Sadly, real life being what it is I have had to come back to work to enable me to fund my Porsche’s petrol tank.
Work for me, at the moment, is a little place in Niger, called Arlit. Its a small remote desert town, with a small community of expat workers who are all very heavily guarded against kidnap, due to recent history in the area. It sits in the Sahel, that vast swathe of land defined by the Sahara desert, which slowly but surely creeps into every nook and cranny, inexorably destroying everything in its path.
Think Niger, think poverty. If you’ve never travelled in Africa, or at least never outside of the holiday spots, then you probably wont have seen destitution like this.
I think most people have a romantic idea of sand. Its holidays, its fun times, its memories of your misspent earlier days. Here in Arlit its a sign of poverty, of a lack of pride and of death. Not death in an immediate sense, but a slow moving inevitable death. Mans pitiful attempts to colonise the desert succeed for a while but eventually, as the French say, “la nature reprend ses droits.” Driving along the few tarmac roads in the town, the sand is slowly encroaching on them. A good wind blows it away from time to time but slowly, surely the desert will reclaim her territory.
About 3km’s from where I’m tapping this little note, there is a camel on the right hand side of the road. It was hit by a motorbike as it crossed the road about 12 weeks ago. The moto rider was badly injured and taken to hospital, the camel was also injured. Here, treatment for sick animals is normally swift and instant. On this one occasion though, for reasons that I’ve still not been able to ascertain, the camel was dragged off the road and left to die. The camel still lies there, the Mairie has no money to dispose of it, the locals wont touch it as it isn’t theirs and the rightful owner is sulking as he has received no compensation for the death of his beast.
So it stays there. For a week, on my thrice weekly jog around the desert, I had to change my route, it stank. Now though, it no longer smells, its slowly rotting away. Bones are already visible, most of the interior meat has long been devoured by the tiny carnivores that are natures vacuum cleaners, and its ill fitting exterior suit hangs limply over the cadaver. And the sand. At least a third of its body is now covered by sand, and I should imagine that Raugoumi will disappear completely before I return here in July. Maybe just the tip of its head, being the point furthest from the ground.
There is little joy taken in sand in Arlit. Daily sweeping by the various cleaners in buildings all around the agglomeration are only staying the inevitable. For as they sweep inside, and throw the sand outside the front door, it comes in the back, and the cycle begins again.
It reminds me a bit of a town called In Salah in Algeria, where I spent a year of my life living in the only hotel in the town. State run, two brothers were in charge, both of them employed as spies of the government, reporting back on a daily basis which foreigners were there. There were two photos on my office wall, one, a black and white aerial shot taken just after the end of WW2, and the other a colour aerial shot taken in early 2000. On reading the legend at the bottom, one could see that both pictures were of exactly the same place, but the two photo’s had no features in common. The entire town of In Salah had moved some 2km’s to the east, as the massive dune covered, building by building, the previous town.
There are no dunes in Arlit, at least no natural ones. There are dunes here, man made dunes of extracted soil that run parallel to the main Akokan-Arlit road, by products of the uranium mines of Somair, but these pose minimal threat to the population of the town. The sand though, does. It comes, and it will keep coming until Arlit suffers the same fate as In Salah, and the entire town is rebuilt a few km’s away.