A blind man and his seeing donkey

Atlas Mountains Alice MorrisonWe had just come over the top of the Tashdirt Pass, our highest point on the route and were running down the other side, when we spotted Mohammed. He shouted the magic word to us, “coke” and I skidded to a halt. It is a little known fact that coke is the ultimate sports drink. Because I had been concentrating so hard on my feet and not going head over heels down the mountainside, what I hadn’t spotted was that Mohammed was blind.

His donkey and coke carrier was tethered a little further down the hill, so I took his arm, and we walked down to her. There was cool coke, sprite and fanta in the saddle bags but it had to be a coke. Mohammed opened two up for us and then as it was lunch, we asked if he would like to eat with us. We found a relatively flat spot, pulled up some bottom-friendly stones to sit on and opened up our rucksacks.

Brahim’s wife from the gite in Timichi, where we had spent the night before, had done us proud. Two fresh baked loaves of bread, four hard boiled eggs, some vache qui rit cheese, two oranges, two apples and a fresh tomato, onion and garlic salad/dip in two plastic containers. Plenty for the three of us.

Mohammed washed his hands in some water from his bottle, said, “Bismillah” (in the name of God) and we ate. At first, he was a little shy, but the tomato salad won him over. Things taste so good when they are fresh and you are hungry. In our polyglot mixture of Berber, Arabic and French, we got to learn a little about him.

He said that every day, he walked the three kilometres or so from his village, up the mountain, to sell soft drinks to the hikers coming over the pass. The mountainside is rocky, with loose shale and lots of rooty bushes, waiting to trip you up. When I asked him how he did it, he said that his donkey was his eyes and that she knew the path. Every day, she came to this spot, just beside a big rock and perfectly positioned for the path down. He held on to her tail and used his sturdy stick in his other hand to feel his way.

” I just go home to sleep,” he said. ” I prefer to work here in the mountains, where it is free, rather than in my village or in Marrakech.”

We finished up our lunch, walked back down to the seeing donkey to put the empties in the saddle bags and continued on our way, we still had 12 kms and 1000 metres of up to do.  As we left him, Mohammed gave us detailed directions on how to get to the next pass and wished us Godspeed. The seeing donkey kept on grazing contentedly.

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