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7 life lessons from the last village before the Sahara

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

There is no better teacher than to travel. Our eyes are opened to places, tribes, and lifestyles we could never have imagined. It forces us out of our comfort zone, and is a constant reminder of how much of a bubble we live in.

The desert is the place of deprivation. Everything is lacking here. Everything is needed here. Here come all the things that we consider important to us. The desert is the place of rediscovering the essential beauty of living in a world that sees an increase in superfluous ugliness.

Golden clouds cross recklessly from one side of the road to the other as our car makes its way through the arid region of southern Morocco. The desert blows hot playing mirror reflections on the horizon.

Yaya tells me that M'Hamid, the last civil frontier before the approach to the great Sahara, was crossed by a river. Now with climate change, replacing the river is Fata Morgana with its marvelous optical illusions. It has not rained for two years and life for both the nomads of the Sahara and the large, slow-moving desert animals has become difficult. In the villages of the hot regions continually beaten by the sun, life is slow, but here at the edge of the endless arid world, time stands still in silence, only to start up again with a breath of wind. Yaya was born in the remote areas of the Sahara to a nomadic Berber family that still lives in the desert.

On the way through the Atlas Mountains, our car discreetly passes one by one the numerous villages lost in time where inhabitants seem to remain in the 19th century. As the ways of living and colours diversify, so does the temperature.

Passing from one season to another we encounter snowstorms at the peaks of the mountains, colourful spring fields until we reach the arid villages in the desert, there where you cannot go any further, or at least you don't have a good 4x4 or a healthy dromedary.

Along my journey in Morocco exploring aesthetics, ways of life by talking to people, many are the inspirations I took with me. For this article I will summarize them in 7 life lessons because it sounds better than "my Morocco travelogue."

Climate change (check out this wonderful documentary on the subject) has pushed desert nomads to change their lifestyle and frequency of travel.

The first lesson comes from them:

1. If your environment is becoming arid, go elsewhere in search of nourishment. Find your inner oasis and make the most important part of yourself flourish again.

For many people, the degree of personal frustration is directly proportional to the stubbornness with which they continue to search for what is not there. Explore elsewhere, where your skills can be put to work and flourish. When your passions or lifestyle do not find nourishment it is good to start considering a change of air and move where the soil is fertile for our development. Doing so enriches not only your own but the lives of others. Today is possible, it is not as difficult as it might have been forty years ago.

Whether you are a desert nomad seeking nourishment for your animals, a Bedouin or a digital nomad moving from one oasis to another is like moving from one city to another, important for the last is finding a good Wi-Fi connection.

And if you are thinking about how complicated the logistics of starting from scratch are, I can tell you that what we need is actually simpler than you think. Fire to feed the spirit and water to quench the soul. Protection, connection with mother nature, creative and spiritual expression, this is what we need. Today's large and medium-sized cities have become prisons tailored for employees, as barren as a desert of the water the soul so badly needs. The programme to turn cities around the world into hyper surveillance centers of permanent lockdown has already been rolled out: it is called “15 minutes city”. Soon those who have chosen the convenience of owning nothing and being able to get to work and every service within a 15-minute radius will not be able to leave that smart city perimeter for any good reason. The aim is to prevent the current and future global crises with a series of climate lockdowns. The convenience of finding everything you can buy in a 15 minute city is paid with your soul. Forget privacy and freedom of movement permanently.

Moving elsewhere where the cultural, environmental and energetic characteristics are conducive not only to your livelihood but above all to your inner disposition not only changes life for you but serves as an example and can change the lives of others. The 'desert' for me is a symbol of freedom, rediscovery and magic. If you have doubts, whether as a digital nomad or a desert nomad, you don't necessarily have to move to the 'Sahara' and start from scratch, you can also take small breaks from your village like Yaya does and visit the 'desert' at the weekend.

Go there where you have never been without thinking too much, after all, magic happens in the intervals between one thought and another.

If your environment is becoming arid, travel elsewhere in search of your inner oasis and let the most important part of yourself flourish again.

2. Small solutions to big problems. What is important is also simple.

Yaya adjusts his big lilac turban and tells me that his father sometimes visits him in the village from the Sahara. My mother has never visited me in Berlin, perhaps too far and too cold from home. The logistics of how Yaya visits his father in the Sahara is totally unknown to me. He should at least receive latitude and longitude, the essential before planning a family dinner essential is to receive the geographical coordinates. Having received the latitude and longitude, I imagine Yaya sets off in a hurry with the 4x4, full tank and charged GPS battery, in search of the family. That is, if he is lucky that they have not already moved to another remote area of the desert because nomads do not like to wait in one fixed place, especially when climate change dries out the oases.

