Thursday, 31 July 2008

All Tuaregged Out

Finally got back from the desert this evening, and quite frankly I'm all Tuaregged out. We spent the weekend mucking about on camels, and my one - it actually goes by the rather catchy little moniker of Albajaz, did not respond to my overtures in quite the way I felt I could reasonably expect.

After a tolerably civilsed couple of days, I felt he let himself down at the end, by trying to bite me.

I have to say I was disappointed. Only my lightning reactions saved the day. Perhaps he was upset at watching some of his pals receive Ivermectin injections - this despite the Tuareg declaring that injections were bad for you because they drained your strength. But tablets are acceptable, apparently.

At one well we stopped at, word must have gone ahead, and about forty donkeys seemed to materialise out of the sand. Their owners seemed to think it would be ok if they had injections, after all, they're only donkeys. One poor thing arrived with an ear half hanging off. The owner said it was a bite - Amadou said, looking at the cut, it was a bite by a knife. Anyway, after some deliberation, he decided to take the risk of doing field surgery - we'd already seen that the owner had tried to treat it with sump-oil, and sooner or later it was bound to catch on a stick or branch. So the SPANA team went into action. Lots of local anaesthetic, then a long time trying to clean up the mess, before extensive suturing leading to successfully removing the remains of the ear. Anti-biotics and painkillers, then he was up on his feet, and without so much as a thank you, was running off home. But a nice way to finish, before we had to saddle up the camels again.

Then yesterday is probably better glossed over. We started six hours late! Six hours!

I know they didn't want to do what we wanted to do - ie search for the elephants in the Gourma - but the Tuareg method of getting their own way is very frustrating, and exhausting. We had a stunning array of excuses given to us - the originality of which I haven't heard since school.

We had 'neighbours child was ill - had to be taken to hospital' and 'slight car accident - had to take car to police station', then 'couldn't find insurance papers' 'couldn't get any fuel, ice, water etc'. Finally, beaten and demoralized, we just headed off into the desert again - the only place they are truly happy. And I must say the stretch of rolling dunes we ended up in was very beautiful. So we had the campfire, cooked a meal aned then rolled up to sleep in our blankets.

Yes, of course you've guessed it. At four o'clock we were woken by a screaming gale, the sand streaming off the dunes, and hitting us like a sandblaster. But Chris was happy - he got wonderful film until the cameras seized up in protest at the sand-blasting - then we spent the rest of the night huddled in the 4x4 against the driven rain. And then of course the rain gave us problems the next morning, with all the nice flat plains - used as roadways - flooded. We had to dig the damn thing out seven times before we got to Goundam. Perhaps it was not helpful that our driver was much more at home on a camel than a 4x4. Still, we finally made it. And I've 'done' deserts for a bit, thank you very much. Tomorrow, we're off by canoe to see some of the river villages where we have para-vets. And it's the hippo breeding season. When they're at their testiest.

Jeremy Hulme

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