Sunday, May 20, 2012


so the rains have started and the mud is slipping against the roads and
the puddles are drawing circles in the dirt paths. the coarse rainbow
of brown is lightly dusted with a misty green, spring green, new green,
tiny sprigs of grass and weeds and millet.

and they are planting the millet, along the roads, next to the paths,
coarse furrows dotted with tiny green millet shoots, they are ploughing
in the compounds, hand-slicing weaving grooves in the crumbling mud,
whipping the oxen, walking behind. mil
let crammed into every corner, every free space of earth

they are planting the rice too, now the villagers go early in the
morning, an exodus out of town, past the steaming market, past the
thatched mud huts, out to the thousands of fields that surround the
village of Bere. if you don't have your own field, you can work the
fields of others.

you will earn 250 CFA - 50 cents for a days work

that will buy you less than a half kilo of rice

there aren't a lot of jobs here. most of the population of Bere depends
on the rice harvest. If you have a good year - you will eat that year.
If the rains came late one year - you will not eat that year.

The Arabs do a little better, almost all the shops in in the market and
surrounding the hospital are entirely Arab owned - when an Arab child is
sick, they will pay the hospital fees - they do not depend on the rains

The Fulani do a little better too, grazing vast herds of cattle across
the Sahel, driving the cattle into the towns and villages - selling the
meat if they need to as they go. Their women are fierce looking - sharp
scars knife their cheeks and foreheads, thick silver rings hang from
their arms and their ears, noses pierced with large gold rings,
tight-fitting bright colored dresses, strings of beads swing from their
necks, wooden charms wrapped in leather protect the necks, the wrists,
the ankles of the children, bright swaths of cloth are piled up on their
heads, their hair in tiny perfect rows braided back from strong
weathered faces, full lips dyed almost black - gypsies under the desert

the tchadians have a legend about the moon here

on a sunday, a woman and her child went out to the bush to gather
firewood - and spent the day tying bundles of sticks,

but God was displeased, because she was working on a Sunday, out in the
bush when she should have been in church

so he punished the woman and locked her forever on the face of the moon
- the firewood still on her head

and on clear nights, they say, you can see her

in the shadows of the terrain that mottles the face of the moon

forever in exile,

never to return

most of the women gather firewood here.

at first i thought it was an exaggeration, but almost every woman here
who supports herself or her family or is searching for any income
whatsoever will go out into the bush to get firewood.

they hack off the twigs and leaves, strip the bushes, and then carry
back long bundles of straight sticks, tied with thick strong grass.

so why do they all do it? why don't they all go out of business??

because charcoal is expensive, and many people can't afford it. no one
has stoves. all cooking is done over an open fire, either in smokey
acrid cookshacks or out in front of the compound, or in slanting woven
grassmat lean-tos. So most people cook with wood. But its not like
they pop out of their houses and find sticks lying around.

They have to walk miles, 5, 10, 15 miles. they have to walk further
than everyone else doing the same thing that day. They have to search
areas already stripped over, brave poisonous snakes, scorpions, and
scratches from the thick tangle of whipping bushes, and then they have
to walk back.

almost anywhere you travel in Tchad, no matter how remote, you will see
women walking briskly along the sides of the road, balancing huge piles
of sticks on their heads - or large bowels overflowing with mangoes -
perfect rhythm, bright colors, effortless balance, swinging hips - and
you will feel happy - and charmed - and feel like you are in Africa -
and you will want to take a picture

but they probably have blisters on their feet

and are desperate to sell the mangoes, to eat that day -
or they might have 12 more Km to walk

and they take it to Market on saturdays - the livelihood of their family
resting on their heads,

heavier than it looks.

- this blog has no point really - but now you know about the millet, and
the firewood, and the shape of the shadows on the moon

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