Once in Morocco, I got into a dung fight with my host sisters. I was staying with a nomad family on the Touflite Plains, near Guelmim. They were poor, but welcoming. The boys would cling to me all day while I tried to work, but the girls were very reserved. I was never allowed to see their faces, and on the rare occasions they spoke to me, they would lower their heads and stare at my boots. Needless to say, it was uncomfortable.
About a week in, all that changed.
It all started down at the well. Everyday my host sisters and I would hike across the desert plains towards a small glade of palm trees. Under the shade of the palms, we would load some donkeys up with water, then push them back across the desert before the midday heat set in.
In a moment of extraordinary rascality, one of the girls threw a scarab at me. The others stopped what they were doing. I couldn’t see their faces, but I guessed they were horrified. Lucky for me, there was plenty of ammunition crawling around to reciprocate. I started throwing scarabs at her, and she scrambled to stock up on unwary beetles. At some point, we realised that the others were still watching, so we dragged them into the fray with a volley of scarabs. Suddenly it was all out war. Beetles were flying in all directions. Things only escalated when someone started hurling fresh donkey dung. The scarabs were off the hook, but the apathetic donkeys looked more and more like munitions dumps.
By the time we got back to camp, all of us were covered from head to toe in dung. From that point on, enigmatically I seemed to have their complete trust. My sisters finally let me become part of their lives. I saw them cook, learned how to make argan oil and sew a tent from old clothes. Of course, I could never entirely trust them when there were donkeys nearby. Every once and a while I’d feel something wet and sloppy slap my back.