Walking with nomads, last day: All change

Today we walked with Izza and Zahra and the goats. We counted them out of the enclosure, 210 goats and the little sheep, and then set up directly over the hill. Our aim was not to get to the next camp but to find enough food for the flock.

As we started up the hill, the air filled with scent as the goats trampled on the ubiquitous ormilus plant – which is a little bit like camomile. Izza led the way and Zahra was back stop, keeping an eye out for any stragglers and expertly throwing stones round the group to keep them together. She was also in charge of carrying the little sheep when he got tired. Zahra is 10.

She had been shy all week but out in her element, she was smiling and laughing and even got brave enough to tease me by calling me Nouri’s name for me which is Tamkhilawt – the mad one in Berber.

An hour into the walk, she popped over a hill crest and came skipping down. She reached into her pocket and brought out a beautiful white crystallized rock she had found on the trail as a present. She gave it to me with the biggest smile and my heart melted like a thornton’s in the microwave.

At lunch, we left Zahra and her Mum and went on to camp. Because it was our last full day with the family,we were having a feast with special dishes: Bread baked in hot stones, cous cous made by Fatima and special kebabs made from offal. One of the goats was dispatched.

To make the bread, a fire is set on a pile of biggish, flatish stones. When these are really hot, the proven dough is set on top and small pebbles are poured on, another fire is set on top and it is left to cook for 40 minutes. When it came out, it was hot and fluffy and totally delicious.

In the meantime, the goat’s heart, kidneys and liver were being chopped up for the kebabs. Pieces of each were skewered on and then covered in fat to make them tasty and help them cook. These were cooked over the open fire beside the tent. The intestines were unravelled, squeezed out like tubes of toothpaste and cooked separately. As a Scot, I like my offal so enjoyed my kebabs immensely, but the intestines were a step too far.
We all sat down together to eat the cous cous and fresh water melon after and I got the chance to ask Zaid some wider questions. I wanted to understand the economics of it. He told me that he had built up his flock to 210 goats – the sheep having died in the drought. He has bucks and ewes so they breed naturally, a good goat can get £110 at market, a medium one makes around £65 and at Eid time, it can go up to £200. There are markets in the various towns they pass and he sells 3-5 goats at a good one. The money is then used for essentials like flour, tea, sugar, vegetables and anything else his family needs. He also needs money to buy transport animals and sometimes hire them in. Then there are school expenses for Maymoun, although Maymoun lodges with Zaid’s brother when he goes to school. His flock is his entire capital and also livelihood as he has no house, no car no possessions that can’t be carried on a donley or camel.

This way of life has existed for centuries and from my outside perspective it seems very hard but also good. What I wanted to know was what Zaid wanted for his children and this is what he said, “It is very hard to carry on as nomads. Electricity, television are coming and everything is changing. The government is building roads everywhere. I want my youngest children, Aisha and Hassan, to go to school. Maybe we will settle down with a small farm so they can do that. I have no choice. Change is here. ”

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Walking with Nomads

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