Archive | August, 2011

Cutting My Leg Off

15 Aug

“This is real camel bone,” said the Berber, placing a light, rounded phial in my hand to examine. He pulled out the stopper, showing me the bone applicator inside.

“For putting the black on the eye,” he explained. He picked up a dagger and stroked its sheath.

“Real skin from snake. And this…” he held out an agate pendant set in metal and something I didn’t recognise… “horn of gazelle”.

His smile was captivating.

“Here’s the thing,” I said, finding I was somehow already beside him on the ground, with his blanket of wares spread before us. “I love animals; I don’t want them to die. So what have you got that’s not made from an animal?”

He picked up costume jewellery: semi-precious stones, colored beads, metal hands of Fatima.

“I’ll give you special price.”

It was special, all right. Still unused to the conversion rates, I eventually handed over the equivalent of 50 Euros for two plastic necklaces, and thought I’d got a good deal. I was a bit shocked when Bunty told me what I had just done. The Berber, with some embarrassment, handed me back my money and we fell to haggling again. I had never haggled before. We spent twenty minutes, alternating between grinning and acting insulted, while Bunty waited awkwardly to pay.

“You’re cutting my leg off!” he cried, chopping at his leg with the side of his hand.

We were standing by this time, facing each other down.

“You’re cutting my leg off!” I retorted.

He burst out laughing. I paid him 50 Dirhams for one necklace, which I think was still a good deal for him.

It was drawing towards sunset, when everyone would be able to break their Ramadan fast. Fruits and breads were being sold from stalls all up and down the main street of Mirleft, and dogs hung round in the shade, perhaps waiting for scraps, perhaps just hanging around.

People parked their vehicles anywhere. This van had been left in the middle of the street, causing cars and bikes and donkey carts to weave around it. Nobody seemed to mind.

Feeling drained after our intense bout of social contact, Bunty and I retired to our hostel by the edge of the sea. It’s run by a woman from Lancashire. She knows the Berber, and laughed when I told her how much money I had nearly given him.

“Larbi probably thought it was Christmas!” she said.

Or Muslim equivalent…


The Secret of the Tortoise

14 Aug

Bunty and I are in Morocco. Last night, we slept in a tent surrounded by fruit trees and palms and jasmine, and crickets and stars. The tent stands in a garden called Manzil la Tortue – the Secret of the Tortoise.

We now understand what makes it secret. To find it, we drove along a long, long dirt track, past tiny hamlets of ramshackle houses where all the villagers were sitting out under the stars at their Ramadan feasts. Fearing we were lost, we stopped at a shop the size of a wardrobe, and I got out of the car and asked the three men outside its door for directions. They spoke no English and I had not managed to bone up on French or Arabic, but somehow, with a lot of laughter and a hastily-sketched map, we managed to communicate with each other.

I awoke bright and early, having slept through the muezzin’s call to prayer that woke Bunty in the dark hours. The air was still fresh and laden with jasmine, and I wandered out to explore the grounds. I found three different species of ant, an array of pill bugs, a fly, and three species of songbird. A man raking flower-heads out of the pool greeted me.

“Bonjour”, I replied.

I was bonjoured soon afterward by the camp site guard, a man wearing the long djellaba and pointed yellow slippers seen all over Morocco; and a woman, also in a djellaba, who passed me in a covered avenue of white bougainvillea.


“Ca va?”

A bee the size of a quail egg buzzed around my purple tunic. It was black and white and red – very striking – but it didn’t stay still for long enough for me to phtograph it.

I rounded a corner and found this rabbit enclosure.

I love that they are free to dig and socialise, and have burrows. I was surprised to see that they had been given a large number of orange halves to feed on, and had clearly appreciated them very much. I must try Broccles with an orange one sunny day.

Then I stumbled upon the chooks who will be providing my breakfast eggs a few minutes from now. They look alert and happy too. No battery hens, these.

I was Bitten by a Snake!

3 Aug

This is the snake who bit me yesterday. His name is Dave. He is a Florida king snake.

He is the beloved pet of my brother Dan, whom I am currently visiting in Wales for a few days. See how innocent Dave looks with him.

Whenever I visit Dan, I pop into the room where Dave is kept, and take him out and play with him for a bit. Yesterday, a rat was defrosting in there, and when I began to open the terrarium door, Dave was unusually keen to spring out onto me. He flickered his tongue all up and down my bare arms. Snakes can’t alter their facial expressions, but Dave had a look in his eye that seemed to say, “FOODFOODFOODFOOD! WHERE IS IT? WHERE?”

I kept my fingers clear of his mouth in case he mistook them for mice, but the aroma of the rat was pervading the room, and Dave was extremely excited. The look in his unchangeable eye suddenly said, “ah, what the heck,” and he opened his mouth very wide and clamped it onto my arm.

I suppose you could say it was more of a vehement suck than a vicious bite, but as I have never been bitten by a snake before, I am milking it for all it’s worth. Those raised semicircles show the outline of his jaws.

I stood there for a while, waiting for him to let go, but he didn’t, and the avid look didn’t leave him. He hadn’t eaten for a few days, and was hungrier than usual, but the rat wasn’t defrosted yet. I tried blowing gently on his face to encourage him to let go. He responded by puncturing my top layers of skin with the two tiny fangs he’s got in the roof of his mouth. He sucked and sucked and sucked. I had the sensation of being given a hickey.

I reached under his jaw, and gently prized it open. He relaxed hs mouth and released my arm. I felt a bit guilty for having teased him so and then not fed him. I had inadvertently begun his habitual feeding ritual. I placed him back in his tank and left him to it.

By today, the rat was completely digested. Dave emerged slowly along my arm from his terrarium, and remained docile and curious as I caressed him.