People of the Cave

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11 May 2014, Sunday

Little did I expect, this drive off the beaten path, would open my heart and eyes to learn a valuable lesson in life. My ultimate intention this time. It was a rocky ride into villages made of clay and then into an empty land.

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Outside the cave home, Said immediately carried a cuddly little lamb.He immediately held out, signalling me to carry the lamb.  Of course, I declined and was laughed at.

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We were invited into the Berber nomad cave home. Said introduced us to the family – Aisyah and her 2 children, Abdullah and Tarbuk (I think). Raoul, Mercedes and Hassan joined us as well.

Here’s their kitchen.
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Their living room, bedroom and dining area.

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Aisyah served us hot mint tea and had a second helping. Said was our translator when I had questions from Aisyah as they could only speak berber Arabic.


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Said shared with us a story of a 72-year old Berber nomad. When asked why he didn’t want to stay in a big house in the city, he replied that everyone will leave this earth and return to Him, regardless of his status.

I teared in my heart. A sudden gush of insaf or repentance.  It would be too embarrassing to cry in front of everyone.  How often do we drown in the world of materialism and place priorities on things that are of least importance. We forget that we are travellers in this passing journey. Our scale of needs and wants tilts to the dunya.

Through Said, I was told that they do not go to school, they can’t read or write. He watched a documentary before which tells of how teachers from the city, gave up teaching the nomads as they were not used to the lifestyle.

They lead a simple life in the cave. They prefer it to the desert where heat can be unbearable. Here, they have access to the well which is about 4km away and a nearby market. Winter could be pretty harsh for them as the cave’s entrance would be covered with snow. Aisyah said she loves the peace and quiet, but would love some noise just like today with us coming over to her place. I told her I prefer otherwise.

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I went out for a while with Abdullah and his sister giggling at my antics – grabbing my bag and running away from the lambs.

nomad9Back in the cave, I signalled to Tarbuk to sit next to me. I showed her the shots I took of her, and she gave the brightest smile.

Raoul shared some stories of historical Spain, with Said translating it to me Surprisingly, I could pick up some words. At one point, Hassan yawned. Mercedes spanked him jokingly like a mother would. Funny bunch of people!

Hassan signalled that it was time to go. Frankly, I didn’t want to leave. I could stay all day with the family listening to their stories and even Raoul’s stories. Nihla and I felt bad for not bringing anything for them. So we gave the oat biscuits to the children.

Their smiles – sweet, innocent and priceless. I will never forget, ever. An expression of innocent love and gratitude.

I really wanted badly to hug them but I wasn’t sure if it’s appropriate.  Not to comfort them but comfort myself. As we were leaving , a man from a neighbouring village came to by to give some clothes to the family. How thoughtful. And I brought nothing.

As we walked to the car, the lambs that took shade by the car, left…as though they understood we were leaving.

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I told Said “Hazihi tajriyyah ro’iyan” (this is a wonderful experience). A humble one in fact. It’s life for the nomads. We find it tough but they love it. I begged Said to bring me back to this family,the next time I am back in Maroc, inshaAllah.

When we were driving out through villages, kids waved excitedly at us. An adorable little boy stopped us and asked Said for “stylo” (I think). Said searched and passed him a pen and drove away.  Another reminder of selfless giving and letting go. Back in my office, I will frustratingly search high and low for my favourite pen.

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Allah put me in a faraway land and taught me to be grateful and reminded me that my problems are small. It took me less than half an hour but miles away from home, to understand the true meaning of syukur. A lesson that I hope I will never forget.

“Leaving the people and places you love, is a reminder of the impermanence of this life. And the permanence of the next.” – Yasmin Mogahed

Night in the Sahara

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Hotel Nomad Palace, a meeting point for travellers heading to Merzouga campsite. Said introduced us to Hassan, his cousin, and we met other travellers.  (Life comes with surprises, and little did we know this was the beginning of beautiful friendships)

The room that we were brought to for a quick shower and prayers, had an open concept toilet.  Only curtains covering the WC and shower area.  Kinda uncomfortable since we are not used to it, but not all rooms are like that. Take note! Quite honestly, I was nervous about the desert stay.  I’m so particular about washrooms, tendency not to sleep well in tents, etc. It’s been a while since I went for camps!

Past 6pm, it was time to ride on the camels. 1.5hr ride to the campsite! No wonder Said warned us it could be our first and last camel ride.  The last time I rode on an animal was 4 years ago, on a horse in the outskirts of Madinah! I get very nervous with animals. We aren’t really best of friends. Haha.

The first thing that came to mind when I was struggling to get on the camel, was “how far and for how long did the Prophet travel?”

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“In the name of Allah, and Praise be to Allah. Glory unto Him Who created this transportation, for us, though we were unable to create it on our own. And unto our Lord we shall return.”

