A serious bout of food poisoning threatens to put a stop to a desert road trip until a chance meeting with unconditional kindness...
I pulled the car over and ran as fast as I could, difficult given the circumstances, up the loose rocky lunar-like scree to the top of the low hillside in search of some privacy. In reality this was lunacy as the only other human for as far as the eye could see was my cousin, and traveling companion, Jack. However, some basic human need to be out of view drove me up and out of sight where I crouched down behind a well-placed rock. Something wasn't right but I already knew that; I'd spent the last hour or so spasmodically vomiting from a moving car's window.
I stood up, light-headed, and stumbled back towards the beat-up hire car down on the asphalt below. It was then I noticed them, four, then five, six, seven... was I imagining things? Where were these people coming from? They'd already accosted Jack and had now spotted me tumbling down the hillside. There were more still, children all of them, literally creeping out of the stones like some warped desert zombie movie. We'd stopped in what we'd thought was the middle of nowhere but now could plainly see this was not the case. It was then I noticed a small group of buildings on the other side of the road, blending seamlessly into the dry broken brown landscape. It was a hamlet of sorts. I hoped to God they hadn't all just witnessed my foray into the wilds.
"I think they want us to go with them to their house" Said Jack gesturing over to the adobe huts not 50 meters away. Ducking to avoid the low doorway we entered the dark, single-roomed house surrounded by a gaggle of excited children. After the glaring brightness of the desert our pupils struggled to dilate but slowly we took in our surroundings. At one end were stacked ten or more mattresses. Next to them a single, small window reluctantly allowed a trickle of dappled sunlight in. At the other end a fire was lit for cooking. There was no furniture. Around the outside mats were placed for sitting and these were now being filled by the kids, planting themselves down one by one. A woman in her forties smiled warmly at us and spoke some words of Berber to the oldest girl who promptly began filling a huge, already boiling, cast iron kettle with handfuls of fresh mint leaves and enormous rocks of sugar. We were being welcomed into their home and a feeling of serenity slowly slipped over me.
The woman was mother to these children, eleven in all, and they slept, ate and lived together in this one room. She spoke only Berber but thankfully one of her older sons had a few words of French and we were able to converse. I explained my predicament and she immediately sent a younger child out to their garden who came running back in a few moments later clutching some small green leaves. The woman took them and handed them to me, smiling and pointing to my stomach. I trusted her implicitly as I would have my own mother and began chewing on the herbs. The oldest girl handed me a steaming glass of sweet mint tea and I washed them down.
Jack and I sat enveloped in the bosom of this family. Peaceful, happy. We chatted, as best we could, about where we were from and what we were doing. Two of the older boys then took us on a tour of their small-holding, proudly showing us their chickens and goats and, surprisingly for somewhere so dry, a vegetable patch. They were completely self-sufficient in their desert home. Before long it was time to bid our farewells and with much yelling and whooping from the kids we set off.
An hour later driving through the sublime infinity only a desert can convey, the stomach cramps began to fade and the nausea to pass. Grateful and content we drove on west - plump on the feast of experiences travel brings. I've never forgotten such unconditional kindness imparted on a complete stranger from ones with so little. And never have I felt more at home so far from home.