Saturday 23 March 2013

A Desert Drama - 4

 The problem with having a creative but impulsive traveller for a husband is that it makes for an interesting, but disorderly life. Christmas was just seven days away, and as usual, I still didn't know whether to buy a turkey or pack a bag.
     My husband Roy telephoned from his studio to ask if I fancied going to Morocco for Christmas. I immediately had visions of being carried off across the desert by an Arab on horseback. 'Sounds good to me,' I replied excitedly.
     It was as if by magic-carpet, that we arrived at noon the following day on a cheap charter-flight to the Moroccan coastal city of Agadir. We had just two small rucksacks and instructions to be back at the airport in twelve days’ time.
Jean quickly went native
     It was my first time in an Arabic country. Everything was different: men wore flowing gowns and women were rarely seen. The colourless houses blended with the earth; they had flat roofs and few windows. The wind from the east blew eddies of dust and sand everywhere; there was an air of mystery and imagined danger everywhere.
     Roy bought a map, hired a small, rather suspect-looking Renault 5 car, and asked me to navigate a route to a point south of the Lesser Atlas Mountains – we wanted to see the Sahara Desert. 
     Brilliant! I thought. Other wives buy books and read about such journeys. Me, I get to go on them!
     We travelled south-east across a flat plain and into the valleys of the Lesser Atlas mountains. Accommodation, though difficult to find, and basic, was always friendly and hospitable.  The caretaker at one remote Kasbah fort gave us shelter for the night; our bed was a stone platform for which we were given carpets to cover ourselves as protection against the freezing night air.
Bedded down in a Kasbah fort 
     On the morning of Christmas Eve, we stopped for fuel at a roadside 'service station'. It comprised of nothing more than a single 44-gallon drum of petrol under a solitary date palm. It was manned by a young boy, in a long, faded, djellaba nightshirt who hand-pumped fuel into our car. In a low voice, Roy said: 'Promise not to ask for the rest rooms, and I'll promise not to ask for an oil check.'
     Shortly afterwards, we ran out of road, and resorted to following sand and rocky tracks, until they too disappeared. We were travellers, doing what we enjoyed most; ever curious to see around the next bend.
     Using our compass and rudimentary map, we followed dry riverbeds through spectacular sandstone canyons, until we picked up a narrow trail that wound its way eastward along the southern slopes of the Lesser Atlas mountains.
     From the silent, barren mountainside, we saw the stark beauty of the Sahara desert, stretching southward into a blue haze of infinity.
Riverbed tracks
     We had seen just two vehicles all day. As night fell, we stopped to speak with three nomadic herdsmen, shepherding thirty scrawny goats. They indicated that a small hamlet lay further up the mountain. Darkness falls rapidly at this latitude, so we made haste – if picking our way along a goat trail at 20 mph can be called haste.
     Within ten minutes, disaster struck. I felt a sharp jolt as the car bumped over a large rock, and we felt the wheels slip off the edge of the track. Then, as if in slow motion, the car started to roll sideways down the mountain.
     We rolled three and half times before becoming wedged against a well-placed boulder. I remember thinking that I should have screamed, but I was too disorientated and winded to do so.
     Roy, san seatbelt, was in a heap on top of me. He said: 'Mmm! That was different! How are you doing, luv? You alright?'
     'I think so,' I gasped.
     'Well, don't move a muscle, in case we keep rolling,’ and with that he reached across me to switch off the ignition.
Jean with Berber and two wives
     In the fast fading light, I saw that the roof had caved in and the windscreen had shattered. The one accessible door was jammed. Roy gingerly kicked a hole in the windscreen and crawled out, pulling me with him through the jumble of glass, maps, books, and backpacks.
     We checked ourselves for injuries and found that apart from a bruise to my elbow, we had escaped unscathed. The car, however, would take some explaining to the rental company.
     'Well!’ said Roy. ‘No one is likely to find us here, so let’s grab our backpacks and start walking before it becomes totally dark.'
     We followed the cold, moonlit track for almost an hour before stumbling upon a hamlet of seven houses. We called out the Arabic greeting of: ‘Assalam o alaikum.
     Low, hesitant voices could be heard murmuring. A door scraped open to reveal a tall Berber tribesman in a jellaba and headgear; he was holding a flickering oil lamp. ‘Alaikum Salaam,’ he replied, in the traditional Arabic manner.
The Manger Inn
     Using French, English and a liberal helping of sign language, we managed, like ducks talking to chickens, to understand one another. It mattered little that we were British and Christians, or that he was Arab and Moslem. We were fellow humans, and we were in distress.
     He quickly organised two of his three wives and five children to clean out an animal shelter. They laid matting for us to sleep on, provided a lantern, and fed us almond paste and unleavened bread. Lady Luck had smiled kindly upon us!
     Later, as I snuggled down in our sleeping bag for the night, I heard the rustling sound of goats fidgeting in the stone corral outside.
     'You know where we are, don't you?' Roy said.
     'I haven't a clue,' I replied.
Goats fidgeting in the coral
     'Well, we are in a manger, under a star-filled sky, and it just happens to be Christmas Eve. So, if you hear three men jabbering at the door during the night, for heaven’s sake ignore them and pray that they go away.'
     ‘I should be so lucky.’ I thought, as I drifted blissfully off to sleep. I was quite happy to settle with a Christmas gift of new Arabic friends, without the prospect of a newborn babe as well.
     I wonder if I should buy a turkey next year …  
 Written by:- Roy “Jean” Romsey

Library of Stories                                       Home


  1. Oh this is brilliant! Lovely read, had a nice chuckle, but how on earth did you manage to get out of there?

  2. Hello Dana,
    So pleased you enjoyed the 'Morocco - A Christmas Tale' What happened next will have to be another story
    I am trying to make each story self-contained within 1,000 words, It was fun writing it in 'Jean's' voice', it seemed the appropriate thing to do.
    Have you read my other blog page in which I write in the voice of my neighbour's baby girl?
    This is a fun site, read from post No 1, Take care, love to the family. Roy

  3. Good one, Roy. What a great way to spend Christmas.

  4. Hi Jane, that's a wonderful way of writing very interesting. Hope you enjoyed though scared. from nayana, india


Your comments are welcome, they will help decide the type and style of writing.