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Archive for June 2010

June 26, 2010 Posted by tahir in Travel

Sleeping in Straw

I’m travelling through the Swiss Alps, to make an article for Lonely Planet Magazine. Last night slept in a barn in straw… What culture shock being in this green, green valley… especially after Casablanca.


Living on the Edge

Two years ago our guardian, Osman, whom we inherited with the house, decided he’d chop down a tree in the garden. The axe wasn’t sharp, and so he took the angle grinder (a bright yellow tool he and the others had begged me to buy for them months before), and he went to work. Holding the axe in one hand and the grinder in the other, he attempted to put a blade on the hatchet. All must have gone well for a moment because in my subconscious I heard the whirring of metal. But then catastrophe struck. I was outside the house at the time, about to bundle the kids into my car for a little cruising down near the Corniche. It was then that one of the other guardians emerged. His face was white and he moved so fast that he seemed to glide through the air. ‘Osman’s cut his hand,’ he said nervously. I frowned, told him where to find band-aids in the house. He shook his head, then blinked. A stray tear rolled down the edge of his face. At that moment Osman came jarring through the garden door. He was in shock. His hand was hanging off. We moved into slow motion, like one of those cheesey 1970s movies where second rate slomo was still acceptable. I looked at the wound. Then my knees went. It’s not like in the movies… not even those ’70s flicks. What struck me was the detail. The grinder disk had sliced across the width of the hand, at right angles to the fingers, sawing through all the bones, tendons, muscles and sinew, until it reached what looked like his palm the other side. The tendons had bunched up near the base of the fingers, a detail I had never imagined. I pulled him into the car, blood squirting. He was pressing down with an old sheet of leather he’d picked up. And on that drive out through the shantytown at high speed, he fazed in and out of consciousness. I won’t go into the highs and lows of the days, weeks and months that followed. Not here anyway. Except to sat that the lowest low was when I thought he had died of blood loss on the back seat, and when all the surgeons suggested he go for straight amputation. (We found the best hand surgeon in North Africa and, after footing colossal bills, and dropping everything for eight months, had the hand fixed on and working again). And that was the highest high… seeing Osman fluttering his fingers again, after more physiotherapy sessions than I can remember. I should add to this that three weeks before this dreadful accident,Osman’s mother and father and brother and nephew were all killed when their communal taxi struck another car at night in fog on a coast roast south of Casablanca. They were en route to pay their respects to a relative who had lost her husband in an accident. And their taxi was on the wrong side of the road. Why recount it all here, today? Well, it’s because as I got to my desk a few moments ago I saw Osman in the courtyard outside. He is standing there now, on a ladder propped again a towering palm tree. The base of the ladder is jammed against an old milk crate. And the crate is askew on a jumble of tangled wires and rocks, stuff that no one could be quite bothered to move. As I watch, Osman has climbed to the highest rung. He’s right up there now, his expression calm but a little tense like an amateur tightrope-walker trying his luck. As he stretches his right arm way to the side to reach the furthest branch, I close my eyes, take a breath, and pray for him.


June 20, 2010 Posted by tahir in Books

Washington Post Review Today

Review of The Last Empty Places, about the blank spots on the American map, by Peter Stark


My Greatest Friend

Dar Khalifa is large, spread out, encircled by gardens and, beyond them, girdled by the shantytown. Very often, I scoop up a clutch of random people and drag them home to eat. Few things excite me more than seating half a dozen strangers around the dining table for good food and lively conversation. Rachana (whom I already said insists I have no spam filter on my friends) doesn’t quite understand my craving for people. I think it’s a family thing, ie from my family, something I must have acquired from my father. Just like him, I can’t help myself but collect people… the stranger the better. So, often, the house is full of voices, the sound of cutlery clattering on plates, and glasses clinking together. And, on those days and nights, I am content. But then, on afternoons like today, when I am home alone, I feel something different, equally pleasing. It’s perhaps my greatest Moroccan friendship of all… the one I share with Dar Khalifa itself. This house is not quite like other houses. You see, it’s magical, the kind of place conjured from a child’s imagination. It’s made from stone, quarried nearby, and it feels alive… as if it knows I’m inside. Right now I am in the library, staring out at the riad, the courtyard garden, where tortoises amble slowly through the shade. And I am thankful, most of all to my great friend, Dar Khalifa, for touching our lives with magic… the kind only Morocco knows.

June 16, 2010 Posted by tahir in Travel

Full Spectrum People

I know a lot of people.

