Monday, 28 July 2008

In Which We Find a Storm...Then Regret it Immediately

Gordon Bennett - what a night! Following right on from 'what a day'!

Yesterday morning we met up with our group of Tuareg - they introduced us to the camels - they even had names, but don't ask me to repeat them, something like 'Idlib'. But I do now know that the Tamasheq for donkey is 'esha', cow 'tess' and camel 'anniss'. There you are. If that comes up in a pub quiz this week, thanks to SPANA, you'll get really good marks.

Anyway, off we went up north, looking for a particular well. Ten camels and seven donks, women and kids on the donks, men (and contrary to what you might imagine, daughters rather than sons riding pillion) and tents and firewood on the camels.

Oh, and us of course.

My job is to film Chris Terrill filming the caravan. I know, I know, very complicated, but I just do as I'm told. As always. But it's not easy, lurching along, trying to keep the camera steady. I got lots of really good bits of the sky, and plenty of the sand, but very little of Chris. Must try harder. We got to the well, filled all the water containers and gave everything a drink, then put up the tents, and someone lit a fire and started cooking a meal.

Meanwhile, we did lots of lying around, wondering if the clouds on the horizon were getting any bigger, and arguing if the wind was getting stronger or weaker. Then, late afternoon, the kids ran off to catch up the livestock, we saddled up and headed off again.

Finally, just as it started to get dark, we stopped and unloaded everything, and people stated lighting fires again. Clearly the idea was to spend the night here. The old boys with us kept saying there was going to be a storm, but we'd got wise to that trick. They've been saying that ever since we arrived. Perhaps we should have taken more notice of the firework display on the horizon - sheet lightning and fork lightning at the same time - pretty impressive. But it looked as if it was passing us by.

Some clot even said they thought it was moving further away. So we took no notice, and just lay on the sand eating our gastronomic experience.

Then it hit us. Like a thunderbolt. Gale force winds blowing sand everywhere, in our eyes, mouths, nose - God knows what it's done to the cameras. And the noise makes it difficult to speak, hear, or even concentrate.

Eventually someone suggested we make for the little school room, on the other side of our particular sand-dune. They are relatively common - one room, walls and roof made of woven matting (the kids just sit on the sand, and can even write in it).

Once inside, it was fairly sand free and, by this time (around mid-night), exhaustion took over, and despite the howling gale (and the snoring) I dropped off to a fitful sleep on the sand (very hard). Then next thing I knew, waking to the sound of rain drumming on the roof. No problem, I thought, they've been coping with this for thousands of years - the weave will expand and become waterproof.

Splat, right on the face.

Next hour, rain pouring in on sad-looking huddled pilgrims trying to doze through the drips and the sopping wet clothes. Ye Gods. There must be easier ways to earn a living. Then at dawn, rain stopped at last, we struggled out, looking like the last five miles of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, and tried to warm ourselves up catching and worming goats and donkeys.

Don't showbiz people keep saying "the show must go on"?

Jeremy Hulme

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