The Sandstorm Numbed in Tupperware

Project supervised by:
Agata Jaworska

All the movement, all the particles flying through the desert, all the emotions triggered in me by being in this environment are now stored away, disconnected from their natural environment, disconnected from air and movement. Maybe these particles are not even resting anymore, but died suffocating under the pink plastic roof of my Tupperware whilst forming a small diaspora of Saharan particles in the Netherlands, more specifically: Eindhoven.

My Tupperware is a container, like the lemonade glass bottle and all other capsules I use to store stories.

Did I, by storing the sand, kill it’s potential to ever become a sandstorm again?

Chapter 1

The Sand I Moved.

Morocco, March 2018

The sun was a blurry undefined yellow shadow in the sky. Everything was yellow, the dunes were merging into the sky; the horizon was as blurry and undefined as the sun. As we travelled to the camp where we were about to spend the night, the palms were moved by the wind, as was the scarf I wrapped around my face. Our guides were rushing us, maybe they were worried about us not reaching the camp in time, or the weather getting worse; but maybe they just wanted to be done for the day, going home to their families and telling them how many tourists they guided through the desert that day.
        We started our journey in Marrakesh, and traveled through the Atlas mountains, passing rocks in the widest range of colors: black, red, yellow. As we traveled through different landscapes within one day, our driver told us we wouldn’t have been able to reach the desert one week earlier, since the road in the mountains was blocked by snow. We visited a famous canyon and put our fingers in a little spring, with the promise it would help us to find love. We also visited an old Berber town, which was once the last protected entity before the desert, some famous Hollywood movies were shot there. The hotel we spent the night in was really dirty, they tried to cover the moldy smell with rose water, which made the combination of smells even worse. 
        After the Atlas mountains, sitting on this little bus, the closer we came to the desert, the more the landscape opened up and the road became a straight line pointing in our direction. Only the thin windows separated us from the moving winds as we rushed through nature in this little isolated capsule. A storm seemed to come closer, or did we come closer to the storm? I remember seeing palms along the road, somewhat undefined next to the street, dust and sand being blown by the wind. I was worried: Would I be able to see the night sky as I wished for?
It was quite warm. The air enclosed us like a blanket, somehow mellow and heavy, like the moment you enter one of these tropical houses in a zoo. The moving sand hurt my skin, like little needles pinching my arms, and every other body part not protected by t-shirt, jacket or scarf. I took pictures, with every picture the camera resisted to open up more and more, the sand and dust got stuck in the mechanical parts.
        We got to the camp on camels, and as we arrived at the camp, we got to know Peter from the Desert, as he introduced himself. He sketched in my diary, and signed his sketch of a camel and dunes with Hamd. So I guess Peter is not his real name. We climbed the next dune. It was really exhausting, but the view honored the effort. There was nothing but sand, and dust, stretching into the sky. It was still windy, but the storm slowly disappeared. In the evening we ate couscous Peter prepared for us. We got to bed, in every warm clothing we brought to Morocco. At four am we got up to see the stars. It was really cold and I barely slept. I really hoped to see the milky way, but the sand dust still hid most of the stars in the sky. I remember we saw some shooting stars.

I don’t remember what I wished for.

In the morning we got up really early, and the dunes were illuminated by the rising sun, showing the desert in a whole new light. The bright yellow dunes formed a strong contrast with the blue sky. While one of my friends played Frisbee with Peter, I sat in the sand and looked at the dunes stretching towards the horizon, trying to brand my memory with this picture. I still have some sand I collected: I put it in a plastic zip bag. I remember the others laughing at me, questioning the purpose of carrying sand around Morocco in my backpack.

These days, 2021

I have a connection with this sand, otherwise I wouldn’t have moved two times with it, looking into the judgy face of my mother whilst packing my moving-boxes. In these moments I thought about getting rid of it but always found myself reflecting on how the idea of trashing it is too absurd. Putting sand from many kilometers away into the trash, only for it to be dumped or burned or sent away. No, I rather kept it. The sand was always inside a lemonade glass bottle. I had three glass bottles in total: One filled with blue pigments bought in Chefchaouen, one with the Saharan sand and one with sand I collected on the beach in Ipanema. Just recently the glass bottle with the Saharan sand shattered in my flat in Eindhoven. I wanted to show something to a friend, then the glass bottle fell from the shelf. I didn’t collect the sand until I vacuumed a week later. It was a busy week. Now the sand has some splinters of glass in it. I tried to remove most of them, but the fine ones are quite hard to get and most of the time the sand stuck to my fingers, and I removed more sand than glass. Now that the lemonade bottle is gone, I keep the sand in Tupperware. I haven’t found a better place yet.

Chapter 2

The Sand I Stored.

I am probably not the only person around Europe—or even the world—having some sand from the Saharan desert stored somewhere and shown on display, staged to be most pleasant to the eye, and well recognizable. I do claim to resist the typical tourist temptations—or traps—like buying little Jesus next to the big Jesus, or little Big Ben next to big Big Ben.

