You’ve got to Believe It to See It
In Chris’s continuation of Lydia’s journal, he records that he can suddenly see the map tattoo in Lydia’s photographs of her arm after having read an account of a man (who we understand to be Layesh) with a map tattoo growing on his own arm. Chris wonders, “Has something happened to the photographs, or to me?” He then goes on to question whether or not he would have been able to see Lydia’s “tattoo” had she attempted to show it to him in person. I interpret Chris’s self questioning as a passive acknowledgement that something about the way he perceives things has changed, not the objects being observed. Not only have Chris’s perceptions changed, but his purpose has changed. His first trip to Morocco was made out of a “desire for movement,” but the second time he was searching for something: Lydia. In fact, each person on whom a tattooed map has grown has been searching for something: making a pilgrimage.
A Literal Pilgrimage
We learn from Lydia’s journal entry relating her encounter with Layesh that he had made a pilgrimage to Mecca. For a Muslim like Layesh, the pilgrimage to Mecca is prescribed as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. It was Layesh’s religious duty that sent him on his pilgrimage. Being a devout Muslim, Layesh was open to the effects of his journey. It was a journey he desired to make, one through which he opened himself up to religious clarity and meaning. Lydia writes that a Muslim’s pilgrimage to Mecca is called the Hajj, and one who has completed this journey is a hadj. It is once Layesh has become a hadj that his tattooed map begins to grow.
A Physical Pilgrimage
Lydia’s tattooed map emerges once she has made something of a pilgrimage herself. Lydia admits that it is in her personality to do extensive planning and research before making a trip. It is the openness of her personality that allows Lydia to absorb and analyze every bit of information that she reads. It is her desire not just to travel, but to learn. In her preparation for their trip, I wonder if Lydia hadn’t come across the same account of a hadj with a map tattooed on his arm that Chris came across in his research after having returned from Morocco. I believe that Lydia must have known Layesh in some capacity before she left Canada. She read his account, and became fascinated with the story, with the man’s pilgrimage, with his Hajj. After all, Chris discovered that someone had torn the page beginning with the Arabic letter h out of a dictionary that Lydia had borrowed from the library. Having read about the hadj with a map tattooed on his arm, and having presumably done additional research about the Hajj, Lydia must have decided to make the trip to Morocco her own pilgrimage: a journey taken with a purpose: to discover and to learn.
An Internal Pilgrimage
It is not until Chris has altered his perceptions about Lydia’s disappearance that he earns his own map tattoo. When Chris begins studying Lydia’s journal, he finds a poetic thought she has written in the margins:
The past is so inscribed and the future defined
As thoroughly on my flesh as in my mind
While he does not comment on that thought in his portion of the journal, he must find it significant because he chooses to paste the scrap of paper with those words into his own margins. Chris found this thought of Lydia’s fairly early on in his own journaling experience. I think that reading about Lydia’s complete openness to, and belief in, her experience in Morocco must have finally prompted Chris to try to understand things from her point of view. It is her conviction that persuades Chris to pursue the same line of research that Lydia followed leading up to their trip. Through opening himself up to Lydia’s perspective and changing his own, Chris finally has the desire to return to Morocco with an actual purpose: to find Lydia.
Ultimately we understand that it is the power of the written word that has opened each Layesh, Lydia, and Chris up to their pilgrimages. It is the written power of the Quran that inspires Layesh to travel Muhammad’s path to Mecca. It is the written literature about Africa and the written account of a Moroccan hadj with a map tattoo that convinces Lydia that she must travel to Morocco. It is Lydia’s written journal that allows Chris to realize how he must reconnect with her. It is the power of words that open each of them up to understanding and to believing.