Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Despatches from the desert at 12°6′N 15°2′E

...the door swings gently on it's worn hinge, touched by a morning zephyr, the hard earned heat flees from our mud brick hut into the cool dawn air, the fragrance of wood smoke wends its way into our sleeping bags, the scent of morning, a new day's dawn is upon us. African sunrises are glorious and the 
smokey dusk fires are a sure and certain clue that 'cooking is a foot'*, a cooking of the most delicious kind; fresh bread. Each morning our b'fast revolves around us men sitting cross-legged on a mat enjoying each others company, a bowl of hot sugared milk (with coffee) and a stack of freshly made crispy brown 'Tandori style' flat circular sour dough bread 'loaves' and this morning an invite had been extended to come, watch, smell taste and enjoy.

It was an honour to be invited into the outside kitchen to see the experts transform a soggy paste into a work of art. The women chattered laughing together whilst children looked on, no doubt apprentices in waiting. A hand full of fermented dough is taken out of a pot prepared a few hours earlier and with remarkable dexterity it is needed and spun into a dinner plate sized disc, which is then stuck to the wall of a very hot preheated fuel drum that is buried in the kitchen sand, embers from a fierce fire of date palms and scavenged wood glow happily in the bottom of the barrel, and when the drum lid is put in  place another fire is is kept alight on the lid as per the photo. Then experience kicks in as no oven timers can be seen, 7 minutes later with only one short look, the bread is ready - voila`. With care one is able keep all ones fingers to avoid the flashing knife scraping off some of the embers and sadly some of the crunchy bread and snitch a few pre-b'fast morsels and child hood memories flood back as one is reminded of how good fresh kitchen gleanings taste. 

Whilst looking at some goats nibbling at nothing in a wadi, a chance conversation, which I did not understand, with a passer-by resulted in a warm and friendly invitation to come and see his garden. It truly was a oasis in a dry and parched land, beautiful full of lettuce and other salad like vegetation. What I loved about Hassan was his total enthusiasm for what he was doing, which was linguistically incomprehensible yet totally understandable.

The secret apart from his passion for growing and hard work was the well. The desert waters were sitting, resting, waiting little more than 10 feet down and once the 'nodding donkey' brought them to the surface,  they took on a new life as the bucket of clear crisp cool water, gurgled it's way merrily down the channels to the various metre square garden beds, bringing refreshment and growth wherever they went.

Water and bread are the two physical things that will keep you alive in the desert. Interesting what the book written by John had to say on the subject, in John 7:37 Jesus says "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.' and then in John 6:35 he said 'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.'

There is a quote by Bear Grylls on the back of THE MANUAL (Bible notes for Men, available from Amazon) that says 'powerful personal and relevant - it has helped me alot to live my faith day by day.' that applies to the Manual as well as to John's writings.

* a vague allusion to Sherlock Holmes


  1. Can almost smell that bread!

  2. Wow, lovely writings that take me back... Oh I feel the green tinges forming.