Five days in the desert. Chapter three

The old storyteller sat up tall. He touched a thumb to his own chest.
‘It’s in there waiting’, he said.
‘What is?’
‘Your story’.
‘Waiting for what?’
Mrabet closed his eyes.
‘It’s waiting for you to close your eyes and wake up.’

Tahir Shah, ‘In Arabian Nights’.

It’s a bit like buying a Hawaiian shirt when you’re on holiday making observations of another culture, but while I’m here in the desert, I’ll stick my neck out and say that the words of Tahir Shah echo through the streets, souks and sands of this country; storytelling really does seem to be at the very core of its culture. The drumming of the Berber boys around the camp fire the other night and the prayer song that accompanied it were what Kirsch claimed as his Inheritance Track as we went around the group. It was the soundtrack of his childhood. While others chose ‘The Animal Fair’ or ‘Waltzing Matilda’ ( and not even the Tom Waits version), Kirsch’s choice, echoed by Mustapha, the kitchen boy who had joined the drumming, was more than a prayer. It would have schooled him in the ways not just of his tribe but of his fathers and forefathers. It sounds cliched even now while the Hawaiian shirt still looks ok, but things don’t change much in the desert. The story is everywhere.

So it was just the place to do a dream writing workshop before the Fez crew made their way home after a weekend in the sands. Again, the fear and anxiety turned into surprise and awe at their own creativity, and the tears came, as they so often do, at the release but also at the sheer beauty of what was being revealed by people they thought they knew. With bags already being loaded into the Landrover, the group ripped open a new seam of connections and the hugs as it split, one car heading off on the eight hour trip home and the other going back to Tissardmine for one more night, were long and hard.

The stories of these people who have shared my long desert weekend at CafeTissardmine will be ones I’ll take home with me, storing them for the moments when the small people get into my head again and try to squeeze me back into their pigeon holes: Jess and her Moroccan bling and artisan tours, Vago with his tales of Hawaii and Moroccan wife, Hannan, and Colleen and her Essaouira chic and Aussie humour. Simo, her shy Moroccan partner with his Casablanca class and gentle storytelling, Kirsch and his Berber generosity and boyish humour and Youssef with his enigmatic smile and Persil white turban. And Karen Hadfield. Not brave, she says, but yes, intrepid, who came to the desert for a holiday and came back for life, who had a vision and built a palace which even as I write, people find. A band of adventurers from Holland whose desert bug ran out of petrol rather handily just outside the house, have been scooped up and given a tent and mint tea, and will join us for our wine and tagine as if they were family tonight. Ok, so they’ll pay but they’ll see it as an oasis – as it is, and they too will go home with stories to remember of the super-tall British Australian woman they met in the desert and her band of Berber brothers who helped her find her home.

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