The dye from her indigo cloth had dyed my arm a deep blue black, the baby goat on my lap had pissed through my skirt onto my undergarments below, dust formed a ring around the jewelry in my nose, the tops of my hands were brown with filth. I was unsanitary, completely, upon my return home tonight from another trip out of Abalak to the bush, although I didn’t quite feel that way. I teetered between feelings of anemia, euphoria, disgust, as I entered the homestead with little Laurel, our new baby goat.
The goat had been given to us for Fassley by women, not quite a part of Insakan. Three of these women, who we grabbed on our way to visit Insakan, another prospective site for digging a borehole, were some of the most beautiful women in the world. We slid into their encampment, six kilometers from the actual village, and many kilometers from anywhere, not knowing what to expect. We were a project coming in to snap photos, document their presence, their lack of water, their own filth. We thought we would stay for two rounds of tea, and, with our photos, be on our way. But you can never have expectations in Africa - this is something I have learned. Have no plan, no program, or you will be disappointed. Let yourself go, just be, and you will be floored, graced. The women, almost a part of Insakan, graced me.
To make room for our new friends - with lashes two, three, inches long, eyes, shaped like almonds and flecked with dust - Denis, Ariane and Mohmine hopped on top of the truck for the six kilometers to Insakan. Full lips, high cheekbones, a ballerina’s cadence, small, slender wrists, their braids peaking at the tops of their foreheads, I couldn’t stop staring at how magnificent they were. We took three women, but left one in a bright orange veil behind, the most beautiful woman of all, maybe 16, 18 years old. She had a small baby called Obama. Obama had been born last November, the day Barack Obama was elected president of the United States of America. These women, this family, living in the middle of the sand, the thorns, hell, knew Obama, although they didn’t know not to drink the water, the clouded water from the last marsh nearby fast drying up.
It is hard to imagine being so beautiful without water. Upon my return home tonight, after settling in, putting down Laurel, I rinsed off every inch of my body, to clear myself of the sand, the piss, the bacteria. I still don’t feel attractive, or clean. But, somehow, they do it. The three families actually left in Insakan, a village that is normally home to 23 families during the rainy season, are reliant upon the 20-year-old chief who has a car and goes of the Tchindabareden, a city about the size of Abalak, once a week to gather water from the borehole there. All the other families are traveling, looking for water, for their children, for their animals, because in Insakan there is no water at all. The few marsh wells that form during the rainy season and eventually dissipate are now dry. But the women are beautiful, still.
They are aware, I think, of possessing beauty, of how they smile, of how the world will perceive them. They offered to smear mud across their faces to be more compelling, to look more miserable, less beautiful for the world, for the project, for the empathy that needs to generate donations for Amman Imman so that this village, these women can get their borehole. Insakan is now on Amman Imman’s radar as a place under consideration, following Kijigari, for a new borehole. Ariane and I sat with these women, in a female space, to ask them about their need for a borehole. They chanted, as many before, Amman Imman, their greatest problem, they said, was this lack of water, as they picked lice from their children’s hair, children who were scared of us, who screamed and cried when we entered the tent. They eventually warmed to us , most of them did, but some of the children had memories, maybe sad memories, of abbreviated visits from other projects, from a doctor who had come through earlier to offer vaccinations. Enchala, at least they got vaccinated, piecemealla. Next on their list of needs was a school not for children, because they did have that, but for them. These women are not educated, but they want to be able to speak French, speak directly to Ariane and I, instead of talking through an interpreter - maybe they want to learn math and science too – science to teach them about medicine and the body and how sicknesses should be cured - maybe they want to be empowered to be the doctors giving the vaccinations, to be the ones who can save their own children. But just maybe, I am projecting.
Blogging, journaling, is about analyzing, projecting, what I see, interpreting. And what I see in this hell has amazed me. Again, today, I could have cooked on the tops of my toes, could have screamed as thorns pierced the bottoms of my feet, could have run when thousands of crickets sprang from the trees above the dry marshes, flapping their wings, these insects of the sand. These people live in a place where crickets, fried in their own oils, are a solid source of protein. Maybe, just maybe, this lack of nutrients, is why little Obama is very small at seven months.
But it’s a bunch of survivors out here, so I don’t run, I listen and observe. And what I see is a people not giving up yet. Although deprived, these families offer gifts: Laurel, bracelets, rings, rice, pasta. As Ariane had told us before, although grossly impoverished, they will give you their last grain of rice, their last piece of meat. Their generosity is hard to understand. Maybe – and let me project here - a spirit of generosity is how they survive, don’t die off, don’t succumb to thirst. It’s how they preserve their beauty, maybe.