In the great African desert rain is more precious th*,gold.

It is God's gift to the land for when it falls grass flourishes and wells fill with water. Men and camels live. But when it fails, and the grass withers and wells dry, men and camels who have not found refuge die. For the Reguibet Bedouin this story of life and death is as eternal as wind and sand. The Sahara is a harsh land. Yet for 800 years the Reguibet have lived there and driven their camels from place to place in an endless search for water and grazing. The Bedouin life is hard, but for the Reguibet there is no other way. It is the life of their fathers and of their fathers before them. And it is a life, inshallah, that will be passed on to their sons. 16


Above: The flat gravel plains of Yetti on which nothing grows. To the SE are great dunes of sand which mark the beginning of Erg Iguidi. The large metal barrels are for water. The other bundles contain tea, sugar, flour, rice, blankets and rugs. These are standard trade items and, along with camels, are the medium of exchange of the Sahara. Far Left: Saharan rabbit tastes good. From left to right: Bakar, Moulay and "Muhammad. Note the liver and other organs. The bones were crushed to make soup. Nothing is Wasted in the Sahara. Left: Roy Warden greets the morning in Erg Chech. In normal years there is enough rain to support occasional patches of nourishing scrub. But not in 1972. Weakened by the poor grazing, the camels could only manage fifteen miles per night. Our journey, expected to last two months, lasted seven.

In the winter of 1972 I obtained special permission and assistance from the Moroccan government to organize a camel-trading expedition to trace the ancient caravan route from Morocco to Timbuctu. For seven months I lived in the desert as an Arab. I ate and drank as they did and wore the same clothes. Enduring the fierce heat ofthe sun, my companions and I travelled through desert regions none of us had ever seen before, and this, despite our ethnic differnces, brought us close together. To travel in the Sahara on camels with Arabs is to form an inviolable bond that transcends family and tribal loyalties. Had it become necessary my friends would have fought for me against their own brothers. I would have done the same for them.

For months we wandered a land ravaged by sun and wind. The entire Western Sahara had been afflicted with severe drought. In 1972, along the infamous slave-trading route, grazing lands were barren and useless. Our camels weakened and four of them died. Had it not been for an accidental encounter with Bedouin just coming up from the south who directed us to a more easterly route, we would have continued on and perished.


Top: The late morning sun forces us to camp. At every stop the trade-goods, water barrels, food, etc, must be unloaded and the hobbled camels turned out to fend for themselves. We will put up a tent to keep off the sun and then prepare our one meal of the day - sand-baked bread or rice - if we can find enough sticks to make a fire. If not, we will eat dates. Above: The 'blue one' nibbles fourthyear scrub in the land the Reguibet know as Erg Chech. Camels store water in their stomachs: fat in their humps. In 1972 the grazing was poor and our camels suffered. The people I travelled with did not like cameras, so most of my pictures were taken at a distance. Left: Mauritania - south of the wells at Chegga. Muhammad leads the caravan past mountains of black rock in the land which the Requibat know as 'El Hank'. These six camels and the supplies they carry, represent my investment of $4,500.

The Arab Telegraph We were saved by the 'arab telegraph'. Arabs are compulsive talkers and whenever they meet they put up a tent, brew green thickly sugared tea, and exchange all the news of kinsmen, tribal movements, camels, and wells, dry or productive. The Bedouin who directed us to greener pastures had never been there themselves but recently had spoken to someone who knew someone else who had camped there three months before. The news was third hand but fortunately it was accurate. As our caravan progressed further into the desert the heat of the sun became almost unbearable. To conserve water we travelled at night, guiding ourselves by the stars through a world of silence which seemed infinitely remote. The desert at night is a gentle place in great contrast to what it becomes at dawn. In the morning there is none of the innocent freshness of a new day. The sun springs across the sky like a cruel beast roused from an angry sleep and we would have to halt our march to escape its wrath under a few small pieces of white canvas. The hobbled camels were turned out to fend for themselves. One day in the black rock regions of El Hank we were awakened from a sweaty sleep by the roaring of camels. 19

