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Published: December 30th 2017
We are up by 7:00 AM and climb a high berm to watch the sunrise, another Saharan anti-climax. Breakfast is bullshit, but coffee is coffee and all we really want is to camel our asses out of here. The departure ride turns out to be surprisingly pleasant as the sun begins to defrost us. There are thin sheets of ice resting feather-light across the top of the sand pulling a cold shimmer from the still-rising sun. The color of the sand on the Saraha as been so realistically portrayed in film that when you arrive you're certain you're there.
One of the things you hope to enjoy in the desert is tranquility, but the occasional buzz of an SUV speeding by destroys whatever romantic fantasies we may be able to summon, so, really, overall, fuck this. Not that the USA is a coast-to-coast Four Seasons, but you are statistically more likely to encounter a more developed aesthetic in the western world. When people are toiling every day just to live behind a door, you can’t expect them to get all OCD about whether their picture of the king is hanging straight. This means making observations like, “The suckers need to
make pretend like they’re way out in the desert so ix-nay on the uk-trays,” is not to be expected.
Driss is waiting for us as we de-wedgie the camels from our asses and we drop right back into the SUV. We thank him for turning up the heat and head off for more must-see Morocco, chop-chop.
We head directly for market day in the reasonably close town of Rissani. This is a very big event for the surrounding region, as people will literally travel 100 kilometers by donkey to bring their wares and stock up on supplies. By the time we pull into a parking space, the lame-ass breakfast we forced ourselves to eat in the desert has burned off like the morning chill. Driss finds us a “restaurant” on a rooftop (it’s really cruddy and the table is fabric!) with Berber soup and tea and we need to both warm and fill up, so we’re in. We sit on the rooftop ‘terrace” (pigeons left the owner in a note in Berber asking him to maybe tidy up a touch) and actually enjoy both the soup and tea.
The market is pretty damn big and, like a
souk, there are sections for each specialty. We meet the spice dude and all the clothing and vegetable and meat stands. The parking lot is full of parked donkeys, some with carts and others just wearing what are most easily described as kind of a pair of cigarette girl trays extending out to each side. These hold everything the nomad brought and everything they will bring home. The livestock area is mostly goats. A single ankle tied to a long, low rope tethers each goat with others. The kids, however, don’t have to be tied, because they won’t leave their mother’s side.
We do no shopping other than to buy Paprika and some crystalized eucalyptus that is Vicks concentrate (and it's amazing!) and otherwise we do take our time absorbing the scene. This is life lived unchanged for a thousand years. Amazing.
Next up, we are going to visit actual nomads. The nomads are in on the tourist game, but on a nomad level; they make tea and give us access to peek into their tents and we drop some dirham on them. The encampment, such as it is, is in this case, tents. However, nomads will also
live in caves. Either way it’s harsh terrain, in harsh weather (we can attest to that). They are goat and or sheepherders and must go where there is anything green growing for their herds to eat. Again, Driss is Berber, though he is not a nomad; he is from a village, but his mother does have sheep (she goes from two to three during our visit, so times are good… ). You can take the sheep out of the nomad, but you can’t take the nomad out of the sheep. Okay, that was pretty wrong, but still; sheep lives matter. These nomads have virtually nothing; they are beyond our concept of poor. When supplies are needed that they can’t procure from nature, a sheep or goat must be sold. That is the monetary system. We don’t really speak with them; they just go about their business while Driss tours us through their tiny encampment and Steve pours us tea in one of the tents. Even a half hour in this thing makes you wonder how they maintain their sanity with so little stimulus. Then you realize that they are probably totally sane and were fucking nuts enduring our attack of
ever-present life static.
As we drive on toward the gorge (another tour stop), Steve mentions to Driss that it’s hard to make jokes when we have such dissimilar backgrounds. Humor is based on shared references and Steve is completely failing at finding any between himself and Driss. Driss understands that Steve wants to joke around and attempts to share some personal Berber humor. He tells the story of how he was forced to share his bed with seven sisters and they would sometimes fight for the covers. He laughs as he says it, but there’s no real punch line; they slept eight to a cushionless bed and occasionally squabbled over the covers. He adds that he was positioned in the middle, so he was always covered and that the blanket was a very, very good blanket. We can’t share jokes because we don’t share the same planet. It is another reinforcement of one of the most important lessons required for living with grace on Earth; our fortunes are set by many factors, but our lives are drawn from very disparate circumstances and if we hold one another globally to the same standards of “work hard and succeed” or whatever
ra-ra bullshit we feed ourselves in America, we are destined to protectionist loneliness. To quote U2, “We’re one, but we’re not the same.”
The weather is as pleasant as can be as we stroll the path through the narrow gorge of Todgha. It’s very Yosemite-like in that the walls on either side are whiplash high. Though it lacks the width and charm of Yosemite, it’s well worth coming through. Like all strolls through everywhere, there are souvenir stands and beggars. In this case, we learn, the beggars are those very cave dwelling nomads we mentioned a moment ago. As one rag-draped woman zeroes in on us, she high-pitchedly repeats the word “Shokran,” (‘thank you’ in Berber) through a stone-carved smile and we re-consider the whole silent contemplation fosters and clear mind and sanity theory. She’s a little nuts.
Tonight is our last night courtesy of (by which we mean paid in advance… wait a minute; we haven’t actually paid Ready Morocco Tours yet!) our tourist touring tour thing. Clever third world travel agents (I’m talking to you AJ) know the trick to heading off trip-end complaints is to make sure the final hotel kicks ass. This one does.
It’s opulent, we’re greeted by folk dancers and the room is a solid four-stars. It’s right on time as we need all kinds of modern plumbing to extract the kilo of desert that has been patiently embedded into our tourist bits by the slow roll of a camel saddle. Once scrubbed (sweet blessed Jesus; we’re truly clean!!!!!!!), we head off to the dinner buffet. It is long and well-stocked with a variety of things we haven’t had in quite a while – since all we’ve had is tagines of meaty meatiness. We even order Heinekens! Muslim places do not, as a rule, serve alcohol, so, notwithstanding our foresight on that desert whiskey – this has been a non-drinking holiday.
Our bed is all beddy and sweet and we settle in for the bliss and comfort of the civilization to which we became accustomed living in the capitalist rich world.
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