Death underfoot

The first bones

We are walking along at a brisk pace at around midday and the sun is hot on our heads. The land around is is flat and featureless. Underfoot is sand but not the golden sand of the dunes, rather the gritty sand of earth that has gone too long without rain. There is vegetation: stunted shrubs, the occasional tamaris and the ubiquitous tammayt which can be a low bush or grow into a tall tree if it finds enough moisture.

Suddenly, Brahim C shouts stop and we all screech to a halt. I’m at the back of the caravan and almost rear-end Murdo, the last camel and the grandfather of the group. When I go up to see what has happened, Brahim is crouching down to one side of Alasdair, the lead camel, studying the ground intently. “These are human bones,” he says, “pointing to some white shards on the ground. “Look, there is a forearm.”

Draa Expedition
You can clearly see a tooth

I can barely make it out, but as we explore a little further it becomes clear that we are standing in an ancient graveyard. Skulls are lying near a pelvis and two thigh bones are set side by side. The wind and erosion have done their work and brought these carefully-buried remains out into the open. I look around me at the surrounding land, stretching as far as I can see with just the scrubbiest of plants growing. If I didn’t have the proof there, lying in front of me, I would not believe that this bare, arid space had once supported human life.

Draa Expedition
Brahim leaves no bone unburied

Brahim sets to work. He gets the hoe out and digs around the bones, delicately moving those that have been scattered to lie with the others. The sun gets hotter and it’s hard work breaking the reluctant ground but Brahim spares no effort even though we have been walking since sunrise and there is still a full day of work ahead. We gather large stones and put one at the head and foot of each new grave. Brahim will not ignore even the smallest pile of pitiful white fragments, treating all with respect. As a devout Muslim, he believes we will be resurrected on the last day, but he tells me, “Zahra (my name here), every person has a tiny, tiny bone at the base of their spine which can not be completely destroyed and from this you will rise again.”

When all the bones are covered and the head and foot stones set we move on sombrely, thinking of our own mortality and our small space in this enormous universe.

Draa Expedition
Alasdair and Hamish waiting for us to continue

The Draa Expedition is organised by Jean-Pierre Datcharry of Desert et Montagne Maroc It is sponsored by Craghoppers, Epic Morocco and NTT DATA UK

10 comments on “Death underfoot

  1. Hussein Belaid on

    Hi Zahra or Alice,

    I like his new name of yours! It means flower and you Alice has this energy radiating from your smile, words…

    Just want to hi and wish you good luck on your expedition,

    Have an excellent day,

  2. Christine South on

    Alice, your writing creates such a sense of the environment you are travelling in and of the respect for the land, the culture and the people. Safe travels my dear and keep sending such interesting insights. One PS – did I miss it, but why do all the camels have Scottish names? Is that your fault?


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