Morocco

The Berber Cowboy

Writer

Brownbook Staff

Photographer

Laila Hida

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How did you hear about Morocco’s ‘Berber cowboy’?
Last spring, my best friend and I wanted to go horse riding. We were looking for a place in Morocco that isn’t very touristy, and a colleague recommended I get in touch with Driss. I called him, we had a cool chat over the phone, and he told me to just come. So, we took the long six-hour drive to Tinghir, of course getting lost on the way.

What was the drive like?
We had to cross the Col du Tichka at the top of the Atlas Mountain to get from Marrakech to Ouarzazate. It’s quite high and there are a lot of twists and turns on the ride so we had to drive very slowly.

Does Driss own a ranch?
It’s not really a ranch – it’s just a second house next to his where the horses live. He’s always loved horses, since he was young. Ten years ago he taught himself how to ride, and now he has six horses. He doesn’t ride the classical way – he’s totally free with the animals. He lives among all this nature and just goes out for days riding in wild space with nothing around, sleeping under tents with horses. When he’s outside, he doesn’t even need to tie them up. One time, we were riding and three of the horses started racing each other. He just told them to stop and they did. It was quite impressive.

Why did you decide on this particular area for your photo essay?
This place touched me because it is really isolated. I felt how hard life is for the community here. It’s interesting to show how people can live in paradise but be unable to enjoy it because they have nothing. But also, this was a chance for me to talk about Driss. The landscape is interesting, but he is the person that introduces you to it, so he is the most important part of the story.

Tell us about Driss.
He is someone who really respects his environment, the people of his village and his Berber culture. He’s very protective over plant and animal life, which I’m not used to seeing in Morocco. And he’s not connected with ‘our’ world. He has Internet and he chats with people, but only about horses. He’s not part of the world of consumerism. He’s the man of Berber horses.

What do you find particularly inspiring or unusual about the Tinghir landscape?
Driss lives in a kind of desert – a dry not a sandy one, with canyons and hills. When I saw it the first time I felt like I was in a Western! I had only seen landscapes like this in movies. It looks like Arizona. You know, the more I travel in Morocco the more I discover how rich this country’s terrain is. We really have everything.

Do people in Morocco take advantage of this natural diversity?
Sadly, no. The problem in Morocco is with transportation. Dakhla, for example, in the south, is about two thousand kilometres from Casablanca. You need to take a plane to get there and a ticket costs as much as one to Paris! It’s a shame because it’s beautiful – it’s where the desert meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Tell us about your life as a photographer. Is travel and ‘the great outdoors’ a recurring theme for you?
Unfortunately, I spend most of my time working as a producer. It’s frustrating because I can’t do the things I’m passionate about full-time. I work on my projects on the side. I almost cancelled this trip, but thankfully Brownbook kept insisting. Someone was giving me the chance to work on a project I care about – skipping it would have been stupid.

This article appears in the issue43Buy Now