Our guide into the desert was no more than 16, but he had the demeanor of someone with years of experience. The kid was no nonsense. No artificial pleasantries were exchanged. He led us to the camp, tied up the camels, pointed to our respective tents, prepared a meal, cleaned up and lit a fire in the sand.
The only time he said more than two words was when he came looking for me on an adjacent dune. It was almost midnight. I was photographing the Milky Way using a tripod with long exposures. He looked at my setup and said in French, "difficile" (difficult). I showed him a picture on the screen. "O, très bon" (very good). He motioned far into the distance to a faint orange glow in the horizon and proclaimed, “Rissani.” I mimed a steering wheel and said, “Yes, I drove from Rissani here to Merzouga,” the dusty town on the edge of the Sahara on a dead end road that caters to tourists. Is your family from Rissani”? “No, I from Merzouga.” “Where you from?” “Je suis de la Pologne” (I'm from Poland). He nodded.
I tripped the camera shutter for another exposure hoping to avoid the small clouds passing through my shot. He pointed up at the sky behind us. "You know name?" "No," I said. "Cassiopeia,” he said with conviction. I confirmed it on my app, not because I didn't believe him, but to see the spelling. He then named other constellations as he motioned to the vast sea of lights. I stared at the vivid spectacle mesmerized. I had never seen so many stars. We sat there on the dune staring at the universe for another five minutes in silence. He got up to leave, "bon nuit" (good night). I replied, "à demain" (until tomorrow). He disappeared behind the dune as fast as he appeared. I never did get his name, but to me, he'll be Le Petite Prince.