Approaching the desert

We’re packed up and ready to go but the family don’t want us to leave.

But why? They genuinely ask, as if something might have happened that made us unhappy here. And indeed, time could stand still and we could get involved with teaching English, learning how to cook Berber style and before we know it a month would be gone. But there is so much more to explore, so we say good-bye and travel on. We give a lift to a Liverpudlian who arrived a couple of nights before and with whom we’d also gone and explored the nearby open air thermal spring. The Ziz Gorge is in fact a long oasis, and the road winds alongside it for a while before lifting up along the side of the mountains, offering spectacular views before finally entering the next plateau.

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We stop off at a supermarket in Errachidia, a town which seems to be full of schools, colleges and Universities, with young people everywhere, walking by the side of the road, sitting in parks and car parks, revising from sheets of paper. Maybe it is near exam time, or the education relies heavily on learning by rote. In any case, it seems that being outdoors is a more effective way of learning than sitting at home.

A boy approaches us asking for shoes, showing us his worn down sandals. We don’t have anything his size. When we come out of the Supermarket, I offer to share some food with him. He is grateful for one of our bananas and he lingers at a respectful distance while we stand outside the van, chatting with Gary, the Liverpudlian. I get a glass and share with the boy the buttermilk drink I’d just bought. He looks at me with grateful eyes. It must be difficult to be an early teenage boy with constant hunger pains. I give him some of our bread too.

It feels entirely different to be sharing food that we’ve just bought for ourselves, especially if we are eating/drinking it at the same time, instead of handing out ‘gifts’ in the form of cheap toys or sweets or pens and paper.

South of Errachidia, the landscape turns into desert. For a while, we drive past a series of villages, houses built of mud by dusty roads, and occasionally a well or a football field. Here too, people by the side of the road, waving, smiling, greeting us as we pass.

After a few kilometres, we are alone in the desert. Or so we think. Who knows, maybe there are still houses or tents, but we don’t see them. But appearances can deceive. Just when we think that we are surrounded by miles of desert, the road takes a turn to the left and drops sharply into a gorge full of palm trees as far as the eye can see. We have arrived at our next destination – Camping T’ssirt.

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