Morocco Diary - March 9

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Thursday, March 9

I awoke at 4:30 a.m., and I found that the moon had set and the stars were so astonishing that I was almost overwhelmed by the beauty. I could even see star clusters and gas clouds. The stars were not only overhead, but extended down to the horizon on all sides. It was glorious. I could tell that my return to the tent had slightly wakened Barb, so I whispered, “Want to see the stars?” She did want to see them, and we spent about 20 minutes admiring the sparkling universe.

Official wake-up time was 7:30, and arrived with the delivery of a bowl of warm water and cup of hot tea. Dressed and outdoors, I was amazed again at the sight of the sand dunes so near at hand. I’m in the Sahara! We had a breakfast of Berber pancakes and eggs with cilantro. Then it was time to go.

Flies at this site, in a variety of sizes. Not as bad as in Australia’s outback, but numerous and bit annoying. At least they don’t go for your eyes and mouth, as in Oz.

The air is cool, but the sun is hot.

Three-kilometer hike across the flat, rocky wasteland at the edge of the desert. In places, lone plants poked up through the hard, arid ground, small pools of wind-blown sand gathering on their leeward sides. We headed toward a lone nomad tent woven of dark camel wool. (Camels are dark when young and get lighter as they age. The wool is only gathered for the first ten years of a camel’s life, as it’s not as nice afterward.) The tent weighs about 400 lbs., we were told. When we arrived, the woman of the family for whom this tent is home was sitting inside, spinning camel wool. The men in the family were nearby, caring for animals and the campsite, or simply observing our arrival. Aziz gave each of the women in our group a gift—tea, coffee, sugar, lentils, chickpeas—to present to the “lady of the house,” and with these in hand, we ducked into the tent. After the presentation of our gifts, one of the woman’s young male relatives entered and served tea. However, Aziz had warned us not to drink it, as the water used in making it is unsafe. So we accepted the tea enthusiastically, then swirled it about, pretended to drink, and looked for openings where we could dispose of it. We all managed to look like good guests without imperiling anyone’s health.

As the woman spun her yarn, Aziz told us more about the nomads. There is a high infant mortality rate. The nomads often suffer from lung problems, due to the many dust storms in the desert. Their traditional diet of dates and camels’ milk was healthier than their current diet. Nomads refer to themselves as “free men.” They use sand to clean themselves. The lady here is a widow. Relatives help her. The philosophy of the nomads is “Now and here.” Decisions to move are made on the day of the move. Feelings, weather, anything can determine the decision made. One of the woman’s sons entered, a gorgeous youth whose light hair and eyes and fine features seemed to bear evidence of the theory that Berbers are Celtic peoples. He and the other young man were both excited and grinning as Phil showed them their images on the back of his digital camera. Got a couple of photos of this fun moment.

The men in our group were asked to leave, and our hostess became a bit more animated, though we could not communicate. She switched from spinning to carding wool. I asked to touch the camel hair, which she quickly proffered, then passed to others.

Then it was time to leave, to go visit another nomad family. Again, the women in our group presented gifts, but this time, we did not stay inside the dark, camel-wool tent, just greeted the woman and her children, took photos, and then looked around the campsite. Our time of wandering and photo-taking was extended slightly by a problem with one of the 4x4s, but our drivers had the problem fixed fairly quickly, and we were on our way.

A little later, we stopped to view the region’s one, shared well. The nomad families who rely on this well live at a considerable distance from it, to avoid seeing too many people. Privacy is more important than convenience. They have to walk to the well to get their water. There is a huge aquifer beneath this area. The water is only about 7 meters below the surface, but there is a rock layer that had to be carved through to reach the water.

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