The Brazilian hadn’t stopped laughing about Arabic’s true meaning of the word; the American language teacher had since become incapable of not smiling about the door she’d opened the previous night, just like the rest of us. It was early morning, the dark and cold type of morning, and we were seated in the guesthouse dining room eating the Moroccan pancakes I’d first tried back in Tangier. The toughness of these bad boys made me think the knife I’d been given wasn’t going to get the job done whilst I sat with the two boys from England. I’d shared a room with them, as well as the Brazilian, and we’d gotten on just fine. That was when I’d first learnt their names; for some reason I hadn’t done so when the bus picked me up the previous day but in my defence, most of them had been asleep. Upon claiming a bed in the guesthouse room I’d casually put the question to them, What do I call you three?
‘I’m from out Essex way and he’s just moved to Brixton,’ the long-haired one explained.
‘I went to Brixton for a few hours, back when I was in London,’ I told them. ‘I caught the Tube out there to see the mural of Bowie.’
I was a minority on this tour of eleven, the only Australian once again. The lively rest were either from Europe or the Americas; a lot of them were South American. We were all moving onto Merzouga today where we were going to ride some camels into the Sahara and sleep under the stars. The excitement was bringing a good vibe to the dining room, in that guesthouse that we’d pulled up at late last night. None of us knew where we were on the map; the tour company hadn’t given many details.
Was the second bus (on this four day tour of the Sahara) going to remember to pick me up? The question had been pretty persistent for those couple of hours, in which I was alone. I was already missing this French/Colombian couple I’d met on the first tour who I’d gotten on brilliantly with; ours was now a Facebook relationship.
I’d been waiting back in Aït Ben Haddou at this hotel in walking distance of the Ksar. It had a nice atmosphere and the staff kept several eyes on me whilst I ate in their restaurant and charged my phone; they’d also given me free fruit. After a few hours of painful uncertainty, the hotel manager drove me to the second bus which picked me up at a crossroad; the Canadians, apparently, had freaked out so much that they hired a private taxi to get them to the current guesthouse in who-knows-where. They weren’t like the bad-arsed Canadians I’d met so far on my big backpacking journey. One saint of a bad-arse had taught me how to roll a joint back in Tangier.
I was sipping at my mint tea, still hearing the Brazilian laugh about the true meaning of couscous, whilst the Pommie cousins shared that they’d stayed at the same hostel as I back in Marrakech. I would’ve been elated had I not already booked into another hostel, with zero bad reviews on TripAdvisor, for my return stay in the city.
‘The place stank, the manager was rude. The prick blamed me for not knowing to present a travel voucher to the morning receptionist when it came to doing a day tour.’
‘Shit,’ the long-haired cousin added, looking a little concerned. ‘We’re going back there after this.’
I’d wanted to call home but my mother had told me to keep going - that and the time zone indicated that Melbourne would be asleep and I’d already woken them up when the anxiety caught up with me in Spain. That had me figuring that I’d have to wait until I was back in Marrakech. Shit!
All I could do was join in with the rest of the tour and treat it like the ride of a lifetime. That had of course been the plan anyway. We left the guesthouse before the sun rose, at about 6:00 I think, and got on our way to Todra Gorge. I’d already seen enough photographs that had me thinking it was the set of an Indiana Jones movie, but I was more excited to see it for its natural side. Nature is why I travel, after all.
When we stopped in Tinghir a skinny man in a long white djellaba greeted us at our bus, saying that he was our tour guide; he was going to show us around the small farming community before taking us to the gorge itself. Still, I remained positive. Adventurous. The landscape was abundant with so many colours; the crops, the clear sky, the old earthy-toned buildings. It was a humbled place and humility is what I liked seeing on my journeys. However, even as we were walking and watching I couldn’t help but feel this bad sensation biting away at the back of my mind. Whilst we were walking through the crops, when our guide made a little camel from a long leaf for the Chilean girl in our group, even when we were telling the local children begging for money to bugger off. I was letting myself get clawed at; that one time Subway experience kept repeating over and over, in his voice. Do you have any stew? I refused to let myself take centre stage on this experience; I’d had to put up with an idiot in Thailand who’d done that. This was to be shared.
We moved onto a large house that looked run down on the outside; our guide explained that we would be hosted by the head of a Berber clan and one of his wives. We were greeted by the family head, an aging man with a greying beard and wrinkled cheeks who like our guide wore a djellaba; his was of dark brown wool. Before we entered the home the guide explained that the Wife would shake our hands but couldn’t speak any English; only Berber. He taught us a few phrases to share with her but I quickly forgot them.
As we were served mint tea, yet again, I thought about the previous day so that I might forget about the events of the current. I’d stopped at a carpet shop with my first tour where I’d received a similar form of hospitality; mint tea and bright local smiles. The hosts had politely offered us any carpet we liked, for a good price, but my future stops in the Netherlands and England prevented me from buying one; they were just too big and I didn’t want to deal with posting anything back home. Nomadic logic, I had figured. That first host had been nice about it, but…
‘No pressure at all. You buy any one you like. Any one. Two? Take your pick.’ Polite but pushy was the tone the Family Head was using. We were allowed to take pictures, which was enough for me, and were taught a few things about the carpet profession.
‘Is there anything you know about carpet weaving?’ the Family Head asked us, still sitting next to me. There were heads shaking all around the room, but then I raised my hand.
‘I learnt yesterday that the women weave the carpets with whatever spare time they have. The women never know for sure how long it’s taken them to weave a single carpet.’
The Family Head disagreed in an open and loud fashion that left me in a state of meh. I peered over at the English cousins who looked as if they were concealing some laughter. The Carpet Weaver looked up, silent as always, before returning to her work. Her husband then instructed her to start unrolling carpets for us to look at and feel, no doubt adamant that he’d make a sale.
Each one of those carpets had a nice texture to them. The shades were vibrant, as was to be expected, and the patterns were as unique as our fingerprints. We were all taking pictures; one of the Italians had expressed a fleeting interest in one of the smaller carpets but it didn’t eventuate into anything the Family Head was like to react about politely. The Family Head then left the room for some reason whilst the Carpet Weaver stood at one end, looking to her right with both delicate hands buried in her pockets. I took a photo of her, liking the silent pose she was making.
Seriously, who hasn’t picked up on the fact that Subway doesn’t serve stew?!
I watched the Carpet Weaver standing upon her work, not for one moment expressing a hint of pride. I didn’t know if pride was a sin in Islam. We then stood up to leave; I put more heart into thanking the Carpet Weaver for her hospitality, than her husband, before being led by our skinny guide back to the bus and onto Todra Gorge. As we were walking away from the big house in Tinghir I looked back but the Carpet Weaver hadn’t stepped outside to see us off.
‘Shit, he wasn’t impressed with you,’ the long-haired cousin laughed as we walked together.
I arrived at the much cleaner and opened-aired hostel to be greeted by a young man wearing a leather jacket and his black cap backwards.
‘I just want to recover.’
‘Haha, you’re not the first.’
I already liked this place; their Wi-Fi code was Couscous. Once I’d checked in I got my phone charging. When it had power I dialled home and got a hold of my father. It’s one of those chats that isn’t detailed in some How To guide, so I just let it all come out. All of it.
‘Dad, I’m so sorry…’
My tears finally started to stream down my cheeks there, alone, in the dorm room.