Desert days

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March 15th 2011
Published: March 15th 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

Ali preparing vegetable tajineAli preparing vegetable tajineAli preparing vegetable tajine

Inside the desert tent

Each day was the same. Different.

Sweeping sand dunes embraced us. We roamed, our vista sand and dunes and sky. Many had traveled here before but never did our pathways traverse their trails. Swirling sand grains danced with any breeze that offered, swiftly erasing memories.

On occasion, Khalid, Ali, and I encountered vacant tent camps abandoned by their Berber residents, gone to the cities to make money for a few days or many weeks. Tree branches supporting woven wool blankets created spacious shelters. Each blanket pattern and colour differed from the next, creating a kaleidoscope of colour to contrast the sand, golden like poplar leaves in autumn. Ragged blanket corners wavered in the breeze.

Deep within Erg Chebbi, the Sahara of Morocco, we sight our own Berber-blanket tent camp, snug within a narrow valley. Sheltered by encircling djembe-toned sand ridges and sun-kissed crests, my camel knows this place. Our familiar tango begins. “Jimi (Hendrix)” starts the process of repose, his forelegs seem to crumble. We lurch forward then downward then backward as his rear legs kneel. In tune with the rhythm, somehow I remain seated at ease upon the saddle. An ingenious affair, this two-metre long, five-centimetre-thick felted pad saddle encircled, but did not cover, his dromedary hump, creating a wide, flat platform. Secured in three places with sturdy commercially-woven bindings around his generous girth to eliminate saddle slippage, a solid steel handlebar minimized rider slippage.

While Khalid removed saddle and harness Jimi munched on leafy branches I cut from a nearby bush. His large lips daintily examined the foliage. Then, giant buckteeth, discoloured as if he chewed tobacco, stripped the greenery from the tender branches. Unlike any horse I have known, he seemed aware of the boundary between his lip, his teeth, and my hand. Not wasting, he lazily pulverized the branches. Needing more and now unfettered, Jimi wandered the oasis searching low palms and lace-leaved bushes for succulent leaves.

Scooping sand away from a solitary post, Khalid exposed a 30 cm diameter black plastic lid. The lid removed, I observed a companion emerald green plastic bucket, bottom excised. Khalid pulled on an attached rope bringing up the bottom half of an orange-coloured plastic

bleach bottle, containing the first of ten small buckets of water. Ali prepared vegetarian tajine and couscous. I wrote in my journal and took photos. We spoke little, protected within the blankets from the chilling night breezes, warmed by mint tea. Hours later, around eight, we shared our meal. Another cool, silent evening passed.


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