Do Berbers Dream of Flying Sheep

Join Pal Blanko on his motorcycle, as he takes a ride down the West Coast of Africa, whilst dreaming of sheep and the company of Berbers. { Motorcycle. Africa. Berbers. Dream }

Oulad Aissa 2022


He looked at me, for just a moment in space-time. His unwashed face, matted hair and cheeky grin gave him an unplaceable look. His sheep: tired, under-fed, and hampered in their walking, by metal leg-shackles, slowly made their way across the dusty ribbon of tarmac, that snaked-out in front of me. He must have been six years old.


I sat there astride my motorbike; its single-cylinder vibrating on tick-over. He looked at me. I looked at him. He smiled. I nodded. He waved. I waved back.


Welcome to the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. I’m just glad that my brakes  worked.


In just four days’ time, the “big Festival” Eid-Al-Kabir would be with us - so I didn’t much fancy the sheep’s chances of reaching old-age, even if they had just cheated death on the road today. According to locals, Berber folk get a little ‘stir-crazy’ at the prospect Eid Al-Kabir, and go to great lengths to secure themselves a sheep. This festival, more commonly known as ‘Eid Al Adha’ (the Fesitval of the Sacrifice) in other Muslim countries, commemorates the biblical Binding of Isaac, and God’s last-minute gift of a sheep to Abraham - which presents itself to him; caught by its horns, in a thorn-bush. Berbers take the celebration very seriously and even the poorest families will take it upon themselves to buy a live sheep, so that they can slaughter it and feast upon it. Hec, some even buy two for good measure. It’s a mania that possesses the people, akin to trailer-park Americans fighting each other in Walmart, to secure the last remaining Black Friday deals. It’s all very odd. Even if you’re a Moroccan living in a city, there is a strong urge to buy a sheep. Even if you have no money, you borrow money (which is against Koranic Law) in order to feast and to be a good Muslim. Even if you live in an apartment, you buy a sheep !


One of my local friends used to live on the fourth-floor in a block of flats, and said that the guy in the penthouse suite above him, once bought two live sheep for Eid. He kept them on scraps of food, on his roof terrace. When the day of slaughter came, the owner chased-after one of the sheep and slit its throat - directly in-front of the other animal! Upon seeing this, the second sheep was so scared that it jumped straight off the roof. My friend, roused by the sound-of-slaughter upstairs, went to his window to see what was occurring - only to witness a sheep, mid-air, passing his apartment.


Unfortunately, the fall did not kill the beast. Instead, it landed in a tree and then fell downwards into the vegetation below, from where (due to broken bones) it was unable to escape. God only knows what people in the street must have thought - but if you’d seen a sheep falling from the heavens, which then got trapped in a bush, on the eve of Eid, you’d likely have wailed: Alluuuu Akbar!




I am here in Morocco, with my ever-faithful Kapps, to fulfil a promise that I’d made-myself some eight years ago: to come and find a little town on the west coast of Africa called Oualilida. See, I’m in a habit reading these things that young-folk call ‘books’. I look at the pictures too, and they are a very bad influence on me.


To add a little spice to the trip, I’d decided to hire a couple of 250cc dirt-bikes from an oddball guy, in one of the most unfindable backstreets of Marrakech. He kept a white van parked on the road where his shop wasn’t, and stored some motorbikes nearby, in the basement of tower-block, where his apartment isn’t. As we walked into his grotto; down the narrow spiral-ramp, and into the darkness, Kapps graciously allowed-me to go first.


Our little bikes acquitted themselves very well, and Kapps (having only just gained her motorbike licence a few months back) did even better. Yamaha XT250s are quite cute looking things and are perfectly-sized for an adult Kapps. However, being the wrong side of 6ft, I found myself riding in the ‘Grasshopper position’ with my knees far too close to my ears – but hell, it was fun and with overly small bikes, the type of which we’d never ridden before, and of a provenance that neither of us could vouch-for, we could be assured of success.


The first roundabout in downtown Marrakech, with is bohemian traffic laws, homicidal taxi-drivers, suicidal pedestrians, buses, donkey carts, and foul-mouthed watermelon salesmen… was an experience.


Wild Atlantic surf smashes into black volcanic rocks which, here and there, are interspersed with towering dunes and a fading African light. Some things you see, will be with you forever.

Six hours on a little dirt bike, with a plank-hard seat, and in 35 degrees of heat, was truly bum-numbing. The poorly maintained road that leads-out from Marrakesh towards the coast was so rutted that I frequently cursed my Caucasian forefathers, and their skinny white assets. That said, the view of the ocean, when you see it for the first time, is to die for. Wild Atlantic surf smashes into black volcanic rocks which, here and there, are interspersed with towering dunes and a fading African light. Some things you see, will be with you forever.

The beach at Oualidia is a sight to behold. Bestrewn with small fishing-boats and bounded by rocks on either side, this broad strip-of-sand is isolated from the main town by an opal-blue lagoon. In the dying moments of daylight, the golden glow makes the whole scene look like the cover of an exotic magazine. The town behind the lagoon is far less picturesque, and can (at best) be described as run-down. Two years of Moroccan Covid lockdown, with defacto sealed borders has had a ruinous effect on the country. A lot of properties (even those in the nicer parts of town) have been left in disrepair. Certain streets look almost apocalyptic: with abandoned houses, broken windows and grass growing-up through the tarmac. Evidently there once was a busting tourist industry here, but not anymore. The place was devoid of visitors, so much so, that me and my brown-wife were the only white-people there.


We found a truck-stop café and ordered a Chicken Tagine which, in this dirt-poor town, was an earthenware dish, full of potatoes. In the trickier of countries that I visit, I restrict myself to eating piping-hot food, and this particular dish had been bubbling away on gas-mark log, for quite some time. For how long I'm not sure - but on a nearby fence-post there were a series of notches, which may have marked the movement of the sun, and the passing of days…


Despite my preparations, what caught me off-guard was the language. Out of the big cities and down the road, you reach a point where the French runs-out, and the locals default to Amazigh, plus another tongue that they solemnly claim is Arabic. Still, despite these difficulties, the locals are extremely friendly, in the way that village-folk tend to be in most-any Islamic country. They seem to enjoy the visitation from the foreign curious; the kids especially so.


The people’s kindness is palpable and very often the less they have to offer, the more willing they are to give it to you. It seems that here, and in many other parts of the world, there is an education to be had, from folks who’ve never been to school…


Copyright Pal Blanko 2022. All Rights reserved.

Join Pal Blanko on his motorcycle, as he takes a ride down the West Coast of Africa, whilst dreaming of sheep and the company of Berbers. { Motorcycle. Africa. Berbers. Dream }


What to read next: 

Invitation To A Riot

Want more of the good stuff ?

Sign-up for the Pal blanko Newsletter below...

Share this to...