The drive from Ouarzazate to Imlil is long and the skies were apocalyptic, threatening rain. Rain is always welcome here but it is also often dangerous in the mountains and since I had to cross over the high point of the Tischka pass, there was an underlying worry playing at the back of my mind. My main worry, though, was money. I had just spent two days plotting and planning the next big expedition (to be revealed soon!) with Jean-Pierre, who organised my Draa Expedition. One half of me was giddy with excitement, thoughts and ideas whizzing around my head like a dog chasing its tail. The other half was worrying away at the funding issue.
The miles ticked by and I stopped off at a small town half way up to the pass to buy some snacks. A grotty, mud-splashed main road crammed with taxis and buses and with a row of butchers on either side who cook meat by the kilo for hungry travellers. The air was thick with the smoke of the charcoal fires and the smell of roasting. I didn’t want to spend much time as I’d already been on the road for three hours and there were a good four to go. I eased off my cramped right leg and splashed out on a tube of sourcream Pringles.
About two kilometres further on, I was deep in the heart of the roadworks which have been going on for a couple of years and are blasting a wider road through the heart of these iron mountains. It’s a narrow gash of hell with giant caterpillars and lorries grinding up and down and a sheet of grey dust covering everything. Tiny men figures scramble up and down the road, digging and laying charges. Giant rocks are scrambled to one side, dynamited from the mountain and waiting to be moved. The rain came down and my windscreen wipers moved the sludge from side to side. Ahead, I saw a tall, thin man in the neon green vest of the workers with his thumb stuck out. He needed a lift so I stopped and in he hopped.
Greetings were exchanged and I found out that his name was Mohammed, that he lived in the village directly below us in the valley and that he had four children, two boys and two girls, and was travelling 20km up the road, to start his shift. Pringles were offered and accepted.
Me: “Mohammed, my brother, will you be working during the night?”
Mohammed: “Yes, Aunty. I start at 7pm and I finish tomorrow at 7am. It is hard work. The children are going back to school. I need to buy them notebooks and pens. They need things. It is good this work on the road. I am grateful for it.”
Me: “How far are you going?”
Mohammed: “It’s not far, around 20km, but there is always transport. I am lucky.”
We chugged on up the road, Toyota Yaris taking the sharp hairpins like the pro she is. The rain was steady but not torrential and we chatted about the weather, the coming of winter and other gentle topics.
Then, Mohammed said, “Look, look, this is my bit, the bit I’ve done. I made this. Do you like it? Is it good? Is it beautiful? Am I good?” He was beaming with pride and of course I assured him that it was magnificent and thanked him for doing such a great job and for working so hard for us drivers so that our lives would be easier as we travelled between Marrakech and Imlil. I meant it too. The new road is excellent. Two kilometres on, he hopped out, we took a selfie, I gave him the rest of the Pringles and we parted as great friends.
But I drove on with a lump in my throat and a feeling of shame. I had been worrying about money…….. Mohammed had just told me that for his twelve-hour night shift working on the road something, he does with pride and gratitude, he gets paid 8 euros.
If you enjoyed this story… check out my books