable.
At first, the girls walked in silence. Takat was practically sleepwalking, until she tripped on a large stone. She fell to the ground, burying a long acacia thorn into her leg. Her shrieks of pain sent shivers through Mouheini’s body; all three of them felt exhausted, even as the voyage was just beginning. Mouheini helped removed the thorn; as the eldest, it was her responsibility to care for the younger girls. She took Takat in her arms, “Now now, dear, we must continue on to the well’” she said. “If we get there early enough, there will be more water, and we’ll be able to get home faster.” Seeing that this reassurance had little effect, she added, “I will tell you a story I learned about a genie, if you get up and walk.” Takat nodded that she wanted to hear her cousin’s story. Raichatou chimed in, “Yes, please tell us a story, otherwise I’m going to fall asleep!”
Mouheini, though she also felt the effects of too little sleep, took it upon herself to cheer up her little cousins. She told her stories until a halo of pink encircled the eastern horizon, announcing the rising sun. The splendor of first dawn brought extra joy to the girls, despite the bittersweet reality that the heat would also begin rising on the trail of the sun.
“Let’s take a break to rest and eat before it gets too hot,” Mouheini proposed. Takat and Raichatou both eagerly answered, “Yes!” They removed a plastic mat from one of the donkeys, laid it on the ground, and sat down. Mouheini pulled out her dried meat, Takat her gourd of fermented goat milk, and Raichatou unpeeled a cloth wrap that hid the traditional Tuareg boule of millet. They untied a small metal bowl, into which they scooped a portion of the millet which had been cooked into a paste and formed into a ball, and stirred in milk and a little water. United under the splendor of sunrise, the girls enjoyed their meager feast and forgot about the challenges of the morning so far, as well as those that might lay ahead.
After a short rest, they packed up their belongings onto their donkeys and continued their journey. The closer they got to the deep nomad well, the easier it became to ignore the constant flies and sweat trickling down their faces. They sang and giggled freely, while Mouheini became even more creative with her stories. They no longer felt defeated by their thirst and dehydration. Around an hour away from their destination, they shared their last few drops of water, trusting that they soon would fill their jerry cans and drink to their heart’s content.