The Pilot has just announced it. We are 31,000 feet above sea level.
I am on a flight from Cairo going back to Lagos at the end of the Players’ Committee meeting of the Confederation of African Football, CAF, of which I am a member.
I look out of the window. There is not a single cloud in sight. The scene before my eyes is of the clearest blue sky.
Beneath the clear blue sky at eye level and the expansive view below, as far as the eyes can see, is baked earth of sand and more sand, a sea idle and motionless. It is not like anything I have ever seen before.
Words freeze in my thoughts, inadequate and inappropriate to capture this awesome, bewildering, magnificent and beautiful scene before me.
Nothing is stirring or moving. Nothing! Even time has to show some respect and stand at attention.
The sun is at work, blazing and baking the land, forming little dark shadows behind a million little dunes of sand – an eerie spectacle of uncompleted waves frozen in mid-action!
Suddenly, my eyes catch a movement, a flash of something at the corner of my vision. Rooftops? Yes, a cluster of rooftops down below in the distance. A little settlement of some sort. An oasis?
I am staring hard. A thin straight line appears from the huddling huts, cuts through the sand and into the distance, vanishing into the static waves of more sand. A magician is at work here.
I settle down to watch more of the unfolding still-life drama. Seconds turn to minutes, and the picture remains the same – a perfect painting etched in a perfect day.
Suddenly, the set changes! We are moving over a darker terrain. The sandy mounds develop long shadows. Some light travels through the thin clouds revealing the views below them of slow-waltzing shadows on the desert floor.
Bigger sand dunes emerge winding through the brown scorched earth like the snakes on the head of Medusa the Gorgon.
A large rocky mountain range comes into view slowly swallowing the sandy environment. Oh, the magician is at work again, changing the set.
We are flying through thicker white clouds now that mark their presence with bigger shadows cast upon the rugged mountain.
This is the meeting point between the sand, the sea in the distance and the rocky mountain with grooves cut into it like the dry beds of a river, thousands of them meandering and cascading down the slope of the mountain to the bottom of cliffs, gorges and valleys, their story buried in unknown and untold history. Can these be the Atlas Mountains?
The magician is running out of time. He is now in a hurry. He changes his set once again.
The aircraft conspires and dips lower to reveal lacerations on the sides of the jagged mountain, with a smooth and featureless plateau of sand at the top. This view lasts only for a short while, as little pyramids of sand appear suddenly from nowhere to take over in this display of nature’s masterpiece.
I stare in utter reverence and wonder. At this moment, there is not a more magnificent view in the world. Thousands of little cones of earth and sand decorate the landscape in all directions. The great builders of ancient Egyptian civilisation must have derived their inspiration for the pyramids from this natural environment.
The evening is approaching, the shadows are growing longer, and at the top end and sides of each pyramid is a shadow forming, of an arch in the sand, scooped out as if with a giant spoon by a master craftsman. The arches soon turn to craters, perfect hollows cut out from the top of each pyramid. Only nature could have created this perfect piece of unique architecture. The craters remind me of pictures of the surface of the moon, or some other planets displaying the scars of previous cataclysmic upheavals.
Nothing stirs as I stare at this endless stretch of desolation with my senses dulled by the monotony of the silent drone of the aircraft effortlessly gliding through the clear afternoon skies. If some alien were to land in this part of the earth, as we now do on Mars, the moon and some other planetary bodies, what would they think of it?
The voice of an air hostess interrupts my reverie.
I am looking at the screen in front of me with its changing maps of our location en route. The information on it tells me we are still some 2000 kilometres from our final destination – Lagos.
I make a rough calculation. For the past two hours, we have been flying over the Sahara Desert.
The steward leans over me and pulls down the shutter of the window beside me. It is time to either bunker down or watch a movie.