Welt online  March 25th, 2017

Nomad people are masters in improvising (follow link to read original in German)

by Luise Wagner
Translated by Alexander Vogt

Below the picture: A trip on a camels back offers a magnificent view – yet shouldn’t take too long, as otherwise it gets to uncomfortable. True nomad people use these desert vessel as means of transport of goods and walk alongside by foot, in the shade of the animals.

Climate change droughts out the outer zones of the Sahara desert. The life of the nomad people there undergoes a radical upheaval. A trekking tour leads to the ancient culture of the Berber – and to new perceptions.

Before the caravan sets off slowly, desert guide Brahim Elaabdouli brings across the point in a subtle way, what this trip is all about. This is not your regular trekking-tour, but a path to perception and an expedition into the past.

The caravan consists of five digital nomads and three real nomads, who are at home in the Sahara as camel guides. The tents of their families, far away from the tourist centers, are their destination. There, people still live like they did thousand years ago as shepherds, under most simple conditions amidst the largest desert on earth.

The digital nomads bring microphones, cameras and tables along, to document the life of the Imazighen („Free people“), as the Berber tribes of the Sahara call themselves. Their history and legends, narrated for generations sitting around the camp fire, shall be audio taped systematically for the first time – for a project of the Vilostrada Foundation, a international relief organisation caring for the Nomads.

Since 2011, the Berber language Tamazight is the second official language in Morocco besides  Arabic – the Moroccan king supports the Berber culture. Since most Nomads can neither read nor write, a lack of written documents exists. With the audios done these stories shall be saved before they are forgotten, and audio books along with texts shall be created for future generations. Sort of a digital storytelling, to teach the Nomad children how to read in a gentle way.

Caravans follow ancient herdsmen tracks through the Sahara

For six days we follow by foot along the 30th parallel through bleak gravel field of the Hamada du Draa. Supplies, computer, solar panels, sleeping bags and tents are carried by camels in huge packages on their humps. It is amazing to see how much weight these animals can carry – the loads are up to 300 kg heavy. Even 60 uncooked eggs tag along in a carton, which are tied to a tea kettle on top.

Brahim leads the caravan along ancient herdsmen tracks off beat off the usual routes of the desert tourists. The eco guide and historian is on the move for journalists and scientist as an expert of the Berber culture since 1995.

He speaks five languages, among these two Berber dialects – and he knows the European mentality. When asked too many questions, he simply starts smiling and to sing. What he is singing, asks a nervous reporter from Berlin. “I thank Allah, the earth, the Nomads, my late father, the universe for my happy being as a travel guide“, he replies.

Text below picture: Victoria Ahlen founder the organization Vilostrada Foundation, to support the endangered Berber and their culture.

On the third day of the tour the caravan arrives at the first Nomad tents. Colorful cloth panels made from old t-shirts flutter in the wind. A worried rooster chases his hens around. One of them will be ending the day in a tagine, a sort of crockpot dish, in which dinner is baked every evening.

There was supposed to be a thanksgiving celebration given for Victoria Ahlen, founder of Vilostrada, who travels along on this tour. She collected money in whole of world for a solar driven well. Yet, the Nomads are on the go: The men travel around about a days distance away with the camels in the search for food, the women have gone up the steep hills of the Jebel-Bani in the early morning hours with the sheep and goats, where they are more successful in finding a few green brushes to eat.

For the Nomads, the desertification is a huge problem

“The desertification of the Sahara is a huge problem for the Nomads“, describes Brahim and points towards the horizon. There, alongside the Erg Chegaga areal, the mightiest dune of all South Morocco walls up. Within only 50 years, this dune has doubles in size and now measures a good 150 meter. The Chegaga is a favourite tourist spot, yet for the Nomads a symbol for the looming desertification.

Life of a camel breeder and wander herdsman of the desert is in a situation of radical change. As so many indigene cultures, the one of the Nomads is about to seize to exist. Within the last ten years about 63 percent of the Moroccan Nomads have settled down.

Text below picture: Storytelling in the desert: In the evenings, Nomads tell their ancient tales – and pass along their past from one generation to the next.

The climate change has draught the outer zones of the Sahara. “People talk about the 1960th as if they were paradise, when there was enough water and food for the animals“, says Brahim. Back then, around 200 Nomad families lived in the Hamada, more than 1000 camels were in their possession. But the few wells are drying out and the distances to the next food areas are growing constantly. Expensive food has to be bought in addition.

Young Nomads prefer the life in the cities such as M`hamid or Zagora, which are booming at the edge of the desert. Modern ugly versions of old Kasbahs built of clay are erected here. The prettier building are new hotels and Riads, typical Moroccan palaces with an atrium, for well off desert tourists.

Sensitivity for the surrounding is essential for survival

Every day leads the tour not only further into the Sahara, but – Brahim was right – to new perceptions. Like, that the senses become more sensitive, the more time and space you got.

The silence is deafening, and the more subtle noises can be heard, such as the fine ripple of the sand in the wind. Or that nothing in this world remains without consequences. Brahim points at a pebble in the sand. Sometime in the near future a large dune will transform here. Even now fine quartz sand builds up on the lee side of the stone.

Nomad festival in the desert town Tan-Tan

Text underneath picture: King Mohammed VI. Is all present: He is admired in Morocco and is – like the Unesco – patron of the Moussem festival.

Noticing even the smallest change is essential for survival in the desert, says Brahim. Nomad children learn from early childhood on to read the sand clouds on the horizon, to know, whether their fathers and brothers return with their camels from the nearest oasis, or the enemy.

They listen to engine noises of the rally drivers, which race along the now abandoned track Paris – Dakar. They have to bring their life stock out of the danger zone. Even the tracks of wolves or jackals can be read in the sand, to bring their goats to safety at night.

The safety is more or less relativ, as there are no fences, buildings for livestock or enclosures. “The desert has no doors“, says Victoria Ahlen, who calls herself a Nomad by choice and loves the hospitality of the Berber. “We could learn so much from these people, who live with so less. Nomads are masters in sustainability, improvisation and survival. The word stress does not exist in the Berber language, even though they work very hard.“

Victoria Ahlen will found a mobile school for the Nomad children this year, so that they don’t have to move into the cities and families are torn apart.

Berber tell their tales under sparkling stars

The women arrive at the tents in the evening. 20 year old Aicha carries a goat in her arms, which has been born today in the hills. She has wrapped the animal in cloths like a baby.

Camel driver Salim sparks a fire using a few dry acacia trees. The wanderer warm their tired feed on the blaze and cook „Berber whisky“, as the green tea of the Berber is called. Everyone gets a glass, foreigners first.

Now the hour of tale telling begins. Camel driver Youssef sits up and speaks slowly with wide open eyes. Everyone listens in devotional silence his hypnotic singsong of his tales. It is an ancient love story with tragic ending, stemming from a time, when the Nomads were rich camel drivers and left their tracks up to Timbuktu.

On the everlasting sky stars are sparkling and the moon hangs like a sickle beneath the Venus. Suddenly, it starts to feel as if there were no movement in time anymore. A strange, unknown feeling for the digital Nomad, who finally calms down in the old world.