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Day 72: Assekrem to Hassi-Messaoud

Assekrem to Hassi-Messaoud, Algeria 
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With brother Edward of Les Petits Frères de Jésus, successor of Charles de Foucauld at the remote refuge at Assekrem, over 9000 feet above the Sahara.
Michael Palin - SaharaFifty-three years before he built this refuge de Foucauld was born in Strasbourg, a vicomte from a privileged and wealthy background. He joined the French army and was posted to Algeria, where he lived a playboy life, doing little but splash his money around on parties and mistresses. Then, suddenly and quite drastically turning his back on the easy life, he travelled North Africa disguised as a Jewish rabbi, joined a Trappist order at the age of thirty-one and, twelve years later, entered the priesthood. His work brought him to the Touareg of the Hoggar Mountains, amongst whom he gained considerable respect, not only learning their language but also producing the first French-Tamahaq dictionary.

He accepted, indeed revelled in, the isolation of the desert. There is a shelf beside the chapel on which a book of his writings lies open at the place where de Foucauld gives his own account of what has brought us here: 'The beauty of the view defies description or even imagination...it is marvellous.'

There's not much I can add to this as I watch the sun rise over the Hoggar Mountains, giving each peak form and colour and revealing the spectacular proportions of this strange and unforgettable landscape.

The Sahara's fearsome reputation for ending people's lives prematurely was enhanced by the murder of de Foucauld, who was shot and killed in Tamanrasset five years after building this refuge. The order he founded, the Little Brothers of Jesus, continues his work, supported by Algeria's Muslim government. The current incumbent, Brother Edward, offers tea to ourselves and two other tourists who've struggled up to the sunrise. He tells us that Père de Foucauld, far from being forgotten, is in the preparatory stages of canonisation and will very soon be made a saint.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 72
  • Country/sea: Algeria
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  • Book page no: 201

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