You just know that this camel is a good storyteller for his face is droll. His stories will have a world weary cynicism and a fair amount of bad language, because his life is of the “you have to laugh” variety. He has the misfortune to be a prop camel along the daily route for caravans of tourist buses visiting Berber villages in the foothills of the Great Atlas Mountains. Each day he must stand till footsore (and no one likes a sore camel toe) having his photo taken with and by sundry Europeans, and providing some of them with opportunities for swaying video footage of barren hills, and a lofty shag pile seat. “Prickly pair in from South London today–real Berber figs” he will tell his friends over a Camel cigarette and a trough of mint tea (drink it while you can) tonight . ” I told them I was allergic to willow and sneezed all the way down the track. Hump-shaking. Snot everywhere. Feet and feet of phlegm. She thought she’d be sick with all the jiggling and he dropped the lens cap for his Minolta. I stood on it. Then I stopped to graze on some absinthe and told them it made me hallucinate sometimes, especially when I mix it with Aloe Vera like I did this morning. Told them that last week I’d charged a mosque–not many dead, but created a few more cripps to beg outside the Bahia Palace. Said I mistaken a call to prayer for a bad George Michael cover. May our holy Fat Back Father give rest to his soul I said, but I won’t have that man mocked. Gets my back up. Then I sneezed again before quickening to a trot and turning sharply towards the shop that sells tagines and tea glasses,singing Wake me Up before You Go Go at the top of my lungs. South London asked to get off pretty quick after that, and there were no more takers. Fondouk ’em. Fondouk em all”
The day trip from Marrakech was a bargain 200 dh (about $20 or 20 pounds sterling) but of course there was a Berber accessory tax. At the camel pit stop we were surrounded by artisans peddling bangles and crystals and necklaces. It became clear our minibus would not be going further until we were bedecked and the peddlers’ pockets were suitably full of small change. I like my purchases and they weren’t expensive but I did have a lingering suspicion that my salesman’s next step was to dash home to get on the internet and order his next shipment from Beadazzled.
Our next stop though was a Berber house (earthenware and textile shop attached, natch) and if they did have internet they hid it very well. There was electric light but cooking was done on an open fire, and the sink was a hole in the stone, filled by a hose running from a mountain stream. It was a little too real to be dismissed as a folk museum. There was one dirty sock on the bedroom floor and a well worn pair of wedge flip flops by the bed. The toilet was Western. That house had no satellite dish, but many do. Today we saw remote Berber villages where flat roofed houses clung to sheer rock face. Satellite dishes were the second highest structures in each hamlet, just below the crescent and orb on top of the mosque. The Berbers are such polished and accomplished people, with a long history of entrepreneurship that it is almost impossible to believe that they are as poor as they look. I like to fantasize (when bargaining for frou) that they have villas in Marbella and pied a terres in the Portobello road and are buying and selling us all. This picture fades though when you see a young woman toiling along under an unfeasibly large pile of sticks tied to her back with a sheet, or a rag bag Grandma working a small scythe in unkind dirt. Where the tourists stop, there will always be someone who can charge your iPhone via the computerized restaurant till. But right next door there are also desperate-eyed men selling second hand trainers (tennis shoes) in children’s sizes from the back of a donkey cart. No USB there. Morocco has just unveiled the world’s largest solar power plant in the Sahara desert–it will provide electricity for more than a million people. Huge innovation that surely must change communities where people still grind argan nuts by hand, and stand in the street winding twine to hand-sew shoes.