Bou Gaffer

“A climb to the ridge of Bou Teskaouine

Rewards us with a magnificent view

Of Bou Gaffer and the Eastern Jebel.

We ascend Jebel Bou Gaffer,

An impressive mass of jumbled rock,

Where the Berbers

Made their last stand against the French

In 1933 after prolonged guerrilla resistance.”

Our guide, Ibrahim, old enough for a bus pass

In Lewisham,

In the Jebel Sahro has two wives,

One a twenty-year-old.

He delights

In disappearing,

Materialising high above us,

Leaping over rocks, grimy gandura

Flapping above gristled ankles

And recycled Reeboks.

He clasps stick to shoulder,

Through broken teeth booms,

” Bou Gaffer! Bou Gaffer! “

A cry of defiance against what?

The French? Europeans? Tourists?

The rich? Age? Mortality?

He disappears again from the boulder

Leaving only a manic cackling among the rocks.

When we camp for the night,

The horses and jennets are restless,

Galloping about the field.

The Berbers do not seem to sleep,

Murmuring stories through the night.

Antique mortars, bullets, cartridge cases

Litter the earth. Rusted tobacco tins

And wine bottles labelled ‘1932’.

A monument o the unknown (French) soldier

Has been desecrated.

This is the real world

Of Ouida, Beau Geste and Luck of the Legion.

I lay my head on a cold pillow

And sleep with the spirits

Of legionnaires and Berbers.

In the morning,

My water bottle

Contains a block of ice.

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