Omar and the lakes in the dunes

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They started in Marrakesh to cross the High Atlas at sunrise. Hedda did not agree with Hamid who wanted to reach the stony desert exactly in the afternoon heat - but he insisted. He thought it would take them for the journey a full day, until midnight to understand why they had met.

Hedda was touched by Hamid´s paintings, which had been published on one of the Moroccan art platforms. She enjoyed his postings on Facebook: Storytelling of the invisible - traditional ornaments on faces full of expectation. They started to chat and carried on for months before she decided to see him.

Lately Hedda got stuck in boring math and physics seminars. Without inspiration she played with complex equations and intangible forces. Her interest in quantum mechanics disappeared like the photons in all her experiments. What´s her next publication? A world changing formula, a very personal e=mc2? Hedda had no clue! But now on her way to the Moroccan art world good old Nobel could wait at least for a wile.

Hamid plays an outstanding role in the local art scene and he is active in visual storytelling on several digital platforms. In last week´s online chat with Hedda they discussed how to unleash creativity between artists and scientists. Could they develop a common visual and verbal language? Maybe this was reason enough to meet, he thought by himself. And so he did, with his black curly hair and still sleepy dark eyes - a magician for a student from northern Europe.

The four-wheel drive blows up a cloud of sand from the stony track towards Fint – a touristy oasis with a lake surrounded by palm trees - classic Hollywood. ”Rain or drought? You survive or you die. In the killing heat of the Sahara there are only two possibilities: Yes or No.” Hedda continued: “This is what we have learned over millions of years. The desert and the oasis - we see the water and feel the sand between our toes. How about the invisible world of photons?”

This was too much theory for black hair and dark eyes. Before lunch and over 40°C Hamid could not talk about counterintuitive science. He feels irritated by PhD-Hedda. Yes or no? Life is not that simple. Hamid proposed to watch the colors of the desert instead. They decided for a brief rest in the shade. He offered mint tea and dates and unexpectedly out of a long silence he said:

“People are very poor in the desert. They imagine rich guys live in the city. In my country everybody pretends to know someone who is rich and they call him: “Omar.” They are convinced that Omar will show up some day, will buy food for all and pay for a water cistern in the village.” And slowly Hamid ended his thought: “I spent my life to paint Omar for my people. They need to see him even if he does not exist. This changes all our lives.”

Hedda took a sip from her mint tea and grabbed some dry dates. “You tell the unseen. You paint the story of hope. You exercise the vocabulary of the invisible. Could you do the same for me? Please design a sheep for me” Hedda joked and added seriously: ”You storyteller, paint some entangled photons and I will call them Omar.” “It´s easy to paint the non-existing.” And after a long pause Hamid added: “It´s difficult to sketch the invisible.” Hedda smiled and felt connected again with her Moroccan magician.

Another two hours drive in dry heat followed. All of a sudden Hamid stopped the car.
He pointed to the horizon “Again an oasis with a lake? Do you see the blue water between the dunes?” he challenged her: “Go to proof it.” Hedda remembers her lab experience: Photons are here and not here and if you want to proof it, all of them are gone. Will the analogies of a quantum mirage support her to find an elegant equation?

Hedda had seen rainbows but never before experienced a fata morgana. Hamid explained: “Kids grow up in the desert with existing and non existing lakes, with objects present and absent. It’s a part of their reality.” Hedda ascertained: “The next generation will live with intuitive access to the invisible. The quantum world will be common sense and quantum computing a simple tool facilitating shopping.”

“Let´s stay out here in the desert and contemplate on Omar and the mirage.” “Fine! We´re going to have a picnic and enjoy the open sky.” Hamid hoped that Hedda for a moment would forget digital logic for a moment, her algorithms and the European winter. He prepared a campfire and started to play the traditional Berber drums called “bendir.” Every minute the sunset changed the color of the sand and the fair complexion of Hedda´s face.

Staring into the campfire Hamid suddenly understood the meaning of his paintings and his stories. They are the ongoing exercises to find new words, explorations in verbal and visual languages.” Hedda again smiled at him: “This is my first night in the dessert. Magician – come close and tell me your story until sunrise.” Hamid looked at her and saw all traditional ornaments of Morocco mirrored in Hedda´s face. Close to midnight both understood, why they had to travel across the High Atlas and why they had to visit the tangible and intangible lakes in the dunes.

Three days later at the Casablanca airport Hedda promised, that she will never forget the colors of the desert and the expressions of the mirage. Hamid remembered the too often repeated words of farewell and paused for a moment. Departures on the foggy airfield of Casablanca always become quite dramatic.

About the Author: 
Bob Kastner; based in Vienna, Austria; Head of Candeed Cue; works in science communication with social impact for media, analysts, investors, tech industry; he produces visual and verbal narratives on upcoming key technologies; in co-creation with artists and scientists; recent project: Quantum Computing.