Monday, 14 July 2014

... gloriously exciting!

There is something gloriously exciting about anticipating ones next Chad assignment, sitting in the back of the relative comfort of seat 34J, the the drone of the Air France Airbus 330's General Electric turbines is almost soporiphic, as behemoth marches rapidly across the black Libyan star strewn skies. It creates a certain reflective mood that encourages one to trawl through countless memories of this staggeringly beautiful nation. Images that bring a smile, yet it is a land so harsh, so so generous and yet so unforgiving. My 15 assignments over the last 10 years have meant I have lived here for over a year in this little known part of sub-Saharan Africa. 

The Tibesti Mountains that stretch up to over 11000ft.
Perhaps one region that has the greatest memories is that of the Tibestis, home to the Teda people, protectors of some of the oldest early history rock art in Africa. This ancient people traded with Romans, fought with the Touaregs and many other 'visitors' they call them the Mountains of Hunger, much of it is seemingly uncrossable and it takes days to traverse by foot yet only a couple of hours in our small MAF aircraft. They are a unique stark silent volcanic range of stone that soar into the clear blue skies of the north, they beckon you benignly into their bosom but when the rare rains come they are anything but safe as their steep, rough cascading slopes a thousand shades of black and brown, carved by generations of storms and rock falls that have created a land devoid of flat, that given half a chance will throw up turbulence into your path that will rattle your very soul. Entry is invited only after you have plodded your aerial Caravan*across the gloriously golden desert, a gigantic ocean of stationary swells, punctuated by the rare oasis, a port of calm refreshment. Thinking about the delightful aristocratic snooty look of your average Chadian camel brings out ones biggest grin. 
Here there is a real contrast between the silver and gold sands but at times it is just gold stretching unto gold.

Possibly Harrow educated?

An earlier blog tells more but surprisingly beautiful
Where else can you travel hundreds and hundreds of miles to find a work of art that involved 30 tons of paint, seen by perhaps a 100 art lovers a year (near Bardai) or be invited to haul up cool refreshing water from a hole in the desert floor, munch on warm crispy breakfast flat bread freshly pealed off the wall of a wood smoke caked oil drum oven. Sit under a palm in the cooling air of the setting sun, eavesdropping on translated conversations that tell of tales of desert smugglers, talk of the sometimes failure or rescue from certain dehydration and death of their cargoes. There is something beautiful about being greeted by the Elders and sitting quietly with the men sipping sweet sweet tea under a tree visiting a bereaved family, not really understanding what is going on but knowing it is the right place to be.

The Airbus bounces through some turbulent air...  driving through a sandy river bed the harsh gritty sand suddenly turns to micro-fine dust, we are enveloped in a storm of 'talcum powder' and our truck sends a dust cloud that rises in a plume, that surely must bring darkness to the earth. Such choking laughter as we exit this fog, looking like millers, feeling that we are adventurers who have traveled the world, and lived life to the full.

The author enjoying the worlds largest open air museum?
Touching the sandstone carvings hundreds of years of age, tell of the days of plentiful water, elephants, leopards, cattle. All have gone save the lone gazelles, hardy goats and countless date palms that sip from the underground waters on the wadis that keep them sustained. Sadly the palms suffer much neglect as people have moved on, perhaps new wealth from Tibesti gold will discourage many more to further forget their heritage. 

I remember driving through this minefield last year, keep the red stones on your left or is it right? But the burnt out car gives a clear clue to the correct answer.
The village had once had maybe 1500 people in it 20 years ago but a forgotten war drove them away and they never really came back. The greeting from an old soldier worn an aged by years of drought was wonderful, I doubt he was really any older than myself, when I asked I explained I had once completed 4 months as an RAF officer cadet, this seemed to make an old soldier to and a bond of friendship was made. He gave us this granular slightly sticky mix, marginal in looks but ambrosia - ground up dates and grain the taste danced on the tongue, the stewardess collected my tray, I will never remember the flavour of the bland cheese she served but those dates are surely a real smiling memory.
Two of my passengers overlooking a wadi.

MAF fly in Chad and bring help, hope and healing to all who ask. 

* the aircraft I fly is the Cessna 208 Grand Caravan, a name designed to evoke images of the Camel trade routes of Marco Polo. 


  1. Another great post Bryan, thanks.

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  3. Awesome post and really satisfying photos, once again! Thank you!