Avril in French, the fourth month of the year is the month of sandstorms, and if you don't know how to roll your turban on your head, you'd better lock yourself up at home, and if you are a nomad, lock yourself up in a tent. The Tuareg turban is one of the pieces of cloth in the clothing of the so-called 'free men' which, with a couple of folds, frees you from a lot of problems: it becomes an element with innumerable functions, it becomes a voluminous charming hat, it protects your hair from dust, and your head from sunstroke, at the same time it becomes a scarf for cold nights, an FFP2 mask that protects you not from epidemics but certainly at least from seasonal allergies. From the side it covers your ears from the annoying grains of sand, the wind and the shouts of the vendors in the Souks (the markets). Of course it can perform other functions such as rolling food, objects or children up your back and becoming a soft towel, an essential element for nomadic toileting. The Berber turban is just one of the many solutions to big problems I encountered along my journey.

It is morning and Yaya wants to give me a lesson in nomadic fashion. The textile shop is a stone's throw from the Riad and is where the villagers get their supplies, the prices are normal not like in tourist shops. The fabric is 10 dirhams per meter. I ask for 3 meters because I want to save money but Yaya tells me that a turban less than 4 meters cannot fulfill its basic role of being rolled up at the head, neck and falling elegantly down the bust. I choose the Tuareg color and Yaya teaches me how to tie it on the head like the Tuareg father does to his Tuareg child.

In terms of logistics, canalisation, transport and town planning, Morocco would appear to be a total chaos, but taking into consideration the economic resources available, the quality with which people continue to find ingenious solutions to major problems amazes me from day to day.

3. Inshallah (if God wills it). The unexpected is part of the game.

During my trip to Morocco one of the most important terms I learnt in Arabic was 'Inshallah', here they use it whenever they talk about hopes and events they want to happen in the future. Inshallah means that nothing happens without the will of Allah or God. Now, separating the term from its Islamic origin, what Inshallah really means to me is that no matter how perfect your plans may be, chaos and the nature of events always prevails. If you intend to plan anything in Morocco prepare a plan B, C and D and if even those do not go, resign yourself to the divine will.

Inshallah not only symbolizes our existence seen through a super wide-angle lens, capable of encompassing decisions beyond the personal, but perfectly portrays the culture and wisdom of this region.

The term Inshallah allows people to approach life without too much anxiety. It seems that their relationship with chaos and the unexpected is almost perfectly symbiotic. Before I got to know this term, in my first week in Morocco, the experience of having my plans constantly overturned by greater forces used to bother me a lot. Now Inshallah has certainly opened me up to a more natural and, I would say, healthier approach to the contingency. I know that whatever awaits me once I leave home is always some kind of adventure, important if you have the term in mind, everything will work out for your best in the end. Inshallah promotes life by celebrating the unpredictable force of nature we live in and is a great life lesson for both planning perfectionists and chronic stubborns like me.

4. The physical world has an energetic counterpart. Understanding the energy mechanics of sites can save you doctors and worries.

The tourists who come to M'hamid are just passing through, because the main attraction is the vast desert, and after a couple of golden selfies in the uninhabited areas, they return to the beaches of Agadir and the European-style hotels. I kept to M'hamid both because it is one of the most intriguing villages and because it was hit by a series of mishaps (inshallah!). I fell ill with something I don't yet know, I'll call it "Saharite."

The energy of this village at the edge of uninhabitable endlessly is incredibly still a mysterious one. If you are someone who travels a lot you will have noticed how each place has its own set of characteristics, not only physical but energetic. Crossing Morocco from north to south as fast as I did in a couple of days by car is like crashing into an energy wall at 100 mph.

Tomoko Fatimah Ito a famous healer whom I had the pleasure of interviewing for a documentary I am making on spiritual healing practices, was not surprised when I told her that I had fallen ill on entering M'hamid. In fact, she reported to me that everyone who travels to the south gets sick. It is because of the differences in energy fields. The advice is to give the body and mind adequate time to adapt. It is difficult to explain without sounding woo woo but as soon as you arrive the perception set seemed altered and somehow amplified. Meditating for example is extremely easy in here. It can happen on quiet evenings in the windless outdoors to suddenly fall into an abyss of silence and find oneself watched by the stars and vice versa for hours. Understanding the energy mechanics of places can save you many doctors, worries and perhaps make it easier for you to choose a place to live that resonates with what you are looking for.

5. Be a free man/woman, the world belongs to you not to the government.

A Tuareg is a free man who chooses freedom over comfort, exploration over exploitation. My saying is: If you want to be free in Marocco you go nomad, if you want to be free in London you go punk, if you want to be free in Berlin you go crazy. Unfortunately it’s true. I have been traveling from one region to another for a month but so far I haven’t seen anyone suffering from mental distress here nor punk.

Poverty yes but not marginalization of the mentally ill. I, by the way, love punk people.Sadly, our society used to label indomable free people as anarchic, crazy or awkward because labeling is another way of control, at least in the collective mind. But really should we become crazy to reject all of these limitations and live free? Not necessarily, but not make it a problem if others will start to call you in such a way.

2020 and 21 have been eye-opening years for many, exposing the lies of big pharma and the economic-political plans of world control. If we continue to take for granted our freedom of movement, speech, and thought by accepting step by step small compromises of control at the cost of increased security we are on the right path to the next world dictatorship, today it is called WHO (world health organization) or the world government. If you are on that road, you can probably forget in a couple of years the freedom you enjoy today, but you can comfortably use your QR code to enter a cinema and be driven to work by a super safe ecological electric car. What a wonderful future! Except for the children working for the lithium mines in Africa.

