South from Barbary: Along the Slave Routes of the Libyan Sahara. Justin Marozzi
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Название: South from Barbary: Along the Slave Routes of the Libyan Sahara

Автор: Justin Marozzi

Издательство: HarperCollins

Жанр: Хобби, Ремесла


isbn: 9780007397402


СКАЧАТЬ desert situations and finding the appropriate expression in Arabic. Lessons alternated between translating phrases such as ‘Please help me unload this camel,’ and ‘I am thirsty because I have been in the sun too much today,’ to spontaneous asides from Mohammed on a bewildering range of subjects, some connected with Libya, others concerning the various women he had been chatting up in the coffee room. Sitting across the table from me as I waited for him to conjugate a verb, he would suddenly remove his glasses and look at me with an expression of avuncular sympathy.

      ‘Do you know how to ride a camel?’ he would ask solemnly. ‘It’s absolutely awful. Be very, very careful.’ He might then return briefly to the verb in hand before interrupting himself again to deliver another piece of advice. For an effete urban Cairene who had hardly set foot in the desert, he was not afraid to venture strong opinions on the Sahara and its people. ‘I am positive you will never have any problems in the desert,’ he declared. ‘It is true the people may lack polish, yes they do, but that does not mean they are dangerous or have evil intentions, so don’t worry at all. You will be 100 per cent protected by the people.’

      For those occasions during our travels when things were not proceeding well, Mohammed advised a particular expression. By its direct appeal to the Almighty, the judicious use of ‘Itaq Illeh’ (Fear God) should ensure we were not ripped off or misled by an unscrupulous merchant or guide. We would use it several times on the journey to amusing, if not entirely profitable, effect. One afternoon he suggested the stronger term ‘Enta gazma’ (You are a pair of shoes) to deter any troublemakers, before deciding against it. ‘No, no, no, on second thoughts you must not say this because the response will be fatal. This is considered a very big insult. Please don’t use it. If anyone said that to me I would spring at his throat and kill him.’

      While the Arabic lessons proceeded at this relaxed pace, we sought advice from various quarters. First we consulted Anthony Cazalet, an old friend of Ned’s and the rotund veteran of several trans-Saharan expeditions by car. Apart from an apparently inexhaustible supply of smooth Scottish malts, this yielded very little. The sum of his guidance was distilled into the frequently repeated observation: ‘Basically, you’re going to be bloody cold.’ Unfortunately, this did not lead to any practical suggestions about how we might combat such extreme temperatures. Might it be a good idea, we asked, to take down sleeping bags, or wear special fleece jackets? To which the answer was that it really didn’t matter. Whatever we did, whatever equipment we took, we were going to be ‘bloody cold’. This amused him greatly and he appeared to take a perverse delight in telling us how freezing we were going to be. Not knowing at this stage how accurate his forecast was, we thought little more of it, consoling ourselves with the thought that perhaps he felt the cold more than most, although his generous padding suggested otherwise. Besides, he had a certain reputation for travelling in great comfort, if not splendour. On one desert expedition he had shocked his companions by turning up with a deluxe camp-bed and, more eccentrically still, a ‘thunder-box’ – a portable commode. Travelling by camel, such luxuries would be beyond us.

      Through the Royal Geographical Society I was put in touch with Brigadier Rupert Harding-Newman, who had been one of the first men to travel in the Libyan desert in the twenties and thirties in heavily modified Model T and Model A Fords. Well into his eighties, he was still straight-backed and sprightly and he and his wife welcomed me into their home outside Inverness with great hospitality. Over a fine chicken pie and claret, he talked with relish about those ground-breaking days of Saharan exploration and showed me an old film of improbably built Fords sliding down mountainous sand dunes before grinding to a halt and having to be dug out and started up again. As the youthful cook, quartermaster and mechanic on those expeditions from Cairo led by the desert explorer Major Ralph Bagnold, he had always taken a supply of ‘fancy biscuits’ to help keep up morale. He and his companions would invariably stop for elevenses and afternoon tea. We might like to do the same, he suggested. It was only later that we learnt such stops were impossible when travelling by camel. Whereas Harding-Newman and team had been racing across sand flats at speeds of up to sixty miles an hour, we would have to be content with the camel’s more leisurely pace of three miles an hour. Making such ponderous progress through the desert, more often than not we could not even afford to stop for lunch. That did not stop us thinking wistfully of the Harding-Newman tea and biscuit breaks.

