“Thief, thief! Someone has stolen my camel!” cried Nasrudin.
Finally after the commotion was quietened someone observed, “But Nasrudin, you have no camel.”
“Shhh…” said Nasrudin, “I am hoping the thief is unaware of this and the camel will be returned.”
This is my camel, eating my hat. Her name is Nasruda, and when I say she’s my camel, I mean she was my camel for one morning. I would gladly have taken her with me when we left, but Ali the camel man might have noticed me trying to cram her into the car.
I can’t remember what Bunty’s camel was called.
We were guided into the desert south of a busy little town called Tagounite. The sun hung like a huge peach, and one could look directly at it through the haze of dust. We tried to photograph it dipping behind the dunes, but night falls quickly here, and by the time we had stopped the car and pulled out our cameras, it was nothing but a glow, and the stars were coming out.
As we waited for our evening meal of tajine, a casserole baked in clay pots, everyone gathered on rugs and cushions outside the tents for a jamming session. Daouad, in the blue djellaba, told me they do this every night.
There was a group of Eastern Europeans staying there too, speaking a language we couldn’t identify. When the Berbers had finished singing, they handed over their guitar and drums, and the Eastern Europeans played and sang gypsy songs from their own country.
What else do the Berbers do to while away their time in the desert, you might ask. They might play on the internet, that’s what.
Bunty and I turned in early, because we were to be rising at dawn to ride the camels into the dunes. Although we had a Berber tent, we followed the example of the Berbers: we spread rugs on the ground outside and slept there, wrapping our faces in cloth against the blowing sand. In true nomadic style, Bunty read himself to sleep by the light of his mobile phone, which was plugged into the car.
When he saw this photograph, he feared that he looked like a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Perhaps he should have opted for an ochre djellaba instead – then he’d have looked like one of the Sand People and could wear it to Star Wars conventions.
The sun rose as swiftly as it had set. We gathered ourselves together, mounted our camels, and Ali led us away into the dunes.
I found riding a camel to be easier than riding a horse. With horses, you have to place your feet in the stirrups just so, grip with your knees, rise to the trot, and hold your hands in the correct position for the reins. When you have M.E., this is exhausting. I can’t stay on a horse for long.
On Nasruda, I found my centre of gravity and remained secure and comfortable for the whole hour. I could spend a day on a camel, if I had to. I regretted that I didn’t have to.