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Before we began our assail on the bruised sandstone of the mountains of Isalo, we all stood in what looked and felt like a prayer circle. “These are our guides,” our instructor, Sidonie, told us as she gestured to the group of men that made up half of our anxious pre-trek sermon. “They are our family now.”

The beginning of our pilgrimage required cutting through a steep incline of thick veins at the gray base of the rock. Mora Mora our guides cautioned, as the rubber soles of our hiking shoes tore through brambles and stone alike. Be careful. And we were careful. When we weren’t stopping to look at succulents with Collin, or pulling out sunscreen even though we knew it was too late, or listening to Gabe singing motivational songs, we were careful. Even when Hope tripped and slid down a good 3 feet of rock entangled with one of our guides, we were careful. Careful, at least in the beginning, to keep our heads down and get through the first of what we assumed would be five exhausting days.

But after a while we stopped being careful. Because whenever Dolfin, the head of our family, ever animated with intoxicating intensity would point an excited finger at a pile of branches in the vague hope of showing our mostly blind group a stick bug, the purpose of being Mora Mora with our family was becoming sacrilegious.

Other the next four days I have never seen a group more devout in their intrigue, faithful in their pursuit of understanding, and pious in their love for each other and our family. Whether it was Nica inviting our brothers to the campfire, Lottie talking to Theo in her fluent Spanglish, or Hunter looking at himself in his blue glasses that make him look like a fly, our families bond truly lay in sanctity.

Families are supposed to fight. Families are supposed to argue. Families are supposed to heal. But not our family. Not our dysfunctional “hot mess” of 23 brothers and sisters. Because it was in those moments when Becky woke up with dirt all over her face, when Jane’s rock photo became a poster image for Dragons, when Orestes was there for Hope on the windy rock, when Soleil gave us somewhat friendly reminders to hydrate, and when Micah took photos of us in our worst moments; that the saying the quality of your life is founded on the quality of your relationships translated to my family making me the happiest and least Mora Mora person I’ve been in a long time.