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Day 20: Tfariti to Mejik

Michael Palin - SaharaThe fire is started by rubbing twigs together, then larger branches are laid on. Mohammed Salim, one of the drivers, face old and weathered, cheekbones cantilevered out, skin pulled tight as a drum, is sifting through the sand for camel droppings. So good is the camel at absorbing and re-using what it eats that these come out as small, regular-sized, dark brown pellets, referred to by the experts as nuggets. Quickly hardened by the sun, they make ideal pieces for a board game. Mohammed marks out a grid of squares in the sand and lays the pellets out like draughts. Najim, who he's challenged to a game, breaks twigs to use as his men. So the game of dhaemon, a sort of desert draughts, begins. As it warms up, Mohammed Salim becomes more and more excited, emitting a string of cries, shrieks, theatrical screams, imprecations and histrionic submissions to Allah, occasionally catching our eye and cracking a conspiratorial smile. Najim plays the straight man, not that he has much option, and wins the game.

Lunch is far behind us when, amongst swirling dust, tussocky grass and severely decreasing visibility, Bachir brings his lead vehicle to a halt and consults, rather anxiously, with Haboub, the most dashing of the drivers. There's much kneeling and peering off into the soupy dust clouds. Are we lost? Bachir's reply, intended to be reassuring, rapidly becomes one of our favourite sayings, to be used often in times of deep crisis.

'No we are not lost. We just cannot find the place.'

He suggests that we drive on after dark and try to reach Mejik. No-one complains, but there is an unspoken anxiety amongst us. Given the combination of dust clouds, pitch darkness and lack of any identifiable road or track, how good is our
chance of finding Mejik?

Haboub shrugs, flashes a big white-toothed grin, flicks open a leather pouch and fills his pipe.

We reach Mejik a little before nine. Though there is a well-lit UN compound nearby, we are booked once again into a barracks, set in a crumbling concrete-walled enclosure. Someone has at least made a stab at brightening up the place. The narrow, unroofed strip of passageway outside our rooms has been laid with crazy paving, and along it runs a dried-up garden bed decorated with Russian shell-cases. The accommodation, consisting of two large unfurnished dormitories, a lavatory and washroom, is much the same as at Tfariti, except that, instead of a plastic jug, this lavatory has a luxury attachment, a flush.

I pull it. Nothing happens.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 20
  • Country/sea: Western Sahara
  • Place: Mejik
  • Book page no: 74

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