Saturday, June 8, 2013

From the archives: Hair Wild, Heart Wilder

This is a chunk of diary from my trip to Morocco in 1999, when I met and was travelling with Wolf. Wolf with the curly hair and ice-blue eyes, Wolf who became so radically different when he drank that I didn't understand until years later that he was drunk and abusive, not just emotionally volatile...that I hadn't done something wrong, other than watch him down a bottle of Jack's alone on the beach in Cadiz.
But at the time I wrote this journal entry, it was June of 1999 and I was in love, so much in love that I was practically on fire. Not just in the loins region; in the heart, in the letters I wrote home. We'd fled Morocco to Spain briefly, once Wolf finally retrieved his second-time-lost passport. Desperate for cheese and not to be leered at, we wandered the rocky Andalucian coast, slept in a hostel with a green center courtyard in Sevilla, woke up late. But I decided I wanted to be in the Sahara for the last Summer Solstice of the millenium (yes, I know the last year of the millenium was actually 1999, but what were YOU doing in 1999?), and so we made the trek back to Morocco. And I wrote this.

Hair Wild, Heart Wilder

A solid thirty-four hours of travel: leaving Sevilla at 6:15 yesterday morning, and going through Algeciras, Tangier, Meknes, and Rissouni finally got us here, to the patio of Auberge Tuareg, looking at the amber dunes of the Sahara desert behind the palm trees. They change color in the light, so they are never the same twice.

A young man in Rissouni played his luggage cart as a drum...smiling brightly, and with a wave to us, he pulled a puppy seemingly out of nowhere and cradled it against him as he walked away. Desert people are different people; the hassle in Rissouni was unbelievable, but still somehow more acceptable than the hassle in Tangier.

Why the rush, you might ask? Well, because we wanted to be here in the desert for today, the Solstice; the last summer Solstice of this Millenium, if you want to let that whole 2000 vs. 2001 thing slide. It was important to both of us, so important that Wolf told me not to mention it when we were traveling, in case one of the touts tried to rook us when he saw our desperation.

The heat is like riding into a blast furnace but it doesn't bother me as much as it did before, although I did get dehydrated and sunburned my nose (again). Now I've drunk about three two-liter bottles of water ("Said Ali" brand, meaning “Mr. Ali”). We saw the sun rise from the bus—it was very huge and orange over the flat horizon; the phoenix reborn from fire.

Arriving in Rissouni early early, we tried to get transport to the dunes immediately—of course we got fourteen different stories ("Oh, my friend will leave in an hour, his truck is right here" only to wait and wait and see neither friend nor imminent departure) and finally we just took the public bus at 2, and rode on the roof. A friendly boy told us about it and so we stuck to him like glue, and were rewarded with watching the dusty desert surround us. Other trucks crowded with blinking tourists and wrapped-up desert folks traveling from tiny village to tiny village would careen blindly past us out of the dust every now and then, but mostly it was sand, and tire tracks, and the hot, hot sun. Every now and then, a sand-colored village that looked empty rose up before us. The windows are cut in archways and the roofs have stepped decorations on them; a flapping of blackness as the women descend carrying vegetables or water or whatever it was they needed they couldn't get. Amazing, to live here in a town that doesn't even have a name.

The city/village of Merzouga fades right into the desert like a second child ignored by a vivacious older sibling. It’s an ugly town: grey-tan squat buildings, all in squares, surrounded by white-bleached dirt, everything bone-dry and glaring with the reflection of the sun.

Sitting in a cafe staring out the door at the dunes, they seem to glow. They change color in minutes, so trying to remember them is hard. "I don't like sudden changes," he said. Let the slow hot move of time bury us until we're scuttled over by scorpions and beetles in the immense desert silence.
The town is ugly, yes, but you could never call it that to its face. The sky, like everything else, is bleached white.

We went to the dunes yesterday night, with water bottles wrapped in our Moroccan scarves, right before sunset. Night settled like a rock as we scrabbled through the sand, aiming for the top of a particularly largish dune. Halfway up, we laid out our clothes in the moonlight to lie naked, side by side. Too cloudy to see many stars, and the moon itself was covered soon, leaving us completely wrapped in darkness.

A windstorm blew up, almost burying us in sand, but it wasn't frightening, only sandy. We got dressed and made our way back along the dune ridge, heads wrapped in scarves, hand in hand, Wolf leading the way. Along the way, he conversationally mentioned that he was allergic to scorpions; fortunately, we didn’t meet any.

Back at the hotel, the staff was playing drums and singing wild droning nasal music and smoking kif. A boy who remembers Wolf from when he was here before brought us a double mattress and pillows so we could sleep on the terrace. Our shower that night was full of grains of sand, as though it was pieces of our skin or our souls, washing off us and running down the drain.

A camel walked by the arched doorway of our hotel, barely visible through another storm, perfectly framed for an instant. Wolf ran for his camera, but I only watched as it moved on like a princess: head high, thousands of years of practice inbred to the very bone. 
On the roof of our auberge, he took me in his arms and was as tender as a new lover, until I froze. "What is it?" he asked me. "The owner's son," I said, and there he was, a little grinning man, standing at the top of the stairs down to the main floor, clearly ogling us as we lay there. Wolf only smiled, but I cringed at the thought of him watching us; it would only have taken a few minutes for him to gather a crowd and sell tickets. In his ardor, Wolf dragged me across the roof, where the bricks are rough straw: there is an abraded scratch down my spine from mid-back to hips, raw and bleeding.

I walked from the shower to our room without a towel later, five feet and the door was closed behind me, and his face was incredulous. "What were you thinking?" he said. "Anyone could have seen you!" 
We went walking in the Hammada, the black desert, which stretches all the way to Algeria. Acres of volcanic rock dotted with the occasional tan cluster of houses or tents, or brownish camel. It was so hot with the sun above and the black desert below that I felt short of breath and inhaled in gasps through the constant dust storms; there's no sand in the Hammada, only rock, so the storms are of dust. It’s the color of late sun, and it gets into everything; your hair, your eyes, your clothes, your teeth.

Leaning against a wall at one point and looking up blinking as the storm receded, we found ourselves surrounded by brightly dressed children and women, staring and laughing. We inspected a herd of camels (their front legs are tied up bent so they can't run away) and were invited by numerous Berber children to shelter in their house for the next storm. We picked one: mud walls, bamboo-type roof, sticks in the walls holding clothing, about eight kids. Oceans of tea through storm after storm. The old man, our host, mixed the tea seven times for each serving, pouring it out and back into the pot. He gave us dates, and his son ran out shouting into the storm; he was chasing their camels, who had somehow broken free and were speedily heading for the Algerian border on only three legs.
When we got up to go, the oldest girl blocked our path, demanding first 40 dh and then 100dh. We didn't have much with us, certainly not 100dh, and mistaking filthy lucre for hospitality made us sad. We gave her what we had and left, stopping once in another storm for me to pee behind a dune.

The call to prayer starts. "No," he says, "I just love your body and your mind and your spirit."

You are a gift to me, but I am worried: there is not a gift that exists that is not more precious when it is given away.

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