Extreme Nomad

drug planes in the Sahara

The sky was brilliant blue, the air hot and still. I was picking prickly pear flowers and handing them to Fleabag. There it was again, that same angry grumble I had heard earlier. I looked up to see a jet thundering overhead like a colossus in descent, undercarriage...

What have I done?

Lying in my sleeping bag, wriggling to make a body-sized dent in the hard mattress of the lumpy desert floor, I felt glad day five was over. Not for the first time had Samir repeated verses from the Qur’an that he knew off by heart, giving himself marks out of ten,...

A new language

Tamahaq, sometimes refered to as Tamashek or Tamajak, depending on regional dialect is the ancient and, some would argue, dying language of Tuareg nomads. It is spoken throughout the Saharan regions, and to an outsider like myself, sounds a bit like a cross between...

The forgotten

ve here survive in the face of their homesickness. Water for washing is rationed to once a month. There is not enough food to feed the children and, thanks to the irony of medicines made available by charities, the population is growing.

We waved our farewells and became small dots among the other dots fading on the horizon, locked in the spiral of our own frustration. Tribal feuds and conflict have caused many battles in Africa, but the greatest enemy of all is poverty.

The Tuareg

The Tuareg, the Blue Men of the desert, or the Kel Tamahaq, as they prefer to be known in Algeria, number around two million and belong to no fewer than eight territorial groups. The Kel Ahaggar live around the Hoggar and Tassil-n-Ajjer mountain regions. They are well...

Day three: colour in the desert

The desert can never be imitated in a photograph, or summed up in a souvenir. Every aspect of its complexity defies capture. In a universe of yellows, the smallest contrasting bright shades stand out. Details appear magnified, more intense – the beige of...

Desert walk: day one

We moved off towards a vast empty landscape, the mountains like the edge of a saw along the horizon – two nomads, five camels like giant tortoises with their homes on their backs and a bewildered stranger. In the West, where rainfall is frequent, we crave the sun. To...

Catching camels

Tracking camels is an inexact science. In theory there are toe marks and droppings to follow. Suleyman, a seasoned professional, could tell by examining the tracks the sex of a camel, when it had last been watered and whether it had a rider. If the markings showed the...

Day one: the plateau of rivers

It is easy to see why the Tuareg call this place the plateau of rivers. The land ebbs, flows, rushes and pulses. It moves constantly. Where there is sand it is icing-sugar fine, swept smooth by the winds and sometimes bearing minuscule footprints hinting of moonlit...

Saharan meditation

The Tibetan word for yoga, naljor, means abiding naturally, just being. In the desert, just being has a quality unlike any other place. When surrounded by wilderness stillness, patience and the suppression of the self lend themselves to the discipline of meditation....

Stressed in the Sahara

Stress takes on its own momentum. In times of anxiety we are like children peeking through a hole in a fence, not catching the view in its entirety. Ignorance all too often misconstrued as naïvity is in reality denial. Inevitably, there was even more to the trip than...

The Art of Loading a Camel

‘Where’s the other tent, Samir?’ We were standing on the sand, around us a battalion of bags, bundles and boxes extending towards the distant horizon. ‘Well, we are good friends…’ ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Just good friends.’ ‘If we know that, there is no problem.’ ‘What are...

A trip to the marabout

As they had raised their chèches out of respect, I wondered what the elders were really thinking. If they regarded it as unusual for a foreign woman to travel alone and admit herself to their home, they had been too polite to say.Experience told them to be on guard....

A desert bath

The men spent so much time with their camels that they didn’t notice that I smelt like one. Amina and Rhaicha understood. Tucked away, in a quiet corner of the compound, a shelter of twigs had been woven into a dome, over which coarse blankets were secured. Inside,...

Borders

One afternoon, father, son and I sat beneath a spreading acacia and divided up our duties for the trip. In other words, Suleyman announced that he would look after camels and navigation, Samir decreed that he would cook and look after the water supplies, and then,...

The elders’ offer some advice

Bright and dark, the shades of yellow on the crumpled paper seemed to merge. Patches of ochre seeped into orange, beiges faded to black and contours meant to distinguish the varying terrain blurred. I had bought the map in London. Looking at it now, there must have...

The Meaning of Jihad

The message of love and tolerance advocated by most peace-loving Muslims stands today in direct opposition to the perceived association of Islam with violence at the heart of a clash of cultures that threatens to engulf the world in a third great war. Surely for the...

The question of Fleabag’s soul

With his pipe perched precariously between his lips, Suleyman lit another match, proclaiming that the Four Aces tobacco he had procured on the black market in Abangerit didn’t taste the same as it used to in the old days. ‘So who is this 'specialist'?’ I asked. ‘He is...

Taxi to Tamanrasset

Taxis are a law unto themselves in the desert. When and if one appears depends on the heat and whether a driver is prepared to make the trip. The money they earn is always secondary. We trundled across the rocky plain, jammed together and united by our discomfort....

When on camelback

Fleabag refused to budge. Her head was up. She had a purposeful look. She had learnt early that in the middle of the day, when it was hot and unbearable, a roar created a fuss and brought any human scurrying with the water bucket. A gentle tug of the rope to one side...

Islam: unity and division

As the recent horrific attacks in Manchester and London kill and maim more and more innocent people, those who commit the atrocities in the name of Islam are achieving exactly the division, fear and mistrust in our world that are their goal. The current rift between...

Remembering Kabul

The thud of dough against the walls of a bakery oven; the wail of prayer and the buzz of a helicopter… these where the sounds of the morning of 1 October 2006. I remember the light gleaming, radiating from the high walls as if the dust itself were gold. I was just...