Morocco is 80% Berber and 20% Arab but the Berbers are considered 2nd class citizens. The Berber way of life is truly remarkable. I have mentioned in other posts that these people are awesome. Humble to a fault, they believe in community. If you need help in public, in anyway, a Berber will go out of his way to be sure you have what you need. In Toronto I have often thought you could lay dying on the street and no one would notice. Here, I have witnessed many times, people stop what they are doing to go out of their way to help someone.
Giving alms is one of the 5 pillars of Islam. But it is also a Berber tradition. At the fish market in Essaouira, there is an area where you can go first thing in the morning to get fresh fish if you are in need. Those in need are served first and served best. How lovely.
Berbers are nomads and farmers. In many families, the sons go out and mind a field during parts of the year and then have other more nomadic duties during other parts of the year. They meet in the oasis once a week for market day, which is crazy and busy and madness. They buy and sell what they need – clothes, vegetables, animals, tools, and bamboo showers. Sharp contrast to Loblaw’s and the Eaton’s Centre.
There is always a rooster crowing or a donkey baying (they are seriously belligerent), and camels and goats wonder the side of the road eating from trees. The lifestyle is ancient, and traditional.
Camels, you see, are not kept, but they are owned. They have brands on their legs. But you can’t stable a camel. They are huge. And they need to eat. And there is no system for going out and getting food for them. So they wander free. Which I never really thought about until one night in the Sahara when I was talking to my favorite Berber. What a bizarre conversation it was. My mind literally tipped off its axis.
You see, we were in our camp in the middle of this giant desert. It was cloudy sadly, which means I now have to go back to the Sahara. And I will. So we’re sitting there chatting. I was talking about something in my work life. In my head I had visions of home, and Daisy, and my car and our stupid highways and giant stores and modern life in Toronto. Then I asked about the guys who were our hosts at the camp. “Do they live here?” “Do they work here all day?” “What is their life like?”
In a calm, matter of fact tone, Mustapha tells me that they are nomads and they stay in the camp and these two brothers look after the place. They do the cooking and the cleaning up and take care of the guests. During the day, however, one of the boys had been out walking around looking for camels. “Why the hell would he do that?” I asked. “Because he needs them. There are tourists coming that want to ride them”. WTF????? Don’t they have a Jeep handy or something?
See, as I mentioned, camels can’t be kept. They are free to wonder in the desert. Ask one of the Mustapha’s (our driver too was a Mustapha) if they are owned by someone (vs wild) and the answer is always, “of course”. They wonder around and they roam free and graze on the plants where ever they can find them. Arugula is a popular choice or alfalfa, lots of water. Camels can survive for many months without water as long as they can have plants with water content. They also have a leader. One camel that is smarter than all the other camels and he leads the way. They can be worth around 2,000-5,000 euro depending on the camel.
What if the camels wonder over the Algerian border? Well then you just have to wait and hope they wonder back cause you can’t follow them. Silly camels apparently aren’t aware of politics. And this is always said with a rather helpless facial expression while facing the border. What can you do? Machi mushkil. (no worries)
So how do you find a camel? If you are smart, you know where to look. You go to the well that we passed on the way to the camp. It was a 45 min drive. No problem says Mustapha, they walk very fast. (The camel boys, not the camels). You look for places where there are plants and you follow the camel fruit (poop) and you just “know”. I can’t imagine having my car breakdown, forget having to set off on foot in the Sahara looking for not just a camel, but MY camel. Jesus.