After the Writing Retreat with Linda Cracknell

having arranged all the accommodation in Marrakech and Fes and booked the taxis, all I had to do was wait. No-one had mobile phones and all were arriving from different points in and out of Morocco, Malaga via Chefchouan, UK via Marrakech, Australia via Casablanca so one in a taxi, 2 by bus, and one by train….no idea of when they would get into Fes so no-one to meet them, I crossed my fingers…insha’allah they would find the Riad Rcif. They did…

Hassan the taxi driver picked them up early on the Saturday morning and I got the call they were on their way. We met them 8 hours later at the “hostage handover point” as we have come to know the place a few kms out of Rissani where the piste meets the asphalt.

We loaded the party into the land rover and sped off toward Tissardmine in a desperate bid to get them there before sunset. It had been quite windy that day and there was a sandy haze across the horizon but that did not dampen the spirits of the travellers – they didn;t know any different, this was desert, the frontier, no man’s land, except the berbers. Youssef, resplendent in lime green turban and warm winter djellaba smiled quietly as he drove and listened to the questions coming from the back seat and my attempts to answer them.

We arrived at dusk and carried their luggage to the tents which by now were dark enough to look romantic in the glow of an ikea solar light, but not really handy for unpacking. So tea was served and after oohs and aahs (the tents have bathrooms!?) the en-suites were tried out, torches found, essential unpacked…so far so good…

Dinner was Khalia, a meaty tagine that is the speciality at Tissardmine, at least it is when cooked by Youssef…which it was…it was just before dinner we discovered a closet vegetarian or two in the company, a vegetarian tagine was quickly assembled – I must remember to get people to tell me if they are veggo – its not easy in such a meat based culture – but on this occasion it was not a problem as it transpired as the word strict before the word vegetarian was not used.

After a few pre bedtime jitters from one of the number (too quiet, too dark) and a hot water bottle of comfort provided, they all bedded down to a good night’s sleep.

Sunrise brought the promise of a beautiful day, and as it happened, a beautiful week was also ahead of us, spiritually, emotionally, meteorologically.

Rituals were quickly established, morning tea at sunrise followed by breakfast in the camp and a walk before the morning session began around the Fasi blue and white zellij table under the verandah. Coffee, peanuts, olives and water were the staples between meals. I generally joined them for lunch round the table in front of our nomad tent which gave me time to check in to see how they were going and make plans for the next day’s activities.

The afternoons were generally “free time” but also an opportunity for people to have a one on one session with Linda.

At seven in the evening, we would gather in the Salon and for an hour enjoy a reading or once, a session of writing Haiku based, of course, on their thoughts about and experience in, the desert.

a lone palm tree grows

green fronds fingering the blue

sky is all around

debra mor

After three nights at Tissardmine, that included a brief sunset trip to Erg Chebbi, it was time to go much further afield and early one morning we drove them to the dunes to collect their camels and head off for a day of walking and talking, riding and writing.

Back at the base, Youssef and I had a moment to relax and clean up before heading off to set up the satellite camp for the night. Firewood, drums, blankets, enough food for an army, some beer and wine in the cooler, all was good. Actually I confess, we forgot the drums so after cleaning the camp of the inevitable sand, youssef put a beer in my hand and drove back to get the instruments. I headed up the dune to watch them arrive and as I saw them appear in the distance, I yelled a ululation (well, as best I could) and later was told that they had been watching the dunes I was on and thought they were huge until I stood up and looked like a giant in comparison…perspective is tricky out here.

Tired and sore but inspired and refreshed, we feasted on meat cooked on the embers, potatoes buried deep within and sipped our welcome beers.

racks of slaughtered goat

balance on rocks, red embers

lighting grease-lined lips

Karen Hadfield

Some more family arrived and the drumming began and went deep into the night until exhausted we all cloaked ourselves in blankets to ward off the chill of the night and slept until first light.

loud thrumming of drum

unintelligible clash

and chat break silence


sand wind-raked into

ripples. the flicker of a

camel’s eyelashes


Tea brewed, sunrise observed, thoughts collected and it was back on the camels for the short journey back to Tissardmine and a lunch of rice and bibi.

Black olives on sand

Follow the camel’s footsteps;

Hungry insects feast.


Dinner served and eaten by 9pm and that, it seemed was bedtime.

Next day was another field trip, this time to Rissani to visit the markets and purchase those all important souvenirs and gifts for those left behind. Always exhausting, I am not convinced it was such a good thing to do. It upset the rhythm and peacefulness but these things we learn as we go…

And then suddenly it was the last day. At seven that evening, we lit the fire outside and sat and chatted about how we all thought it went. I had handed out an evaluation form for them all to fill in and am happy to report we got 10/10 from everyone for each question about overall experience, food, comfort and service. Youssef was delighted.

The reading that night was a piece that each of them had written during their stay here and a very special piece written by all of them for me…

The Tissardmine Chest 

for Karen

 We will put in the chest

A black stone inlaid with an ancient fish,

a sizzling tagine spiced with our friendship,

the laugh of a camel as it flies through the night.

We will put in the chest

The first ripening olive on a young tree,

your footfall between tents as you carry morning tea,

A cricket piping to the stars

We will put in the chest

The fragrance of a black rose,

a blessing from a weary traveller,

and a hug from a dear friend.

We will put in the chest

moon shadows – guests at a desert party,

a saharan drumbeat under a roaring sky,

the small things way-marking our way home.

The chest is emblazoned with crimson tatters

and lined with milk and honey.

Its hinges are the bones of camels

You can open the chest

to warm yourself on cold nights,

and soar together over violet shadows

on shifting sands

 LC, RB, DM, SO 23 November 2012

 and then at 8am the next morning, they were gone. Off to Marrakech for a final meal together. And I miss them.

 I will miss hearing their intense silence interrupted by gales of laughter, their easy going attitudes and their love and respect for Tissardmine, the desert and the people who inhabit it.

Gibbous moon rising

farewells across shifting sands

small things pointing home.