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I got restless. I couldn’t sit still. And I kept looking back cos Nihla’s camel keep getting closer and almost kissing my camel. Hilarious! Well, we survived the ride.  Stopped for a while to capture a beautiful sunset.

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The night at the tent was a bit different from what I imagined it to be. I was craving for grilled lamb (a whole lamb!). But well, our group was too small I guess. We had rice with beef tagine and fruits. Due to a miscommunication, we didn’t take bottled water from Nomad Palace, thinking there will be supply at the tent.  Apparently, not. I was thirsty! A kind Spanish couple who brought their own wine, gave us their bottled water. We were so thankful for that.

We were entertained by Berbers, playing on their drums and clappers, which I tried and failed miserably. Hindi songs by Indian and Pakistani tourists, even by the local men.  Hindi movies – you have conquered the vast desert!  The tourists were surprised I could sing or hum to some popular songs.

A pity, the camera isn’t great enough to capture the happening night.  A few things I’ve learnt in that one night:
1. Singapore is known as the Far East. Far and expensive (on point)!
2. Lame jokes and riddles are universal. The Moroccan guys told us a riddle that I’ve heard in my concrete jungle. “What are the 2 steps to put the elephant in fridge? How about 3 steps to put the giraffe in the fridge? The animals had a party. Why didn’t the giraffe join in the party?” HAHA
3. Stay in the desert, mingle with foreigners and you’ll master Spanish and French in no time.  Ok, I have to stay in the desert.

It was just 2 of us in the tent of 4 beds. I barely slept cos there was a cat meowing (cat phobia) throughout the night and it felt so near, and someone was snoring loudly.

10 May 2014, Saturday

We were the first to be up at 4am for Subuh prayers. Despite the cold morning, we sat outside staring in awe, the star-studded sky.  Such a pity that the rest of the group missed it. The night before it rained and stars were shadowed by the puffy clouds.

Nearing sunrise, the Spanish couple woke up to catch the sunrise. The husband signalled to me, “Come, see it here!” To think that Algeria was just there across the desert.

I witnessed how the camels woke their owners up. Probably for prayers? Hehe.

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In my zone! 
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It was another 1.5hr camel ride to Nomad Palace.  This time with Raoul and Mercedes.

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The contours on the sand dunes, reminded me of the paddy fields in Bali.  In the morning, the desert sand seems more refined and in a far more radiant orange hues than the previous day.  To witness the changing hues of the golden sand sea was a moment of realisation of His creation.

Here’s Aziz, the camel man (or boy?) who took photobook-worthy photos and even commented “Sony? Good! Japanese camera!”camel3

After a simple breakfast at Nomad Palace, we continued our journey to Dades Valley.

Journey to Sahara

Can’t help but wonder how much I will miss this journey.  Only a week left in Morocco, but at the same time, missing home. Woes of a traveller.  (Lying down on my favourite sofa by the window, overlooking the courtyard in Riad Ahlam).

9 May 2014, Friday

8am – we bid goodbye to Kasim and Fathiah. Looked around the riad, trying to capture as much images as I could, hoping these images would forever etch in my mind.

Passing through Midelt (known for apples) towards the desert, we drove by Swiss of Morocco (Ifran). It does look like Europe – the way the trees are lined up and the architectural design of the houses. Snow capped mountains and some green coated ones, the mid atlas, sheep and shepherds, etc. I was too engrossed and too awed, I didn’t take any photo.  Sometimes, I just want to feel my presence in the “now” reality, instead of looking through the camera lens.

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The camera could not capture what the eyes could see.  The eyes could not see what the heart sees and feels. Words that came through my mind when I thought of my family.  Dad would love it here.  And the brother would capture far more beautiful images.

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Past 3pm, the first glimpse of the sahara – orange dunes, which look like mountains from afar.

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For the first time in my life, I saw a mirage (a true city girl huh?)!  Clouds – closest to them when we are in the plane. But ironically, today, I felt closer to these cotton candy in the skies.  Shadows of the clouds reflected on the empty desert. A beauty beyond description, MasyaAllah. I will miss this empty vast space.  How blessed is this land.

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It’s only my sixth day in Morocco, but I’ve picked up quite a collection of new words.  Perhaps if I stay here for a month, I would be able to converse well in Arabic and Moroccan Arabic?

It’s true, what people say, travelling expand one’s horizon.  It exposes you to different culture.  Nowhere is a strange place, it is just a new place for you to learn from.

Important! 

– Pack whatever you need for a night’s stay in a backpack, in advance.  Stow away your luggage in the car. So you don’t have to trouble your guide or yourself with the luggage or huge backpack up and down the vehicle.
– It can get chilly in the desert. Bring a light jacket.
– Bring your flashlight for toilet visits at night in the desert. You wouldn’t want to wake the desert guys up.
– Mineral water for drinking and brushing your teeth.