By Ambassador, Alice Morrison
Every year, the nomad families of Jebel Saghro (the Mountain of Drought) in Morocco migrate from their winter pastures to their summer pastures. They move lock stock and barrel: taking their sheep and goats; donkeys, mules and camels; tents and household goods; chickens and children. The migration usually takes around three weeks and they cover 150 – 200km, travelling slowly enough each day for the animals to graze en route. Their destination is the lush grass of Happy Valley – Ait Bougmez – where they will stay from May to September when they will undertake the long journey back home and prepare for the coming of winter with its icy temperatures and freezing winds.
This year, my companion from the Draa Expedition, which was supported by Craghoppers, Addi bin Youssef, invited me to take part in the migration along with him and his family. His father, Mohammed, a stern patriarch, his mother Ito, sister Ftou, sister‐in‐law Aicha, niece Hannan (age 3 and a real diva) and two uncles along with around 300 sheep and goats, five camels, several donkeys and some very noisy chickens. One of the donkeys gave birth en route and because he was too small to walk, the baby donkey was carried in a pannier on his mother’s back.
We had a long trek ahead but to make it even more challenging, it was taking place during Ramadan and I was fasting along with everyone else which meant nil by mouth ‐ no food or water from sunrise at around 3.45 am to 7.35 pm. I wasn’t sure how I would manage walking five hours a day over the mountains with nothing to drink until sunset.
Our routine was unvarying. We woke at 3.00 am to have our last meal and water before the fast began. After dawn prayers, we would pack up the family tent and the camp and load the camels and donkeys. We set off at around five am in two groups. Ito and Aicha would go off with the flock and the rest of us would accompany the baggage train. After around five hours, we would arrive and set up camp at our bivouac for the night. It was most important to have somewhere safe and contained to keep the animals, so we headed for stone-built enclosures that had been built along the route. At around 6 pm Ito and Aicha and the flock would arrive and we would corral them and see to any final cooking.
At 7.35 the call to prayer would ring out and that was our sign to eat three dates and drink some water. Then after the sunset prayers, we would have breakfast: soup and bread stuffed with animal fat and vegetable, dates and a sweet syrupy pastry called shebakiyya. Then it was time to relax and chat and wait for a couple of hours for our main meal.
One night sticks in my mind particularly, the moon had almost vanished but the light of the stars shone so brightly it didn’t matter. I was sitting with the whole family drinking sweet tea with flayo, a kind of geranium that grows in the mountains, around a sparking campfire. I could hear the sheep and goats moving around behind me. Little Hannan was running around, dancing and singing as always and the men were discussing the price of sheep. I could smell goat couscous cooking. There was nothing fancy or out of the ordinary, but those simple pleasures of food when you are hungry, drink when you are thirsty, the camaraderie of your fellow travellers and rest when you are weary were worth more than any money could buy.
If you would like to join the transhumance next May, it is possible to do so through Desert et Montagne Maroc.