The Moorish Wanderer

A Journey In The Desert Part 2


The small party moved back from the hill to the pre-arranged meeting point at dusk. All of them felt powerless before the ineffable strength the desert was in its void. The men, all of robust constitution and of a military might they knew too well to be deadly, were helpless when the sandstorm strikes, when the rain pours from the heavy clouds, when the sand bits clog their weapons. In a place were Mankind had better leave modern technology for domestic rusticity for the sake of their own survival, it was always amusing to hear the men curse and swear whenever their weapons or hardware was ineffective because of the sand.

The MLA had indeed bigger fishes, or if we may, lizards, to fry. The difficult and hostile ground, combined with a random weather, were of infinite hardships compared with the despicable lack of knowledge of the surroundings. To the soldiers and commanders alike, the desert lying before their eyes was equally hostile and endless. When the MLA commander met the political representative, L’Fqih, he was quite blunt in his report: “Chouf a si Mohamed, we are in for an adventure here. I don’t mean to sound too cautious; You know, I am cautious. It is foolish to presume that my 2000 or so guys could cross a desert as large as the Rio De Oro, move in and engage the Spaniards. Mayemkench.” He was nervously waving old-looking yellow sheets. “If you want Ait Idder, Youssoufi and me to do the job, you are going to give us the assurance of local support. Talk to the tribes, tell them who’s side they are on. We need their spare camels, guides for our columns, their knowledge of the ground for food, shelter and water and intelligence on the enemy’s positions” As he was going on his requirement, Benhamou was growing febrile, waving his hands and rolling his eyes for a dramatized effect, he thought would impress L’Fqih and emphasis his case. “Maykoun Ghir Li Bgha L’Colonel” L’Fquih replied with a half-smile. “You know you can rely on me for these matters. I’ll put in a word to the national broadcast to send in some sympathetic messages, you know what I mean, get the propaganda going, urging the tribes to help our guys, etc. I am also pleased to tell you Agadir’s governor is entertaining this week a delegation of Chioukh that you should meet and press on joining our cause. I am sure they would weight on and provide you with what you need.”

Back at Saint-Louis, Capitaine La Ferté was studying meticulously the maps hanging on the tall white wall of the AOF garrisons’ chief headquarters. He looked concerned while contemplating the neat arrangement of arrows, charts and comments. His job as intelligence officer was to report and record all the Fellouzes activities, as well as some Moroccan mobs coming from the North. He knows from his colleagues at Rabat and Meknes that many well-equipped irregulars are moving Southward. He also knows the Spaniards are too weak to offer any credible resistance, and sooner or later, the MLA and the FLN would join hands, and then, he thought, “nous serons vraiment dans la merde“. The Méharistes and the Légionnaires were too far stretched across the line Tindouf/Port-Etienne  to police the borders effectively. La Ferté is a young veteran,and an unfortunate mishap with training jump left him unfit to keep up with his alma mater regiment. However, during his recovery, he read and learnt so much of North Africa that he soon became invaluable to the intelligence staff. He managed to change his boss’ mind about the threat the MLA could represent, and urged him successfully to watch carefully their moves for the time being. There was no need for over-aggressiveness, La Ferté knew too well the Suez expedition damaged deeply France’s stand in the Arab world. “c’est deja assez chaud comme cela” smiling to his pun.

Ayour thought the tent would at least bring a bit of relief from the uncompronising sun. He was so wrong for the heat was unbearable at first, plus the blunt transition from blinding daylight to the dark hole he felt like sucked into. There, three austere faces looked indifferently at him, then carried on drinking their tea, the flavour of which, both sweet and acrid filled the tent. “Better drinking their tea than this stinking mud I’ve been sipping for the whole week ” he thought. He aknowledged their presence by a neutral “salamou 3alaykoum“, to which their replied in an equally detached tone. Because his column was moving hard accross the desert, he didn’t bring a Saharan tent with him. He was rather proud of the US-surplus he got when they start moving, a drap-green, WWII-old tent that must have been used by some G.I in Italy or some god-forsaken place in Europe. Now it is the property of an MLA soldier, miles and miles in a desert no one can really control but the native tribes, and there he was, trying to convince the three odd-looking people to join his venture and muster some support for his outfit. The analogy went even further; His cloak was an old khaki, the same one he retained from the wild years in the Rif. He looked like a tramp before the three majestuous blue/white-and-gold gandouras. Ayour tried it once, but looked like a fool. They, on the other hand, were at ease, as if they were sinking gracously and perfectly conmfortable in it. That caused them to much less presperation, a thing that always amazed the sweat-sunk, even hyperhidrosis Ayour. “Would you please offer food and shelter for me and my companions ? We have been travelling from a long distance, and we are quite foreigner in this place. Allah y barek fikoum“.

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