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18 April 2010
Ahmed sits in front of his run-down hut, utterly exhausted. He manages to summon enough strength to look up at the sky. Soon it will come. His instincts have never failed. And it will come down hard. Ahmed tries to rise, and manages with the help of his faithful goat, Horny. He looks at the sky again and starts to pray.
After his prayer, Ahmed beckons us to follow. We walk with him to the outskirts of his home village, Uitgeest, and away from the village in the refreshing desert sun of central Sahara. We soon reach a large valley full of peaceful lizards. "This is Skeenfleent Valley. Those lizards are all Cuckenfleisch, giant varans. They are all we have for food." I look around the valley, and slowly the weight of it all lands upon me: if the lizards die, these people will die too. And there is no way to prevent the lizards from dying. A cold fate is in store for the village.
Brother Humbert - the missionary who works as a teacher and spiritual mentor in the village - knows these people well. He has lived with them for such a long time that he recognises them by their footsteps outside of his villa when they come begging for leftovers after a bad day's hunt. But soon those footsteps will not hit sand any longer.
"When I first came here, this looked like the promised land. True, the people were starving - but they had found something better than food. That something was an all-encompassing spiritualism. It only needed the true word to grow towards the right direction. These people already had the faith. I merely gave them the path."
Brother Humbert grows pensive. "You know, I have not always been a Catholic," he confesses. "In my former life, I was a wealthy banker with a fancy office in New York and an army of people to do my bidding... but, alas, I decided to leave it all by the end of 2008 to follow the right path. Like Jesus said, not all debts are meant to be paid back. My ethical standards were not compatible with the cold, hard Wall Street. God called me to Sahara, with a stopover at Timbuktu." Since then, Brother Humbert has lived with these nomadic people, converting them to Christianity, teaching them, learning from them. The greatest lesson he has got is this: even if you don't understand it, respect it.
Ahmed joins us, sitting on the ground in total exhaustion. Even his goat cannot inspire him to remain erect any longer. It nudges his cheek tiredly. Brother Humbert continues: "The hunting methods of these people first looked strange to an uninitiated western man. Did you know the traditional way to hunt varan is to kick it half to death and break its legs so that it cannot run away? Then you just need to stand watch, to defend your catch from carrion-eaters. You will have fresh meat for days, if you know how to cut chunks off the animal without killing it!" At this, Ahmed momentarily lightens up. He looks at me with a proud expression on his face. "My father taught me how to kick Cuckenfleisch", he explains, and continues: "I am a master kicker. I don't even need to use booze bait like others do." I nod. I understand. These people could not use a fridge even if they could afford one. There is no electricity in Sahara. I close my eyes for a moment, and then turn them northwards. I catch myself worrying whether I should be going while I still can. Soon these people will not have trouble preserving their meat - if they can get any.
This time the USA is not to blame. This time it is not the heartless multinational corporations, or Greenpeace hunting down the last killer whales. This time the enemy is something previously unknown to these poor people - and it is far more terrifying for that.
Iceland. During the last few days the word has been a curse on the lips of the nomads of Uitgeest. For the message has reached even this remote village: the erupting volcano by the Eyfjallajokull glacier in Iceland will blow the glacier to fucking smithereens, and the winds will carry it to snow down on Sahara. It will bury an ancient way of life; it will turn Ahmed's tropical paradise into an arctic hell. So much for justice. So much for the pursuit of happiness. So much for tradition. For there is no way Ahmed and his tribe will fight this disaster if they mean to stick to their own way of life. "Iceland lies on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the highly volatile boundary between the Eurasian and North American continental plates, with quakes and eruptions, but that doesn't give the people of Iceland the right to attack my friends here in Sahara," says Brother Humbert, and swears: "I am a man of action - and if I see injustice, I will find ways to correct it!"
Brother Humbert is the only one brave enough to stick his neck out for these people. He has taken it upon himself to obtain a pair of skis for Ahmed. At any cost. So far, money has not been forthcoming. Maybe the patronizing western tourists think Sahara is only for driving around in their Hummers?
Ahmed has nothing but his hut and a goat. The lizards will be frozen to death before May, and it will take years before lemmings migrate south from Norway. A tear rolls down Ahmed's cheek. Soon, Ahmed will have to eat the goat and take a wife.
|This article features first-hand journalism by an UnNews correspondent.|