Can you eat cactus? It is not a thought I had often had but an explorer’s life throws up new challenges Every day I was growing more comfortable with the men, they had given me a nickname, ‘Tafilfilat harran’ the hot chilli pepper which I would like to think was due to the warmth of my personality but was categorically told was because of my hot temper. ‘Patience, Zahra, patience,’ was Brahim’s refrain. Walking through the dark rocks, I had started to search out all the little plants and flowers that grew in the crevices, many of them surviving on the dew that collected overnight. I stopped and searched a five metre radius at one point and found about seven different species: a type of dandelion, a dusky pink flower like a mini hyacinth with spaghetti-like leaves and another one that had hairy leaves with white and maroon stalks and flowers. Addi picked up on my interest and started pointing plants out to me.
‘Zahra, Zahra look at this one,’ he broke off a stalk from a small succulent cactus. It was about the length of my fore finger. ‘This is good to eat, it has water inside it.’ I looked at him, dubiously, ‘Addi, are you sure? It just looks like a bit of cactus to me, isn’t it bitter. Can you eat cactus?’ His eyes widened and he took on the look of a latter day saint accused of blasphemy, ‘Zahra, don’t you trust me? Of course it is good. It is sweet like honey made by the wild bees. When I was a child, I used to eat it all the time.’ To prove his point, he took a big bite out of it and munched away. ‘Bisaha wa raha, health and rest,’ he said, handing me the rest of the stalk. ‘Bismillah,’ I said and bit in. Agh – it was disgusting, as bitter as I had thought it might be before I fell for Addi’s patter. I spat it onto the ground and swilled my mouth out with water. Addi capered around, wailing with laughter like a banshee.