I consider myself a very lucky person. During my trip, I met and talked to many people who had never visited any place other than Morocco. Depending on your nationality, traveling can become very complicated and every year it becomes more and more difficult. Not to mention wars and dictatorships, there are more of them than we can imagine that close entire regions to the public and destroy geographical and cultural paradises from the face of the earth.

Traveling and moving around the world is not just an occasional pleasure but your birthright.

6. Create your community. The case of Moroccan upselling.

Yaya offers one of the best tours in the desert, which includes transport, overnight stay in a tent, typical food cooked by the light of a beautiful handmade or handmade fire, Chaabi music played by young Tuaregs and maybe I also imagine a shot of Hashish to enhance the view of the starry sky, who knows. M'hamid is a place of passage where walks can become problematic: every time I pass a group of children, they surround me and ask for a Dirham (a coin) or a stylus (a pen). Although it is irresistibly tempting to hand over a Dirham or a stylus to a group of dusty children playing in the mud and making fire on the side of the road, Yaya advises me not to. Yaya's Riab is one of the most simple and beautiful overnight stays I have encountered. It was built by his own hands and the help of friends. The services of this Riab are the simplest I have ever seen, bearing in mind the new generation of Berber nomads who designed it. Visits to the Sahara, which is only 24 km from the border of Algeria and the desert, are the main itinerary for those who stay overnight here. But not for me, Because I got the Saharite, which allows me to write this article, and I still believe that I can visit the desert on my own. I hate touristy things and I know how to get rid of snake poison, from youtube.

M'hamid is trafficked by large 4x4s driven by high-strategy merchants who, once they catch sight of the tourist in search of the adventure dream, are able to speak perfectly 17 languages including various dialects of each until they discover yours and become the friendliest person you've ever met in your life, only until you refuse the offer to jump on the Jip and then they become an anonymous stranger to you again. The practice of upselling is crucial in Morocco, where many of the businesses are unknown to the Internet. Before I got here the term upselling was just something related to marketing practices, but I have noticed that in Morocco it is the way merchants survive.

If you own a café bar, maybe your brother has a carpet shop, your cousin a cushion shop and your brother-in-law a lamp shop, it is good that you work together, because a customer who comes in for coffee one morning will have completed the interior decor of his house by the end of the day. No matter how much you hate each other in the family, business is business! If you go for coffee, many times you will also find yourself with two bottles of water along with your coffee and before you even ask who ordered them, you will have already received the bill. When you go to see a street artist perform in Marrakesh, and maybe you get the idea to take a picture, before you even put your phone back in your pocket you have to put your hands on your wallet.

I put this lesson on the list not to suggest how to make a profit in Morocco but because I think it is a fundamental lesson in collaboration in general. Understanding how to make relationships work effectively is a key lesson in community because there is no group without an approach of mutual support. The more this mutual support is alive the more the community is able to thrive.

7. A journey of inner change must last at least 30 to 40 days.

Deserts are fascinating, they can be places of hallucinatory tripping like the Burning Man, or they can be places of self-searching like that of the Nazarene. This endless expanse of sand has seen the realisation of many events in the history of salvation and contemporary laziness. It was in the desert that Israel made its forty-year march from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the promised land. The desert is also the place Elijah had to travel for forty days to reach Horeb, the mountain where he met his God. Finally, Jesus also had to experience the desert for forty days before starting his public life. Two constants recur in all these events: the journey through the desert and its duration defined by the number forty. I refrain from advancing any theories regarding the number 40 rather what I emphasize is the necessary and patient perseverance, a long rehearsal, a sufficient period of time to integrate oneself into the culture one comes into contact with during a journey. A time within which one must decide to take responsibility without further delay. It is the time of mature decisions.

The Sahara is actually a collection of deserts that is collectively the largest in the world 9.2 million square kilometres, the same size as the whole of China. Imagine the whole of China in soft golden sand instead of the grey technocratic factory nation of the world.

Being on the threshold of a desert of such magnitude is like being on the threshold of a pool as deep as the Pacific Ocean, the feeling is of being sucked at any moment into a soft golden black hole where time and space are as infinite as its landscapes.

The pool of the Sahara is not still but constantly moving, its waters constantly flooding its inhabitants with an indescribable energy. This energy when it does not cause sand storms, produces in me calmness, mental and physical clarity. A physical clarity suffered during the first days of my stay came in the form of stomach ache and fever: the so-called Saharite. It is as if the energy of the desert wanted to purge me and bring me back to a state of equilibrium.

Despite everyone telling me about the incredible starry sky to admire, I still could not see clearly, it was as if a veil prevented me from focusing on the stars. After a fever and fasting for a couple of days, Saharite reset me and knocked me out. But in the night lying on the camel wool carpet of the open-air atrium, it was as if a firework of a thousand shimmering flares had burst in the silent sky. That still, static night in the Riad in M'hamid I saw the stars.

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Innokenty Shuvalov
Innokenty Shuvalov
Mar 13, 2023

Very nice, thanks for sharing!

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