Archive for May, 2010
The sun rose behind a grey blanket and the desert was bathed in shadowy rays as I woke in my tent. The humble fabric creaked above me, held by ancient branches that had moved from site to site with the Touraeg tribe. Many years had these same woven awnings, these same wooden limbs been packed upon a camel and hauled from place to place. A thousand sunrises they had seen, pitched by a thousand different dunes, in the shifting Sahara sands. I could only hope my own life would last that long. It might be equally as many sunrises before I saw my beloved homeland again. Yesterday after a long trek, through Erg Chebbi – the largest sand dune in the world, we had paused at an Oasis at midday to seek respite from the violent sun. It will be the last desert Oasis I will set my eyes upon for an aeon, as I must flee. Pursued by cutthroats and vagabonds my loyal serving boy and I are heading to the hills.
The Desert Fire Princess
Holi and our guide, Mohammed had readied our faithful camels and were waiting by the remains of last night’s fire. The morning was eerily still and as we boarded our ‘ships of the sand’ a light rain began to fall. How rare to see the sky so ominous, and water stain the ochre waves like the shedding of tears. Used to blistering heat, blinding stand storms and dry mouths,
my serving boy and I were unprepared for this moisture. We soon were wet to the skin, but I continued to retain my poise. Princess I was, and Queen I will be despite our current expulsion. With the rain an outward mirror to my breaking heart I poured over our new course of action.
After my father’s death the ancient Sahara Kingdom of Berbershana became fraught with war. My uncle had long desired to rule, and had been assembling an army in secret. It was on the morn of my adornment that we were attacked. My men were of course dressed for festival and ceremony, they had little chance to reach more appropriate weapons. It was an absolute massacre of which I can’t bare to tell. I leave a road paved in blood behind me, heroes who’ve sacrificed themselves for mine and Holi’s escape. You see – Holi, my mere severing boy, is our only hope. He has shown rare talent in the Mage arts. We go now far, far into the lonely hills to seek my half sister, Fatima Ou’ Djinn the enchantress. If Holi can learn the spells of the dead, and so summon the fabled otherworld army of the Sahara then shall my Kingdom be returned. At what dark price I know not – for tampering with these sullen arts means a pact with the very Devil himself. But I am willing to pay it.
Our trek through the Shifting Sands
Back in the ‘real’ world, the Desert Fire Princess needed a beautiful gown to wear to go the Faery Ball. Proof, if any is needed that Life most definitely imitates Art. She and her long-suffering and ever-humble serving boy had scoured all of Morocco for the finest tailor and after many months of searching had tracked down the most excellent establishment in all the land. The only problem being that they it was one they had found several months earlier when passing briefly through a town on the other side of the country; it was only by comparison that they had come to realise that there was no equal. So for two days and two nights, they voyaged across deserts and mountains in their trusty Battlebeast, sleeping just briefly by the side of a great lake and only getting hopelessly lost in the town of Ouzarzate for about an hour and a half, until finally they came to the ancient walled city of Taroudannt.
The Faithful Serving Boy (soon to be Mage)
Now, I generally don’t believe in stereotypes, I like to imagine that everybody is different, at least to some extent. Morocco has seriously challenged my belief in that. There are only five people who live in Morocco, endlessly recycling themselves in every place you go to. Three of them are called Mohammed. The other two are called Abdul and Ali. All of them are men. I can’t comment on the women because none of them would speak to us, so perhaps there is a greater variety in their names and personalities which they are too modest to display to foreigners. However, it is equally possible that in the Great Stage Show that is Morocco, the characters who appear to be women are just one of the three Mohammeds, Abdul or Ali wearing a burka. Who knows? Of these five men, two are in their forties with a natty moustache, a big belly and a daughter called Fatima. The other three are all in their mid-twenties, very slim, two have a short back-and-sides and wear traditional Moroccan garb with jeans underneath. Both like Western music as long as it is by Bob Marley. The third has a John Travolta slicked-back job and is decked out in a muscle-shirt. All five of them have only three topics of conversation; Morocco – “It is good, yes?”, the fact they are Berber and so like to spend as much of the day as possible sitting around doing nothing but drink sugary mint tea and smoke, and how Moroccan people like to have much bigger houses than Europeans. This last misconception seems to stem from the fact that their houses are much bigger than our van and since quite a lot of Europeans also come to Morocco in vans, the myth has emerged that this is the typical sort of size for a European house.
So, the Princess and her faithful page boy were pleasantly surprised when they arrived at the tailors and were befriended by two salesmen called ‘Fareed’ (Fred) and ‘Brahim’ (Abraham). Yes they looked the part, both of them tending towards the oil-tanker-disaster-on-the ir-quiff look (and it turned out later that Fred had a baby daughter called Fatima), but having driven a filthy-hard bargain with our heroine and her esteemed sidekick, they duly invited them out for coffee with their friends. Here they found themselves in the company of a beatnik rabble of dreaklocked musicians (still called Abdul or Mohammed) in a café where they played Eye of the Tiger on the sound system and the guys complained about how hard it was to get a signed contract for a CD of Berber Reggae, which is actually not quite as bad as it sounds.
Tents of the Touraeg
The ball-gown was finished. The Princess was pleased and had rewarded her obsequious minion with a new pair of pointy slippers to replace the ones he had worn until they fell apart at the seams. It was time for the trusty pair to drive North again. Once more over the high peaks of the Atlas, past the hustling bustle of Marrakech, over the dry plains to the dingy Mediterranean port of Tanger. There the exhausted duo discovered they had missed the last boat and slept the night in the Customs loading bay surrounded by honking trucks, confused tourists and sleazy con artists.
The next morning, bleary-eyed and jaded from their disturbed slumber it took all their combined cunning to board ship without having to pay ‘baksheesh’ to the corrupt Customs officials, but they managed to dispense not a Dirham, chiefly because the ravenous page boy had spent their very last coin buying dates the previous evening. Soon they were winging their way back to Europe; land of paved roads, supermarkets, safe drinking water and women who are permitted to speak. A land where an exiled princess and her ever-faithful servant might walk hand in hand down the pavement with ne’er a glance from passers-by. A chapter of the tale had ended, but the adventure was most certainly not over…