Thursday, August 31, 2006

Tea in the Desert

I listened to Sting's "Tea in the Sahara" many times before looking into the story behind the song. It is a tragic and heartbreaking story. The song is haunting and beautiful and sets the stage for a telling of the old Berber tale. That tale is one of seeking and longing and broken promises.

For those who don't know the tale ...

Three sisters dream of taking tea together in the Sahara, but they are too poor. They must find a way to earn enough money to make that trip. So they seek their fortunes in a village that borders the great desert. The men of the village are ugly and pay them very little for their labors. The sisters fear they will never make enough money to have their tea in the Sahara. One day, a tall and handsome prince arrives in the village and tells stories of the desert and his home. The sisters are entranced by both the prince and his tales. He asks them to dance for him and he pays them in silver. He makes love to them and makes promises to them. But in the morning he leaves. The sisters live for many months with the longing and hope of seeing the prince again and of going into the Sahara to have tea. Eventually they can take this longing no more and trade their silver for a tea set and a caravan trip into the desert. One night the three sisters leave the caravan and set out by the light of the moon to have their tea on the sand dunes. They search for the highest dune so they might view the entire desert with a hope of finding the prince. With each sand dune there seems to be another one in the distance that is higher and will give them a more sweeping view. They walk through the night and into the blazing sun of the following day. Finally, atop a high sand dune, they decide to rest awhile and then have their tea. They sleep. Many days later another caravan comes upon the three sisters. They are still laying where they had fallen asleep. Their tea glasses are full ... of sand.

This got me thinking about what it is we seek -- what it is we desire with a longing so fierce that we would walk through the noonday heat of the desert. And about unkept promises.

Do we seek a "higher sand dune"? Sand dunes are constantly shifting you know. The highest one today may be the lowest tomorrow. And in the event of a wind storm you will be buried by the very sand you desire so much.

Do we desire a "tall handsome prince"? Someone who pleases the eye and will say things we want to hear? "Tall handsome princes" rarely act like the noble characters of fairy tales. You may find yourself crossing a desert to find someone who is no more than a mirage ... and waiting for the fulfillment of a promise that won't be kept.

The purpose of this post is not to tell you what I seek or for what I long. It is rather to ask you to think about these things yourself and to ask yourself if what you seek and long for is worth it.

The desert can be beautiful, especially by moonlight, but it is also a harsh and unforgiving place. We can't avoid the desert, but would you choose to walk across it looking for something with no lasting value or for something that doesn't really exist? Make the journey worth the struggle and adversity. And during that journey, don't lose sight of the beauty. Stop and have your tea under the moon.

If you would like to read the lyrics to "Tea in the Sahara" go here.


  1. Life, in and of itself, is all about choices and struggles. It's what makes it both worth living and at the same time, interesting.

    However, there isn't a promise made, that cannot be broken.

  2. I like the image of life being a desert that can be harsh and beautiful at the same time. Tea in the desert under the moon -- beautiful!

    Indeed we choose and we struggle but I'm glad for the times we can choose and avoid a hot walk under the sun.

    Your other commenter notes that there isn't a promise made that cannot be broken. This is true. We've all been hurt by the broken promnises of others and we don't have control over that. It is a part of the "desert" of life. But I would think that the point here is what we do have control over, and that would be how well we keep our promises to others.

  3. Thank you to both Alexandra and Anonymous for leaving comments. Comments often help me to tighten my writing and help to say more clearly what it is I'm trying to express! You might notice a slight re-write on this post which comes from your comments and those of a couple of others that mentor me in the area of writing. One thing I've done is to "re-tell" the Berber tale and have tried to be a better storyteller -- one that draws "listeners" into the story. The other thing I have done is to re-write the last paragraph in order to make it less "preachy," which was never the intent.

    Hope y'all enjoy the re-write!