Algeria 1987

The Arab nearly drove us off the rough desert track as he used one of his hands to, unsuccessfully, search for a cigarette lighter. I was sitting in the front seat next to him, with the bearded stranger and the other tourists behind us.

We had had a long day, visiting the cave paintings high up in the Hoggar mountains near Tamanrasset. It’s a 20km drive followed by a climb of several hours up to about 6,000 feet. It’s my job to guide them there, but I couldn’t tell them anything about the paintings. There are herds of cows and horned bulls, mostly coloured in red or dark pink, with some in blue or white. Little men carrying bows, ostrich running, alligators and scorpions, a spotty giraffe and a bear. Few of these animals live in the wild in Algeria nowadays. The paintings are thousands of years old and the Sahara desert has replaced the grasslands and lakes which were once here.

Jabberine rock art

Jabberine rock art

This is my land now. I am not an Arab but a Targui from the Tassili Mountains, and I usually lead tourists on two-week treks. That way I can choose my companions and not have to listen to this stupid Arab who was driving us back. He was from the Mediterranean region of Algeria but claimed his ‘tribe’ came from here, that this was ‘my area’. He was telling the stranger he was here in the South to ‘help you people’ because the locals were hopeless. He meant me and my fellow Touareg. He didn’t stop talking; he was really annoying.

So when he couldn’t find his lighter he asked me for a light for his cigarette. I just used the upwards head movement which means ‘no’. I am old, I am proud, and living in the desert means I have learnt not to waste words or movements. When we got out of the car finally, I ignored the Arab: I just turned to the bearded stranger and exchanged a look which didn’t need words to convey my mood. I then took out my packet of cigarettes and lit one with my lighter. The Arab looked at me in disbelief; while the stranger stifled a laugh.