Wednesday, 26 October 2016

The Carpet Weaver

'Travelling - it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.'
I thought I'd kick things off with a quote from Ibn Battuta, because that's what you do. This post, whilst about an existing moment in my life, was inspired by a read I found over at This Battered Suitcase. I can honestly see these types of stories appearing more and more on The Sheep Was Here so I do hope you enjoy.
The Carpet Weaver 
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?                                                                                                                            
‘We’re cousins,’ one of the Brits said; the short-haired one.                                          

‘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 work around there,’ the short-haired cousin then added, ‘in retail.’                          

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.                                                                    
Continuing with my pancakes, I looked up and down the table. There was the tour group I was a part of, each member either being tired or lost in a conversation, as well as the others that had stopped here for the night. At one end were four Muslim girls having a laugh about something and nearby were some Canadians who’d been in the same situation as I the previous day.                                   

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.                                                                
‘You didn’t like it?’ the short-haired cousin asked me.                                              

‘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.’                                                                                                                                  
‘Just don’t ask them for their hospitality,’ I said before my phone vibrated on the table’s varnished surface. The Wi-Fi in this place wasn’t spot on but it got a message across. I then read a message from my mother.
Travelling had been a constant of mine for years now, non-consecutively I’ll add, but in all of those trips I hadn’t missed out on much. That was probably a reason as to why I loved it so much. The chance to swim with a whale shark once deprived me of attending my friend’s baby shower though (it was a non-traditional kind of shindig - the women got to do all of the regular stuff whilst the men got to drink and play pool) but apart from that, nothing. Now, though, I was going to miss something…     

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.                                                
Everything going through my head was all about the destination, as we drove over, but a few relevant randoms made their way into the maelstrom that was my mind. I thought about the times we’d spent together; they hadn’t been as plentiful in recent years, though. Whenever we met he would more or less talk about his one and only time ordering at Subway. It’d become one tedious staple. He could never understand why he couldn’t get any stew there.                                                                           

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.                
The Family Head led us into a room and invited us to sit down on the floor carpeted in a multitude of colours. There were just so many carpets. The Wife was seated in one corner, wearing garb of many blues that concealed her small body; her hijab had a pattern of black and white on it. Judging by her face, alone, she was young but with a darker complexion to that of her husband who then took a seat next to me, of all people. The Wife though, silent as she worked at a loom with varying shades of wool, had a nice smile. We had all shaken her small and delicate feeling hand.                                     

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.                                 
The wool came from sheep and camels, or it was spun from cactus fibres which I’m sure would appease many vegans. The loom in the corner, constructed by the man of the house, looked to have been made from tree branches, and hanging from it were balls of wool coloured in blues, yellows, greens, reds, black and white. The Wife, the Carpet Weaver, was getting bits and pieces out of some unspun wool with what looked like the brush I used on my border collie back home. Whenever she looked up she would smile, making me feel welcomed, which almost had me believing that she might be tuning in with my current state of mind.                                                                                             

‘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.
The mental clawing at the back of mine was still on.                                            

Seriously, who hasn’t picked up on the fact that Subway doesn’t serve stew?!                       
Not until I’m back in Marrakech at that new hostel with the zero bad reviews! Shit!           

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’d seen a Saharan sunset from a top a mammoth sand dune and bused it through the snowy Atlas Mountains; those peeks had reminded me of zebra foal stripes. This stint in African nature was well appreciated, but now I was exhausted. We all were; the sites were beautiful but the tour company we’d travelled with could use a bit of a facelift. I was also well and truly over camels. The plan had been to buy a wooden camel back in Marrakech, for my collection of wooden figurines purchased from abroad, but I thought I’d settle for a cobra instead. Snakes didn’t cause discomfort.                   
We were all dropped off at varying spots around Marrakech just as night had overtaken but I was left feeling nervous since I didn’t know the neighbourhood my new hostel was in. I had a map but I was freaking out a little - a lot, actually. I was the third last to be dropped off; I started walking down Rue de La Kasbah in the dark, once even blending in with a family pulling their suitcases just for cover, but a shopkeeper then came out to me and gave me proper directions. Genuine people are everywhere, I told myself, before I realised that I was standing near a very familiar looking market, and a rooftop café; I’d walked around here days earlier with another Aussie and a Swede. The confidence then returned to me as I started walking the neighbourhood. These streets were quiet, a welcomed upside, because I liked quiet.                                                                                                  
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.                                                               
‘Thank you for choosing us,’ the young man said after my booking was found. ‘If there’s anything you need, just let me and the others know.’                                                            

‘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.  

For Doug...