Of course some of them are close friends, others are just friends, and others still, merely acquaintances. But I know them all the same. Most of the time I keep my friends and acquaintances in niches. They’re divided and subdivided. And often when we invite people over to Dar Khalifa I spend a moment calculating that everyone will get on. Rachana says that I have no ‘spam filter’ on my friends, that I attract weirdos. It’s true, well at least in part. I like people who will provide a different slant on life, a curve ball kind of a person, one who’ll get you to THINK 360 about something. But at the same time there’s something I value very highly, probably higher than anything else. It is the ability to be at ease and comfortable with anyone. I call this Full Spectrum, and I know remarkably few Full Spectrum People. How many friends can you take into the shantytown for lunch, and then straight after to an embassy dinner? And don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that an embassy dinner’s somehow better than a bidonville lunch, because it certainly is not, and it explains why we’re found in the shantytown far more often than at a swish evening out. But this capacity to mix with anyone and everyone is something I hold very dear, and something I wish more people had…

June 15, 2010 Posted by tahir in Travel

Riches in Afghanistan

Four years ago I travelled back and forth to Afghanistan on my quest to search for the hidden treasure of Ahmed Shah Durani. The great golden hoard, that originated in Mughal India, is valued today at about $500 billion. The thought of the treasure kept me going through days and nights of considerable hardship, and during the sixteen days I spent along with my film crew in a Pakistani torture jail. I would find myself thinking how a treasure such as this, an absolutely immense sum, could help rebuild Afghanistan. Never could I imagine that the shattered country of my ancestors might be given another opportunity to realise extraordinary wealth. But, it seems that it is… The New York Times reported June 13th, of colossal mineral reserves in Afghanistan, worth as much as $1 trillion. That makes the treasure of Ahmed Shah pale in comparison. The question, of course, is where any of it will ever be mined and if any other funds will reach those who need help.

The NYT article can be found here:

June 11, 2010 Posted by tahir in Travel


Last week marked the 100th birth anniversary of Sir Wilfred Thesiger, who’s often called the last of the ‘Victorian’ Gentlemen explorers. In the last years of his life we became close friends, or rather he was a mentor, the man who advised me to shun a conventional life. His spirit goes on, and I miss him. I just had a piece published about our friendship.

You can find it here:

June 10, 2010 Posted by tahir in Travel

Such a great documentary

Almost twenty-five years ago a family friend mentioned a documentary to me in passing. It was about an American Evangelist Preacher who blew the lid off the corrupt Evangelists world (I’m not saying all Evangelists are corrupt, but some seemed to be, at least then). And with the power of the internet I found the documentary yesterday, and I whooped for joy. You can download it for free. It’s about MARJOE GORTNER. There’s a page on him on Wikipedia. The film is quite amazing. he’s got extraordinary presence, natural charisma. See what you think. Follow the link here (I simply pressed ‘download’ and it came down pretty fast):

June 9, 2010 Posted by tahir in Books

Oh My, Oh My...

It’s just how I am… in a word it’s obsessive. I can’t help myself. Always been like this and as the years slip by my obsession needle seems to arc forward a little more every day. When I started blogging I wrote masses and masses (if you haven’t, please please please have a look at my older posts)… but then I got obsessed with other stuff and the blog obsession waxed and waned. Then of course there’s the be dreaded crisis which has hit poor happy go lucky writers hard. My friends with proper lives and real salaries would hear me wax lyrical about the writer’s freedom, his teflon-coatedness. Ooops. Well it all sounded good at the time. Then I wrote a biiiiiig novel and have been waiting to be paid for that for a very very long time. The great pipeline of work dried as I spent all my time editing the novel and talking about it (talking is something I do a lot of… something that irritates the people around me and pays nothing at all). Well, I’m rambling now. Rambling has generally increased recently, as I try to explain to anyone and everyone I meet just why impecuniousness is my new middle name. So, after weeks and even months of feeling glum, I’m cranking out work again. I like to think of myself as a short order chef who’s got ten pots and pans on the burners, and he’s juggling them. I’m in my element when juggling pots. And the greatest thing of all is that the dark days of dire uncertainty got me thinking… got me back on the knife edge on which all writers should live. I’m going to write this blog as often as I can but I’m not going to do it every day… hopefully every week. And the entries may be short… half a line or a single word. Because it’s all about staying in touch. To anyone who checked my blog in the last months, gawd bless ya!, and thank you sooooo sooooo sooooo much for following my work. You have no idea at all how much it means to me. TS