I was stretched out under an acacia tree having a short siesta when I became aware of someone. I opened one eye and there was Brahim Ahalfi, crouching down and looking at me earnestly.
‘Zahra, I have found a goat. I saw the tracks and thought it was a gazelle because they were single hoof prints so I followed them and I found her, going round and round in circles. I have brought her back.’
My knowledge of goats is not extensive but I know enough to know they are never alone and so I got up and followed him to the side of the mess tent. There was the little goat, standing with her head in our box of vegetables. She was thin, but her coat was thick and she had one broken horn. She stood completely silently, seemingly comforted by the parameters of the box.
I reached out and touched her gently, murmuring softly so that she could hear a human voice. She was quivering under my hand but gave no other reaction. ‘Is she blind ?’ I asked Brahim. ‘No, but I think she isn’t right in the head. She must have been left behind by the herd. They will all know where to go to eat and where there is water but this one is all alone.’
We went and filled one of our small sandcastle-building-sized pink buckets with water and I put it right in front of our little goat. She didn’t react until I actually put the water over her nose and mouth and then she drank thirstily. Brahim raided the camels’ larder and brought over some oats and she snuffled some up. Then she retreated back to the box.
As night fell, she bleated and then started circling until she fell over. I picked her up and she lent against me heavily. I think my legs gave her the same feeling of security as the box.
Addi came back from the camels. ‘Zahra, what are you doing with this mad goat ? She isn’t right. She has to be killed.’ I immediately switched on the labrador eyes, she was so defenceless and sad I couldn’t bear the thought of just killing her for no purpose. Addi was clearly all talk, though, as the next thing I saw was him taking one of the blankets off his own sleeping pile and wrapping the goat in it to keep her warm.
As we ate dinner, I asked Brahim what we were going to do. I knew that he wouldn’t just leave her here in this desolate place where she would die alone of thirst and hunger. ‘I’ll find a solution,’ he said.
The next morning, I went straight to the little goat. She had got up and shucked off her blanket and drank a little water but wouldn’t be tempted by any of the delicacies we offered her – not even orange peel which I had saved from the ravenous lips of our camels.
‘Are we going to take her ?’ I asked Brahim. ‘Yes, Zahra. We will do our best. There are some nomads on the other side of the oued. We will take her there and see if they know who she belongs to or if they can take her.’
She certainly found her voice when we tied her legs and balanced her on the very top of the baggage on Hamish and protested long and loud. We had to stop after ten minutes to readjust and make sure she was comfortable and her head was up on top of the baggage. She seemed to get used to the rocking motion and quietened down.
About an hour later, we arrived at the nomad encampment. There were five tents and some of the big plastic water containers that help the nomads live in this water-less area, best of all there were several small enclosures full of goats. A smiling man and his little boy came out to meet us and I left Brahim to explain as I was carried off by his wife to have tea and goufiyya – goat’s milk mixed with a type of brown grain and sugar.
Our little, mad goat was given into the family’s care and after drinking more tea and watering the camels, we went on our way, soon losing sight of the encampment as we move steadily on across the sands.