Happy New Year to you all. This is often a time of introspection; alongside the celebrations comes a moment to reflect on how we have lived our past 12 months. If you have achieved what you set out to, congratulations! Or have you been taken by surprise, like me and discovered that the bigger picture was even bigger than you imagined; par for the course when you live in true surrender and with all that implies.
The desert has a way of making you surrender; to it’s heat, to it’s winds, to it’s silence, to it’s roar. That is why I decided to make next year’s Wild Woman Retreats here, because these times we are facing, both personally and in the world in general are about a break from the battles. They are about integrating peace into our lives, they are about surrendering. What better place to experience the letting go of our fight than in a space of pure beautiful emptiness.
Emptiness is everything! Be empty with no fear in 2017. Let your emptiness become full. Full of everything you dream, you love and you are. Look to the horizon and stand firm on your ground, wherever that may be. Xx
Living in the Sahara is not all about blazing heat and sitting on dunes watching spectacular sunsets! It is mid December and winter nights are very cold. There is no central heating, or heating of any kind, (other than the cat who lives here too and likes to curl up next to me) so wrapping up in plenty of warming layers is essential. Forget fashion! Unless your wardrobe is full of Arctic winter sports apparel, you’ll find yourself in as many blankets as you can find. Cover your head whilst sleeping, if you haven’t got a woolly hat, then improvise with a scarf. This will help to conserve your body heat. Keep smiling and remember that everyone else is cold too. Brrrrr!! Don’t worry, the sun will come out tomorrow…
After lunch we drive over hard bumpy terrain to a sacred oasis.
“Why is this oasis sacred?” I asked.
Salah, a friend who lives in a desert camp not far from here and who has been our generous host today, points to a tiny crumbling shack on the hillside.
“Because of the marabout; a saint lived there.”
Inside the marabout we find pieces of cloth tied to the collapsing ceiling rafters. They are instantly identifiable as some kind of prayer flags, a recognized form of sending prayers to heaven from the Buddhist tradition. It was a complete surprise to discover them here in the Sahara.
There was no question in my heart and mind, I tear a strip of cloth from my headscarf, find a palm branch to attach it to and set my prayer.
One of the archaeology experts and guides, Idir, also wants to leave a prayer. We both begin to walk anti-clockwise around the tiny building, following rituals from different spiritual practices. We make 3 rounds each and later Idir tells me that some people make 7 rounds.
But is this an Islamic practice? In Senegal, (I discovered online) a marabout is a leader of a religious community and is also known as a Sufi murshid, a practitioner of more ancient animalistic rituals such as animal sacrifice and the use of talismans. As the equivalent of a shaman, they were revered and sometimes referred to as saints.
Karima tells me that a small building like the one at this oasis is to be found in most if not all villages and she has always been curious as to why certain members of the community refuse to attend the ceremonies, where animals are still sacrificed to this day. This is a separate kind of killing to the annual Muslim religious slaughter of a goat at Eid, a reenactment of Abrahams torturous but ultimately heavenly moment of Divine communication, when according to scripture, God relieved him of the task of murdering his son when he saw Abraham was indeed willing to completely and unquestioningly bend to his will and a goat was killed instead.
Perhaps, as the Christian missionaries did across Africa and South America, where certain pagan and voodoo rites where adopted and adapted into their practices, to transition indigenous peoples across to a new religion, the Muslim faith has also retained some pre-Islamic languaging and stories, places and people that were integral to community spirituality still remain etched into social memory, with a twist.
A marabout stays a marabout, a place where a saint lived and where people asked for prayers to be answered. Although of course, now becoming a Muslim saint. It is those two latter words, side by side, that caused me to beg these questions. Can a Muslim saint exist?
I am not a scholar and merely muse. If anyone would like to educate me further, information is most welcome. In no way are these wonderings intended to be a slur on the fastest growing religion in the world today, and the spiritual backbone of the place I choose to live, a peaceful place, they are simply the result of a wonderful day out, to a fascinating and historically meaningful location.
There my prayer lies still, hanging on the broken branch, free of religion and full of hope.
A modern woman in an ancient place; me under a tamarisk tree in Sahara. An ancient culture assimilating modern technology; Amazigh nomad and desert camp owner Salah using his Android phone. Out of shot, (unfortunately!) we have Hassan, 100 year old nomad who was living under the tamarisk and serving us all Moroccan tea, grateful after having taken delivery of a second hand radio to keep abreast of the latest news. When I passed by two weeks later, the rains had come and the only trace of Hassan was a red bag, tied to and flapping on an overhanging branch.
There’s a certain kind of woman who chooses to spend more than just a few weeks here in Morocco. To live in a Berber village or at the doorway to the desert takes vision, guts, an open heart and a sturdy constitution. Karima Rebecca Powell (left) and Nancy Patterson (right) who both tick all those boxes are exemplary Wild Women. They’re an inspiration to me and if you are ever blessed to meet them, they will inspire you too.
When ‘town’ is a 5km walk away in sometimes searing heat and winds, any lift is a welcome lift and more often than not the transport is unconventional. From donkeys, to motorbikes with pickup truck style modifications, you jump on and really appreciate it!
So pleased to be able to invite you to come and spend some time here in the Sahara. A retreat and transformative trip to untame you and connect you with your wildness and the nature of the desert.
Morocco is a huge place and travelling here can seem daunting, but this means the journey itself is part of the process and I’ll be there every step of the way. I want to encourage women to take the plunge and experience themselves stepping out of the box.
This is NOT a ‘teacher and student’ retreat. It’s for each of us to participate and contribute exactly what we can and what we are and share the sisterhood and free joy that comes from a road trip, and a desert camping adventure. In addition to the powerful healing of song and sounds…