Old newspaper wrapped small chunks in crates – fossils and minerals …and grey and yellow torn bags bulging with dirt were all now laying far removed from the source from where they came using escavators, hammers, grinders and dusty sweat; and were being moved into a building with huge wooden doors – painted pink…. and a giant padlock; to be viewed by visitors in this time and place.
At an altitude of 1800mts the space was cool and crisp and my hand knitted woollen gloves found themselves very quickly on my hands a couple of mornings ago. So much has happened in the past few days.
Black goats with long scruffy hair scrambled across the rugged gouged slopes which were denuded of most vegetation and dominated the skyline. I’m not certain whether this was due to over grazing or use of materials ….or sheer lack of rain. For whatever reason, the earth lay bare with imposing cliffs and crags and throughout the day’s drive toward the Sahara, Penny carried us through landscape reminiscent of Arizona and Colorado with gorges and sunburned apricot coloured cliffs…and along roads where the rough edges which had crumbled down the edge of the steep slope were marked by large rocks intermittently spaced – or sometimes two, stacked on top of each other. The double row of grey Armco seemed so far away in this rugged expanse and I was reminded of being in Moroc as textured green appeared in the bottom of the valleys and as Penny brought us closer I could see they were dates.
OoooooH! I love dates! Yum! Perhaps we could purchase some???… and sure enough there were little stalls with bunches of drying dates and ones which had been picked – and I could see them all drying on the ground….YES….directly on the dirt….with the animals walking around them and the wind blowing on to them the dust from the road and fields and homes …Hmmmm – I might rethink my planned purchase. I have been rather adventurous and tried the local delicacies everywhere we have been – with one criteria; that it is cooked really well on a flame in front of me. So…I have had char grilled lamb brains (don’t think I will ever do char grilled lamb brains again though!)….flame grilled kebab kidney and liver….flamed goat (which they call lamb..bahaha)…flame grilled turkey….wild caught rabbit tagine;….. so what about these dates?? Nup. This time…A definite Nup!
Horses; bicycles; donkeys loaded with sheep with black curly wool and bemused expressions, stuffed into bulging side baskets; motorcycles with riders wearing huge helmets perched on headwear of fabric which continued to flow over backpacks and the exhaust pipe; motorised pushbikes with girls wearing coloured headscarves and tight pants and white lab-coat styled uniform jackets; mopeds with trailers overflowing with people or sticks or green plants just harvested – all managed to navigate around pedestrians; women in flowing black robes balancing cumbersome loads on their heads and children slung on their back….men with fawn coloured ‘habits’ with pointed crowns which sometimes sagged at the back like a melting coffee ice-cream…young men who wore dark grey trousers and grey cardigans, white shirts and pointy shoes peered out over their reproduction black sunglasses as they held their mobile phone to their latest coiffe of clippered sides….aging men with grey whiskers beneath small tightly fitted head caps and white djell????? shuffled in pale pointy soft skin slippers with no heels…and a woman with a woven reed basket slung on one shoulder filled with what seemed to be long reeds of papyrus for drying and a child slung on the other, and was carrying a large inflatable plastic aeroplane!!! Where were all these people going?
Children seemed to fill the streets in the towns most of the day in waves in both directions on their bicycles with unused bells perched on handle bars…and I just can’t seem to work out when school hours are. Girls holding hands …boys embracing walking with their arms over each others shoulders or holding hands whilst riding their bikes seems so natural and a wonderful expression of friendship; yet something seemed very unnatural – boys are not seen with girls.. and that does not seem to change as these Islamic people age. Women walk singly or in groups with other women….men are with men…..except in circumstances where a family may be waiting on the side of the road waiting to hitch a ride or squeeze into a ‘taxi’ and the man stands waving his arm to approaching traffic whilst the women wait behind in the shadow of the spiny bushes. From my voyeuristic observation women seem to live in the shadows here.
This movement of donkeys and crops and bicycles and flowing fabric, ebbs and flows against the backdrop of men who sit on wire chairs …or squat in lines with their white robes fading into the bare dirt….or stand together in groups of four or five with their hands clasped behind their backs …and talk ..or just stare at the movement which passes in front of their own lives.
Penny led us south and I found myself being transported from the pulsing streets into quiet reflection expansive valleys which led us to the Sahara desert…where the space was filled with a softer evidence of time which was moulded and reshaped every second by the wind.
I was keen to feel the desert breeze and feel the sliding sand in my hands and it wasn’t long before I tasted the sandy wind and my boots sank and the fronts were covered as I walked along the rippled dunes visualizing horsemen and flowing white cloth. There are no horses south of the Sahara because of the tse-tse fly….but they stood strong and majestic in comparison to the ungainly hobbling of camels used for tourist treks.
The sun set as we all sat on a rounded dune which many unfit elderly yet determined vintage car drivers scrambled up sending streams of sand slipping down the edged ridge-line to the top…and I slowly watched time manifest as the darkness slid across the dunes and the orange firey glow disappeared in the west…shaping and sculpting the shadows. I reflected on the shadows of this fascinating country – and the shadows of my own memory and experiences here.