LIZ HARROD

On the Other Side – 6 April

In Morocco, Travel 2011 on April 6, 2011 at 7:33 am

My second day in the desert with Youssef was spent much like the first.

We played on the dunes, with me nipping at his heels and him, after realizing I would literally follow him anywhere, purposely leading me in circles and on unnecessary detours – laughing as I walked out of my way simply to stay in his footsteps.

He reminded me that there would be more tourists joining us that evening, saying it like it was a good thing. I tried to explain that I wasn’t actually looking forward to that: so many people, and I liked it just being the two of us.

Regardless, the time came for us to leave the Berber camp. So we had tea, packed my camel, said our thanks and were on our way – this time with Youssef in his much better suited soccer jersey, hoodie and turban.

The ride to the oasis didn’t take long, though my camel, who I learned is named Mali, was a bit of a misbehaving camel. Rather than eating yesterday afternoon and evening like he was supposed to, Mali spent his day napping. Then it got dark. So he couldn’t see to eat. Then we had a rather hungry camel on our hands.

Not to worry, Mali found plenty of road side snacks, stopping frequently to tug at the grasses and collect all the green bits off of each patch: his source of both food and hydration.

We would have been quite a sight, me on my camel, Mali zigzagging between plants, and Youssef in his t-shirt and turban – smoking a cigarette and no longer leading Mali, but just tapping him with a reed every now and again, just to keep him moving in the right direction -but of course there was no one else to see us.

Arriving at the oasis, I thumped myself onto a bench, bit less tolerant of the afternoon heat than Youssef. He made us more tea and started lunch. We spent the afternoon eating and drinking and playing on the dunes. He found another camp that lent us their sheesha pipe. So we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon in the shade of the tent, smoking the sheesha and listening to more music.

Then the others arrived: two Canadians, one Australian and his British girlfriend, and two Americans. From here on out I will simply refer to them as The Others.

The Others rode up on their camels as Youssef strapped his turban back around his head. I could see baseball caps from afar and hear the accents. Admittedly turned off my the interruption in my surroundings, I was still intrigued by others who spoke English. I brushed myself up a bit and went to introduce myself, hoping for some pleasant travel companions. What i found instead was appalling.

First, The Others were obviously not enjoying having their comfort pushed so far. One was a bit motion sick from the camel ride. Another refused to take off his tennis shoes and socks – god forbid he go barefoot in his jorts. Yet another was digging granola bars from her fanny pack.

I don’t mean to generalize, but people who carry granola bars in fanny packs really shouldn’t ride camels in the desert.

Anyway, I attempted to strike up a bit of conversation, but I think they thought me a bit odd for willingly traveling with my guide alone and spending more than twelve hours in the Sahara. I guess I can see their point, but still.

Youssef and The Others’ guide had to start dinner. So I was left to my own defenses with them. We had some tea, which they all hated, and then decided to head up the dune for sunset. Youssef asked me to lead them up the way we had gone earlier that day. So off we went – me and The Others.

Now, seriously the dunes are hard work, but I have dragged seven year olds up a mountain before. The Others put the whining of the seven year olds to shame. Luckily everyone made it, and we all sat together – until I discreetly moved about 10 yards away.

The sun went down and I smiled, knowing they were all wondering how to get off the dune – not realizing yet that running down it would be easy since the sand would move with you. I took the lead again, with The Others behind me.

We all got down safely, and I poked my head into the kitchen tent to let Youssef know we were all back. He smiled at me. I think he was starting to get the hint.

Then came the bad part. While dinner was cooking, we all sat around in the main tent. The Others were still whining a bit about their day, wondering when dinner would start. Our guides joined us, and The Others kept going.

“Do you think they know we’re hungry?”
“Do you think they stay up late?”

They they they they they!

They are right in front of you, and They speak at least some English, so may understand you. And even if They don’t, it is still rude to talk about someone like they are not there.

I looked at the westerners in the tent with me, hating them for being walking billboards for stereotypes that many travelers spend so much time trying to break.

While watching the stars, I sat with Youssef and smiled. “So they’re kind of loud, hey?”

He just laughed and told me that after dinner, he and I would smoke sheesha without them, and that would make it easier.

At the end of the day, The Others did not even come close to ruining my second day. There were two many other moments without them that I will love and remember forever.

However, I won’t forget them either. In a way I’m also glad I met them. It taught me a bit about the kind of traveler I am. There are people who, when visiting a place, look at it like a stage, and keep the safety of that fourth wall. That’s just not for me. I’m on the other side of that wall. I want to be in your world experiencing, not just watching and commenting like you’re in a zoo.

Oh, thank goodness for Youssef – he was my sanity that night.

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