      Our last port of call was to Britain’s greatest living explorer. At eighty-eight, Sir Wilfred Thesiger, the man who had twice crossed the Empty Quarter of Arabia by camel in the late 1940s, was now marooned in a genteel retirement home in the suburbs of Surrey. He was waiting for us by the entrance, impeccably clad in a thirty-year-old three-piece suit. As we walked across to the neighbouring golf club where we were to lunch, he leant heavily on my arm, quietly reminiscing about his times in the desert.

      I had been advised not to be too discouraged by this interview with Thesiger. He would almost certainly pooh-pooh the whole idea and dismiss our proposed journey as a meaningless stunt. Fortunately this was quite untrue. He was obviously cheered by our visit and honest about the difficulties we would face in trying to get an expedition like this off the ground. ‘Your trouble will be that people will say why on earth go by camel,’ he said. ‘They’ll say you can do the journey perfectly well in a car. Arab life and tradition has all changed. It used to consist of loyalty to one’s travelling companion, undergoing hardship together and so on. When you had that you could count on them. They wouldn’t know how to do it now. They would think it absurd.’ He stopped himself for an instant. ‘Oh dear, I’m being very depressing I’m afraid.’

      He recommended the Royal Geographical Society for maps of Libya, in particular those that had been used by the SAS and Long Range Desert Group in the Second World War. His cold azure blue eyes glowed as he recalled the campaigns in Libya, when he had approached David Stirling to volunteer for action, saying he spoke Arabic and knew how to travel in the desert. He was taken on and subsequently fought with the SAS behind enemy lines where he ‘shot up’ tentfuls of soldiers in enemy camps.

      As far as riding camels was concerned, he said it took some time to get used to their strange loping gait. ‘The first day I rode one I found it very hard to get up the next day,’ he said. ‘You swing around a lot when they walk.’ He had once ridden 115 miles in twenty-four hours in what is now the northern Sudanese province of Darfur, and did not know of anyone who had ridden farther in one day. Travelling long distances with a small caravan, however, it would be inadvisable for us to go faster than walking pace. The camels would not be able to sustain it. Besides, with heavy loads, trotting would be a perilous affair that risked throwing off and smashing valuable bidouns of water.

      After lunch, we returned to his modest room decorated with a few tokens culled from a long, nomadic life: a walking stick made from a giraffe’s shinbone, a tattered Oriental rug, a black-and-white photograph of Marrakech. Burton, Conrad, Kipling, Sassoon, Buchan and Thesiger on the bookshelves.

      On equipment, he was a ruthless minimalist: ‘I wanted to meet the Bedouin on their own terms with no concessions,’ he insisted. For an Old Etonian from Edwardian England, this meant foregoing such staples of travel as tables and chairs. He had travelled barefoot in the desert, armed always with a dagger and a gun. This might be problematic in Gaddafi’s Libya. Radios, as used by Harry St John Philby, the second man ever to cross the Empty Quarter in 1932, were out. ‘When Philby travelled with the Bedouin he liked having a radio to listen to the Lord’s Test Match,’ he growled into his strawberry and vanilla ice cream. ‘To me that would have wrecked the whole thing.’

      Back in London we were not having much joy with maps. We needed to get our hands on the Russian Survey maps, the most detailed and accurate maps of the Sahara, which were proving difficult to locate. Stanfords said it might take two months. We needed them in two weeks. Eventually, I tracked down a supplier on the Internet and ordered a set by email. Nothing happened. I telephoned Munich. The German voice on the other end of the telephone said the maps might arrive before we left for Libya but appeared unconcerned about whether they did. In the meantime we had to make do with the US Tactical СКАЧАТЬ