“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 the Jebel Sahro has two wives,
One a twenty-year-old.
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.