Still, I took some sand home, still, I kept it until these days.

I wonder why we try to manifest memories in something material.

I wonder why it is part of the tourist experience to take, or steal, or appropriate something found in our holiday destinations.

Chapter 3

The Sand I Need?

Every year between the winter months, Saharan dust is transported from the Bodélé Depression, a dried lake in the West-Saharan desert to the Amazon rainforest using the “Bodélé Low Level Jet, which is part of the northeasterly Harmattan flow.”1 This transportation takes around 10 days.2 The Bodélé Depression is identified as the biggest source of atmospheric mineral dust on Earth, producing dust containing micronutrients such as iron and phosphorus which act as a fertilizer for the Amazon rainforest and the equatorial Atlantic Ocean.3

As the Amazon gets nurtured by the desert dust, can my memory be nurtured in the same manner by the sand I brought home?

In his book “Nausea,” Jean-Paul Sartre describes his relationship with the past and objects, or put differently: the relationship between memories and the human body:

People are in their houses, [...] They live in the midst of legacies, gifts, each piece of furniture holds a memory. [...] The past is a landlord’s luxury.

Where shall I keep mine? You don’t put your past in your pocket; you have to have a house. I have only my body: a man entirely alone, with his lonely body, cannot indulge in memories; they pass through him. I shouldn’t complain: all I wanted was to be free.4

In Sartres’ position, humans need objects in order to remember, since the human body cannot manifest thoughts passing through and memories alone do not construct the identity of the individual and the past the individual inherited.

Ursula K. Le Guin quotes Elizabeth Fisher, who says that “the earliest cultural inventions must have been a container to hold gathered products and some kind of sling or net carrier.”5 She then continues expressing that it is a human thing to store.6 While Le Guin talks about our ancestors storing collected food or carrying the next generation, this picture can be extended to storing an individual or collective remembrance.
        Memories, which can be defined as a “recollection; remembrance, awareness or consciousness (of someone or something),”7 are received in the present, while the original moment the memory is referring to is placed in the past. They can be revisited and revived, like time-capsules dug up and re-opened. But, unlike time-capsules, they are not displaying the same information every time opened. Every memory gets remembered with the perspectives of that very moment in the present. Emotions, circumstances and wishes color them in new shades and might even change their content.

If we cannot be sure about the truthfulness of memories, why is it so important to stick with them, to keep them objectified?

Why do we try to make memories tangible, and thereby try to own them?

When I passed by the shelf, I didn’t really have to revive the memory of being in the Sahara. Maybe I objectify memories or store them within objects because I cannot be certain about their truthfulness, and in order to cope with that, I use them as a placeholder for my history. Like this, I do not have to question what they portrait. It is exactly the sand I took covering the real memory, and hiding whatever lies underneath.
        The trapped sand is not only a time capsule for the past, but also for the future, saying: ‘Yes you have been, and you will always be, and you will trap many more memories,’ going on and on in a circle of reassurance that life will be as it was, to be lived. Somehow like a promise, that on the shelf next to my sand is space for many more memories. A promise that there will be more than there has been.
        This sand is not actually referring to the memory as such—maybe only superficially—but to the pure habit of collecting memories as a reassurance that I am living my life. Only when I focus on remembering, parts of the story come to the surface again. By displaying the sand on my shelf I found the easiest way to consume the certainty of the past forming the present. A past ready to be revisited whenever needed, initiated by the place and time of the stored object. Like this I can own my memory.
But, what do I want to see, feel, remember? A sandstorm, or some sand in Tupperware?

All the movement, all the particles flying through the desert, all the emotions triggered in me by being in this environment are now stored away, disconnected from their natural environment, disconnected from air and movement. Maybe these particles are not even resting anymore, but died suffocating under the pink plastic roof of my Tupperware whilst forming a small diaspora of Saharan particles in the Netherlands, more specifically: Eindhoven.

Did I, by storing the sand, kill it’s potential to ever become a sandstorm again?

Chapter 4

The Sand I Muted.

In his essay “Earth, Sky, Wind, and Weather, Tim Ingold defines a world in which “both perceivers and the phenomena they perceive are necessarily immersed.”8 He further elaborates that this immersion takes place in a medium he later characterizes as either wind or sky.

While we did not touch it, we touched in it.9

Tim Ingold thereby implies that in order to be moved, to feel, we have to be touched and to touch simultaneously. By this we live. He describes how “life is not in things; rather, things are in life.” He sees this correlation as “the creative potential of a world-in-formation” and the winds as the actors giving “shape and direction to people’s lives,” stating that “in a world reduced to people and objects, interaction would be impossible.”10 And in the world he describes, this world cannot be revived only by giving agency to objects, instead, the wind as the medium, or the mediator between subject and object, can equally stimulate interactions. In order to feel, we have to get in touch with the wind and shift our attention away from the congealed substances of the world.11 Where there is no wind, there are trapped objects unable to connect to the visiting subjects and thereby unable to tell their stories.

