In the cluster of terra cotta-coloured mud brick buildings called Merzouga, Morocco ― something between a village and a town ― Moha Sahlouai Sct (http://www.saharacameltrips.com/) lives and works. His home welcomes camel-trekkers at the beginning and end of a desert adventure. Here our luggage was safely stored while we ventured into fabled lands.
Merzouga is located at the edge of the famous Red Dunes of the Sahara; you may not find the place on a map. Look west, down south near Taouz. Algeria is just a camel ride away. Moha is a Berber, and this is his country.
There are no precise statistics, but the Moroccan population is overwhelmingly mixed Berber and pure Berber descent. True Berbers (or Amizighen) speak a related variety of languages quite different from Arabic; it is only in the last generation that the alphabet (Tifinagh) and writing of Tamazight has been standardized and recognized as a "national language."
The unofficial Berber flag displays the Tifinagh yaz symbol "free man," representing their nomadic heritage.
Moha is one of a handful of entrepreneurs who offers overnight desert camping. And the only way to reach the camp is by camel. His camels, our new best friends, were also waiting to greet us. While torn jeans are often young Moroccan men's choice of garb, Moha did not disappoint in traditional dress and hospitality.
Built around the customary courtyard, a Moroccan home insulates inhabitants from outside noise and passing commotion. Here one is meant to relax. In Camel's House, note the simplicity of typical tiles and ornamentation, the whimsy in the homemade camel toy. A characteristic Moroccan home has a stairway to the roof to enjoy sunrise or sunset (unfortunately no photo to show here). Mint tea is de rigueur for guests who, after their camping experience, can use WiFi to regale their friends with stories.
We were taken to a neighbour who stocks gifts of every description―souvenirs, clothing, beauty products―as well as offering an internet café. Easy to succumb to temptation, lingering and browsing shelf after shelf.
In the winter off-season, Moha and his father work at building ― the ancient technique of mud brick (adobe) construction. The desert camping enterprise has brought new life to Merzouga. A few more shops now entice visiting tourists.
It's a magic world away.
© 2017 Brenda Dougall Merriman