Through the shimmering of the heat moving to the confines of cities, where mirage a small caravan appeared led by foreign influences will corrupt the a single man. He couched his camels, values which have sustained them for so untied the saddles, and turned the long. If the rains do not soon come the hungry beasts loose to wander through freedom of the desert will be lost to them forever. the scanty brush nearby. With Salaam Aliekum, the usual desert greeting, he entered the tent and sat, and only after Key to Life the customary drink and three glasses In the Sahara the absurd appearing of tea did he begin telling us his story. camel is the key to life. Converting His name was Bakar and for a month miserable desert scrub to flesh and he had been on the trail from Tindouf. power, they are the only domesticable He had begun his journey with twelve creatures on earth to actually thrive in camels, each carrying a 300 lb. load. desolate regions. The camel provides But the grazing had been poor and the the Bedouin with milk, meat, and camels had weakened, and one by one transportation, as well as a medium of he had turned eight of them loose to exchange, for they are traded to forage for themselves and regain their caravans such as ours for tea, sugar, strength. The goods they carried had to flour, rice, olive oil, and other be left behind. necessities. This seemed to me a disaster for he But the endless accumulation of had not only lost his trade goods but camels is not the Bedouin's sole reason most of his camels as well. But it was in dealing in them, for wealth in the soon explained to me that this was not desert is almost meaningless. The so. owner of a thousand camels dresses and Camels, it seems, have an uncanny eats and conducts himself no differently sense of direction and the ability to than the man who owns SO. Both remember each and every place they've endure the same sun, drink the same been since birth. When turned loose water, and pray to the same God. In they always return to the place of their times of hunger the poor man is suporigin. Bedouin who encounter freed ported by his more affluent brothers camels never molest them as the 'tele- with no loss of face. Islamic teachings graph' carries the news of their release and the rigours of the desert are and markings on their necks make their powerful equalizers. identity clear. Bakar's camels were from Timbuctu, and since that was where he was going he knew someone Thirst and near Death In Erg Chech we came upon the wells would return them, or they would at Moktar and found them dry. It was a wander in by themselves. His trade goods were safe enough disaster, for our water skins were nearly until he returned for them or sent empty. Muhammad climbed to the someone in his place. His 'mark' was on bottom and dug with grim determinathem and the story of his misfortune tion but it was a futile effort. The wells was in the 'news'. In the Sahara that is were dry and the realization that we were about to die confronted us. protection enough. We put up a tent to keep off the sun and drank the last of the water. Then Cbange we lay back and looked up through the Throughout Bakar's story T noticed canvas at the sun we knew eventually his curious but polite glances in my would kill us. Each in his own way predirection. Satisfied with my identity at pared himselffor the horror that was to last he turned to me and said; come. "We have a proverb that 'he who As the longest afternoon of our lives hasn't travelled does not know the value wore on with exasperating slowness, we of a man', so it is good that you have sweated precious moisture and knew come. When I was younger the land was the agony of thirst. I had never before more blessed with rain and we made the been much of a religious person but I difficult journey from Timbuctu in 52 became one now. Drifting off into that days. We knew where there was grazing twilight that exists between wakefulness and where to stop. We took only food and sleep. I prayed for our deliverance for one meal a day and by the time we and Muhammad heard me. He sat up reached M ahgreb the last of our dates and remembered his father who had were gone. But we were stronger then once been to a well 40 kilometres to the and the days of the Sahara are east of Moktar: "He was only there changing. The young are no longer once, may Allah bless his memory, and interested in making such a trip. They that was many years ago. He said the are content to sit in their tents and water was so cursed and foul with salt listen to radios and drink tea." that even the camels refused to drink it. Months later in Timbuctu as I That is why no one goes there much or watched the first ofthe great migrations speaks of it, Moktar always had water." caused by the drought, I remembered Elated, we lay back and waited for Bakar's words and put them in new evening to begin our march. But perspective. Change for the Saharan depleted of moisture my body was peoples appeared inevitable. Driven finally refusing to sweat. I writhed in from the land of their ancestors by the torment and again I prayed: Dear God, ravages of sun and wind, they were Sweet Jesus, Holy Mother, please,

please, please, show compassion and give me something to drink and I will always believe." Again Muhammad sat up, his body swaying in the heat, his mouth opening and closing but with no sound coming out. Finally with great effort he said he was very thirsty and, by God, we must all drink now or never find the strength to survive the evening. He looked at the others with such intensity that I knew something terrible was about to take place, Then looking at me with a fierceness I had never before seen, he drew a daggar from beneath his robes and with a long sweeping motion over his head plunged it deeply into the sand. "Bismillah el ghamel!" There was absolute silence in the tent. The last card in our game of survival was about to be played. Outside I heard a camel bawling and thrashing in the sand. There were a few quick shouts, then more bellowing and struggling. Then nothing but the sounds of a knife. The others returned with a bowl of thick greenish liquid. Mohammad told me it was God's gift from the stomach of a camel. We would drink this vile liquid or die. When the bowl was passed to me I swallowedhard and began to drink. As thirsty as I was I would never have believed any liquid could lack the quality of wetness. But this did. It had a smell, a texture, and a burning thickness tasting of bile and half digested grass and I gagged on it, forcing it down, again again and again, until my portion was finished and the bowl was empty. I lay back and my body bathed in sweat as usually happens when one drinks after a period of extreme thirst. Not a squeemish person, I was still profoundly moved by what was happening to me. Living juices, still warm from a camel's life, were churning in my stomach and sweating through my pores and years later I would still be able to taste them. In dreams. We broke camp. We took down the tent and folded our blankets. Fighting to control my nausea, 1 managed to tie my saddle on without help. A burning thickness rose in my throat and my stomach contracted violently. I swallowed hard, again and again. I could not afford the pleasure of vomiting: As we finished our preparations the sun touched the horizon and bathed the sands in the last of its golden hues. Bright colours reflected from everything around us; from the whiteness of the sand, from the camels still couched, from the very air we breathed. We paused for a moment, noticing it as if we had never seen it before. Knowing we might never see it again. Then we swung into our saddles, our feet touching our camel's necks in a certain manner. They rose jerkily, in unison. Together my companions and I turned towards the East. till


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