It all started in the small bus station in Marrakech, where we made friends with a tout named Ali, who worked for a desert camel trekking operation in M’Hamid. We rode the red-eye bus together over the Atlas Mountains. Bleary-eyed and slightly battered from the ride, we arrived at Zagora in the morning. We enjoyed a delicious avocado shake and purchased some Tagelmusts for our desert journey, as well as a beautiful hand-made mirror with henna-dyed bone inlay which I paid too much for.
Before setting out for M’Hamid by taxi, Ali insisted that we spend the early afternoon at Camping Auberge Prends Ton Temps. We were greeted by the camp’s Tuareg owner, whose warm hospitality was characterized by his deep voice – a mix of Bobby McFerrin, James Earl Jones, and Louis Armstrong.
After lunch, Belaide brought out his Oud and sang a folk song for us. “Mama Afrika Zina” is a simple song, but it made our hearts weep with joy. Two nights later, we would find ourselves sitting around a fire with him into the wee hours of the night, deep in the Sahara desert at Erg Chigaga. Being in the desert under the stars with music and fire and conversation, Berber nomads partying even later into the night just a few dunes over, that was the defining moment of our trip – ‘magical’ only begins to describe it. All the best moments must end, and so we packed up in the morning, left the desert, and slowly made our way west towards the Atlantic coast, to spend a few days in Essaouira before returning home to the States.
Three years later, the Sahara is never far from our thoughts. We were changed by the desert, and we can always feel its pull. So much were we moved by the experience, that the backdrop for our wedding ceremony was a Moroccan chill gazebo that we envisioned, and our friends created.
It was in that gazebo, on our wedding night, that I presented my wife with a gift that I had been working on for months. It started via email exchanges with Belaide after we had returned home. As English is neither his first nor second language, we use French. And since I am not nearly as fluent in French as I’d like to be, I use the help of translate.google.com. (actually, I started off using Babelfish.) I write what I want to say in English, translate it to French, and then feed that French back into an English translation. I then tweak the original until the re-translation matches. In January of ’08, I wrote the following;
J’ai une faveur pour vous demander. Je ne sais pas s’il est possible, mais il signifierait beaucoup à moi si nous pourrions avoir n’importe quel enregistrement audio de “MAMA akrika zina”. Nous nous marions en Juillet, et je voudrais beaucoup étonner Liz en jouant cette chanson à notre mariage.
After five months of communicating via email, and even after a friend of Belaide’s put an audio recording up online, I received this package in the mail. Not just an audio recording, but video of Belaide and friends playing the song, as well as a panoramic view of Prends Ton Temps itself. There were also two decorated votive candle holders, and two necklaces to ward away bad spirits. I was blown away by the generosity of this Tuareg musician and campground owner that we’d met only briefly. And so it was a few weeks after that when I played the video for Liz in the gazebo, with a handful of friends and family who were with us at the time.
We vowed to send Belaide a thank you box, with favors from the wedding. As months turned into two years, we picked up a few other odds and ends from our travels that we thought he’d enjoy. Yesterday I finally put everything together in a box, and today I rode down to Fruitvale Station with the box on my back, filled out the customs forms, and sent it on its way to the Sahara.