Stumbled across, and almost into, a group of young men in Mehfiz, somewhat near Khamlia in the Sahara. These guys were at an open crevasse, mining for coal and quartz by hand. They did have some heavy machinery near by but almost all of their work was performed manually. Parts of the opening in the ground led to a pitch black emptiness.
This part of the Sahara was covered with hardscrabble consisting of sharp black obsidian and even sea shells, carpeting the desert floor. Nearby were the ruins of a fort and barracks for the French army from the turn of the century. This area as is true of a good part of Morocco is rich in minerals. The King of Morocco has been patient and careful in exploiting these resources.
In this part of the Sahara, next to the border with Algeria, I met this womaon and her son, Wahdi and Lahzit. The ground was hardscrabble with bit of sharp obsidian littering the ground, making a bumpy sharp floor for endless miles. The young boy Lahzit was running around barefoot and sliding on his knees, his skin tough as leather.
Wahdi had been abandoned by her husband a couple of years ago. My driver Farid, himself married to three women, was furious. As conservative as Farid was, I saw the line there which Wahdi’s husband had crossed, breaking the social compact. Yes, you can marry several times but you are completely and totally responsible for your family.
Even more tragically, in some of the pictures below, you can see the low flat shape of the other wife’s home in the horizon where the husband spent his time. In this empty part of the Sahara, there were only two people living there, these two wives within sight of each other.
The mountains in the background mark the border with Algeria.
This is Farid.
I met him at the entrance to the main gate to the medina in Fez, both of us sitting down at a cafe for a morning cup and smoke. I had realized quickly that my original plan of spending my entire trip in Fez was mistaken as I had shot hardcore for two and a half days and felt that I had already had my fill. After all, you can only shoot a pic of a donkey in an alley so many times.
I was looking for a guide / driver that would take me out to the desert down south and possibly either back to Fez or to Marrakech. There were package deals available through tour groups and there were also numerous offers I was receiving from drivers and guides, all scams to varying degrees.
Farid and I started talking and he told me he was a driver with a tourist company but he was also an independent and could take me where I wanted to go. One of the challenges I face each time I travel is conveying to locals what interests me visually, meaning that I do not want to see palaces or museums or greatly important old buildings. People and their real lives. That is always my goal whenever I travel.
I gave him a challenge: get me inside a Berber home to photograph, especially a Berber woman. Photographing women in Arabic cultures is notoriously difficult and the Berber peoples are also very camera shy. He said he knew a woman a few hours away in a small Berber village that we could visit and she would even make us food and offer us tea. He quickly understood that I was not interested in landscapes or buildings. We got along pretty well and talked for a while and I was excited as he saw some of my work and he seemed to understand exactly what I was looking for.
We haggled over the price for a bit, reviewed a preliminary itinerary on a map and agreed to meet up the next morning at my riad to begin the journey.
I quickly realized that I was lucky as Farid and I hit it off and he took me to places well off the tourist radar, getting me access to people and places that I never would have been aware of it weren’t for him. We spent the next four days together, a lot of time in the car, a lot of cigarettes. He taught me Arabic as we went along and helped me to negotiate prices wherever we went.
I learned a lot about him. He had three wives (one had passed away a few years ago in an accident), two kids, had lived in Spain and Italy, his eldest daughter was training to be a fighter pilot in the Mococcan Air Force, a fact which, though it directly contradicted many of his old world patriarchic values, made him extremely proud.
Like myself he was gregarious and a great talker and his charm opened up many doors for me. He understood what I needed to photograph and facilitated this throughout. He was a great and competent driver.
And yes, he is aware that he looks exactly like that dude from the Mummy movies.
Some desertscapes, all take somewhere near the towns of Merzouga and Khamlia.
Traveling the M13 road through the Middle Atlas, there are few signs of life in the high desert except for shepherds and their flocks. These two Berbers lived nearby and invited Farid and myself to tea.
While we were talking and smoking, one of their cell phones went off. The ringtone was the voice of a Korean woman saying that “your phone is ringing and a friend of yours is calling” in a cute girlie voice. It was pretty amusing. The Berber said he had no idea how to change the ringtone on his phone so he had this woman’s voice greeting him from his pocket ever since he bought it.
Kind of crushed that these images were under exposed. This was along a side road near Dait Hashles on the way back to the M13 highway in one of the many barren stretches of the Middle Atlas mountains. It was cold and there was snow on the rocky ground and the light was stunningly harsh so much so that I even had trouble looking through the viewfinder as the glare left spots on my eyes.
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