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Diego Arbore

Photographer: Diego Arbore @diego.arbore

All photographs copyright Diego Arbore. REPRODUCTION PROHIBITED, means that the resale and reproduction, even partial, in any manner and form, of Diego Arbore’ photographs are prohibited. Anyone wishing to use the contents must have to ask in any case written authorization to Diego Arbore.



Sand dunes, heroic acacias and phlegmatic dromedaries pass by on the long, straight road that cuts the arid landscape in half. Brahim forcefully steers the wheel, kicking up a lot of dust and abandons the noisy asphalt to continue on the gentle glide of the wheels, as if on velvet. He pulls on the handbrake screaming like a cowboy at a rodeo and, when the view clears, he opens the door by sitting on the hood of the pickup, then struggles to light a cigarette as the flame flickers in the wind. The yellow fingers of someone who has decided to relieve their pain with a bit of nicotine move with such a habitual gesture that it already becomes boring to my stranger’s eyes. The sand slides furiously, blending earth and air in an ethereal beige world from science fiction films, one of those planets where the sun is distant and the mission is to find new life. Brahim places his foot on the wheel of the off-road vehicle and forcefully sucks the smoke, thus lighting up the embers. His eyes roll upwards, melancholically seeking a horizon hidden by the sand.

“We are above Lake Iriki, there was once only water here. This humid area extended for 32 kilometers making the soil fertile and the climate mild. In a while we’re going to know the story directly from those who live here.”

What was fascinating until a few moments ago now appears to be an arid and inhospitable place, a cold, gloomy and barren surface, where not even the most basic form of life seems to belong.

Brahim puts out his cigarette on the ground and raises his index finger: “A little further on are the remains of the “Titanic hotel”. Today it resembles a ship stranded on the beach, no name would have been more appropriate.”

Together with the cigarette our conversation also dies out, so we remain silent and wander with our thoughts. Beyond what was visible, the wind created howls and moans that were difficult to identify for my eyes lost in the most imaginative pareidolia. My heartbeat accelerates when I realize I’m not looking at a mirage but I recognize the figure of a human being moving ungracefully in our direction.

It was a millefeuille of colored veils held together by improvised leather threads that seemed as if they would take flight at any moment. Inside, an elderly woman was trying to communicate something by waving a stick and holding her hand over her mouth to create a megaphone. She was followed by a sheep, as faithful as a domestic dog, and four children lost in the mist of the desert wind. Brahim searches his pockets and takes out a few Dirhams, meanwhile the old woman had already arrived in front of us. Her face was darkened by the sun and those deep wrinkles made her look like an old sailor.

On the open palm of her hand, as dry as a summer wheat field, the banknote was placed with her arm outstretched, as if that wasn’t enough. We hand the money over to her and with a universal gesture she beckons us to follow her. “From here we continue on foot.”

Before leaving, Brahim points to my head and just like every day the propitiatory ritual of the turban is performed, so I bow my head letting myself be wrapped in the purple keffiyeh that accompanies me in the desert.

The children wander around me curiously like the puppies of a wild animal, barefoot and oblivious to the sun and the wind that raises piles of sand and gravel. Meanwhile, the sheep follows us while a dirty and skinny mutt with a peaceful nature has also appeared out of nowhere. Without  a reference point it is difficult to understand the direction where we’re headed, there’s no tree, no plant, no rock and not even the sky, just mist.

Now disoriented, I observe Brahim who smiles and with a gesture of his face tells me to look forward better. “What you can see are the huts of this nomadic family, they settled here about ten years ago.”




A handful of wooden buildings just over five feet tall and spaced just enough apart for a bit of privacy appeared like mushrooms from the sand. Around these houses, three poor donkeys stand as still as trees in the sun, tied with a rope short enough to reach the water bowl.

A young silhouette comes out of the largest hut and approaches us with a determined attitude. A yellow turban flutters on his head, it is Ahmed, the village chief. He uncovers his face just enough to see his melancholy black eyes which give tenderness to the smile darkened by dust. With a gesture of his arms he welcomes me and invites us to continue with the movement of a maître and an innate elegance hidden under the tunic. We pass through the huts built with branches, stones and straw which look unstable at a first glance but are actually solid and well built. Sitting in the shade of one of these, a boy weaves some hemp threads while thick smoke comes out of the small window above him, inside a woman is cooking vegetables in a large pot. She hides behind the veil from the sight of my head, giving me the unmistakable signal that she doesn’t want to be disturbed. Ahmed stops in front of the largest hut complete with veranda and kindly invites me to enter.

We sit on the floor on the set table placed on a carpet as we’re served the ritual of mint tea. As he pours the hot drink into the small glasses from above Ahmed opens up to me. “This natural habitat was very rich until the 70s, our families lived from fishing and farming, now there are only sand and stones. When they decided to build the Ouarzazate dam, the lake was drained with the aim of feeding the water network. Old people remember enormous piles of fish found on the dried bottom, the earth looked like snakeskin.”

He always smiles as he talks, but in his expression I can read the melancholy of a place that has become legend. “Several tribes once lived in this area, today only us are left. We make a living thanks to the breeding of some dromedaries and the creation of artisanal products to sell to tourists. We will be moving soon because we have run out of time and resources in this area.” I leave the hut to photograph the surroundings, the wind has stopped blowing, moving aside that curtain of sand that covered the sky and revealing a completely new scenario. Finally, I can see the horizon that extends to infinity devoid of life.

“This land will one day be poor and tamed, and no tree will be able to grow on it anymore.”

This quote that I underlined many years ago in Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” has been waiting for the perfect moment to be brought to mind. Out of the corner of my eye I see the woman coming out of the kitchen with a boy, out of breath she approaches the water tank, pours the precious liquid into a baked-clay cup and with the veil of the chador covers the upper part of the glass creating a filter to quench his thirst. Then with the look of a scared animal she disappears into the small kitchen leaving the boy prey to nothingness. We are facing one another, like a challenge in a western film, waiting for the other’s move. I smile and approach calmly. He has large, melancholy eyes and covers the lower part of his mouth by biting the neck of his t-shirt to hide a bit of shyness.




A powerful hand rests on my shoulder breaking the tension of the gazes, I recognize Brahim’s unmistakable smell of nicotine.

“At sunset we set off again.” He then strokes the child’s head, says something to him in the Berber language and they laugh together. Totally unfamiliar with their conversation, I take some photographs wondering about childhood in the desert. “This little boy goes to the nomadic school on foot every morning, it will be at least ten kilometres, in the early years a lot of them drop out. They leave very early to avoid the hottest hours. We try to keep them busy as much as possible. at least until sunset when they go out to play football in the street.”

Something attracts the attention of the boy who quickly says bye and dashes away, disappearing between the huts. Brahim follows him with his hand jokingly and points out two saddled dromedaries sitting on the ground.

“We have to be in Ouarzazate before dusk, now let’s go, Ahmed will take us to the pick-up. ” Sitting on the poor animal I leave the village from its tall back. Children come out like insects as I leave this barren landscape behind. They wave as if I were a famous person and try to come near me to give me a high five. Once we have left, we cross the desertified area to reach the pick-up, now camouflaged by the sand. I get off the dromedary with numb and trembling legs, I hug Ahmed and greet him, hoping to see him again in the future, but the honesty of his yellowed smile makes me understand the opposite.

“We are nomads, the day you come back we will have already left, good luck!”