My Tupperware is a container, like the lemonade glass bottle and all other capsules I use to store stories.

As I experienced the sandstorm I was in the moment, even getting a little hurt by the sand particles pinching my skin. I got touched by the sand moved by the wind. By conserving the sand in my Tupperware I took it out of an environment where it was able to touch me, as I am able to touch the sand.

Is it simply enough to re-open the Tupperware, to lift the pink plastic roof, and let the sand breath again?

In chapter eight of his book “From Kinship and Beyond,” Tim Ingold characterizes that classificatory knowledge is vertically integrated, thus it implies a hierarchy between different objects. In order to classify, objects are ordered according to different characteristics.12 They are put in a box and stored away. Against the definition of knowledge as being classificatory, Ingold holds the thesis that “knowledge [...] is [...] storied.”13 Additionally, he implies that knowing is like traveling on and in between “a tangled mesh of paths [...], laid down by people as they make their way from place to place.”14 This mesh defines a vertical integration of knowledge, and in the relation to other objects and subjects writes the story. Instead of dividing objects as classification does, stories connect.
        Ingold characterizes things “not as objects located in space,”15 but movements. In order to understand what things are, their stories need to be told and in order to know someone, you have to connect their story to your own.16 In his position, in order to be able to tell a story, it is not important how much you know, but how well. He then describes that “the better you know, the greater the clarity and depth of your perception. To tell, in short, is not to represent the world but to trace a path through it that others can follow.”17

Is it simply enough to re-open the Tupperware and connect its story with my own, in order to revive the sand, to tell others about it and by doing so, to turn it into a sandstorm again?

Ingold states that it is a “human ability to weave stories from the past into the texture of present lives” and in “the art of story-telling, not in the power of classification, that the key to human knowledgeability—and therefore to culture— ultimately resides.”18 Storytelling, or culture, becomes possible by actively connecting to others and objects, with the help of the wind, or the medium connecting everything.

Chapter 5

The Sand Missed Somewhere Else.

The sand I took formed a diaspora in my world, which is different from the world I took the sand from. Only in the heat and cold of the desert, with the winds forming the streams in and around the Sahara, this sand is able to be the sandstorm it once used to be. Only then can it embody the knowledge it carries along with it, the knowledge I have trouble grasping, the knowledge which is original to the sand, not the knowledge I forced upon it: my memories I imprinted in the sand. These memories are just a small little fracture of the story this sand was originally embedded in.
        Instead of keeping the original story of the sandstorm alive, I conserved a pile of sand, putting it out of time and place, under a pink roof, surrounded by plastic walls. There are others wanting to tell their stories, or a story. These others need their own objects to reflect upon, whether or not they need them to construct a memory, or to keep a memory alive.
        The sand I brought was my initiator to reflect within this text. But until I did reflect, I did not use the sand as an initiator to remember, but as an objectified part of a story reassuring me in my being today, through embodying my past. The sand carried my story, without me considering and acknowledging that it was already the carrier of a story bigger than mine. A story I then numbed by misplacing the sand in Tupperware kilometers away from its origin.

Can I wake the sandstorm up from the anesthesia I forced on it?

In the same way it seems absurd to throw the sand away, it also seems absurd to set it free in the Dutch winds. It also seems absurd to put it back into a lemonade glass bottle, next to my other two.
        After writing this text it seems even more absurd to buy a glass bottle prettier than these two. The most absurd seems the idea to return back to the desert, polluting the environment with another Ryanair flight.
        Still, Ingold emphasizes: “it is not a matter of putting life into things but of restoring those things to the movements that gave rise to them.”19 I feel paralyzed underneath the pile of sand I took, under the absurdity of not knowing how to give rise to it, being in the middle of undefined and blurry horizons.

1 Washington and Todd, quoted in Charlie S. Bristow, et al., “Fertilizing the Amazon and equatorial Atlantic with West African dust,” 1.

2 Ben-Ami et al. quoted in “Fertilizing the Amazon and equatorial Atlantic with West African dust,” 1.

3 Bristow, et al., “Fertilizing the Amazon and equatorial Atlantic with West African dust,” 1.

4 Sartre, Nausea, 165.

5 Le Guin, “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” 2.

6 Ibid. 3.

7 “memory”.

8 Ingold, “Earth, Sky, Wind, and Weather,” 28.

9 Ibid. 29.

10 Ibid. 31.

11 Ibid. 28-29.

12 Ingold, “From Kinship and Beyond,” 196. 

13 Ibid. 197.

14 Ibid. 198.

15 Ibid. 204.

16 Ibid. 200.

17 Ibid. 203. 

18 Ibid. 211.

19 Ingold, “Earth, Sky, Wind, and Weather,” 31.