Saturday, September 18, 2010

41 - Making Whoopee

Beetles in love

Two giant beetles are going at it hammer and tongs, hanging from a rafter at Camp Day in an acrobatic embrace, the never-ending cycle of creation. We're in the forest of Day, some 5,000 feet above sea level, and these beetles are clearly exhibitionists. After the coupling a large cloudy bubble starts emerging from the arse of what I assume to be the female.

And the beetles aren't the only ones doing it, either. In the forest a large grey, red-arsed baboon seems to be infected with the randies as he pursues various female members of his troop. They gallop across the ground and are now swarming all over the branches of a tree on the brink of a ravine's abyss, chattering, barking away and swinging around like idiots. It looks and sounds just like an executive board meeting of your favourite company. A particularly loud bark resonates over the others; ah, the CEO has taken the floor.

Forest of Day
The forest of Day, at the top of a craggy massif, is not a forest in the general sense; it's more like a collection of groves of very ancient trees, junipers, wild olives, 1,000 years old and then some. Because of their age, some are leafless – stark, twisted trunks and boughs. The problem is that new ones are not growing because goats, brought in by man, are eating the seeds. The authorities are trying to correct this by sealing off a tree nursery. At night there are spotted panthers prowling around. The setting is superb: a precipitous ravine with gigantic stepped escarpment walls and a rivulet at the bottom, disappearing into the haze enshrouding another massif near the coast. Daniel reprises his good citizen role, collecting a plastic bottle and a Sprite can.
Forest of Day
The town of Day is a collection of small houses and the traditional rounded constructions made out of woven reeds – except for one, a modest two-storey house that is the president's, with continually lighted guard posts on its perimetre. The climate is excellent, dry and at night cool – one can even sleep. Moreover the 1,000-odd villagers, pastoralists, are relatively well off – they have a blue and white school for their 200 kids, built with French aid.
Day escarpment
Take Five - Hundreds of camels are certainly doing so on the palm-studded pebbly sea shore. They're all sitting down, arses to the sea, evidently trying to catch what little breeze there is in the searing heat while doubtless expelling their own massive wind resources towards the wavelets. It's funny, but they look even more snooty and supercilious seated than standing, directing contemptuous glances down their long never-ending noses even when they look up. Wow, they do look like de Gaulle!

Adam, meanwhile, has been looking morosely ahead ever since we started our descent down the precipitous dirt track across this twisted, corrugated land – he's out of qat. We too take five, then move on into the Goda massif across broad, shallow, bone-dry wadis. We twist upwards amid gaunt tiers of mountains, past little copses of bright yellow-trunked and branched acacias, and into the village of Randa, an administrative hill village in colonial times, where a spring of water keeps trees and plants green. Adam rushes off on his royal hunt of the qat. Moroseness now evaporating, he returns with his bunch, and we trundle back down to the coast, all cheek bulge, green teeth and idiot grin.

Day villagers
The World According to Ali - In the beginning there were the Afar. That's at least how Ali, an Afar, sees it, chatting on the steaming sea shore at Tadjourah, about 120 miles round the bays from Djibouti town. It was the Sultan of Tadjourah who signed the agreement that first gave France a piece of land here; his descendant and current sultan now lives in nondescript green cottage. Holland has just beaten Brazil in the World Cup, the Djiboutians are cock-a-hoop, finding the Latin American monopoly of football monotonous, and Ali, a senior police official, is well launched into his expose of the descent of man.

He has six front teeth missing in his upper jaw but he's a sprightly gent as he warms to his theme. The Afars, who inhabit much of Djibouti and parts of neighbouring Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia, are the direct descendants of Ramses II and the ancient Egyptians, he waxes. It was the French who brought the Issas (Somalis) into their colonial construct, the Afars accepted them, and now the Issas hold the ruling positions. What's more, the Saudis who are building a new port near Djibouti town, have found some black stuff shooting up and immediately cemented it over and moved the site because they know it's oil that will drain all their reserves.

Day residence
Daniel nods his head in approval, Adam has disappeared with his qat, and an old man with a beard dyed bright ginger with henna, a fairly common practice here, is snoozing. And muggins is having a little difficulty accepting the latest revelation – Tadjourah is below sea level, even though the wavelets are lapping on the beach below us. 'We know it seems impossible but...' quoths Ali.

Camels taking five
According to legend a stone well here was built by a Jewish refugee some 1,200 years ago. In front of it there's a rickety contraption built out of sticks, the house of the poet Rimbaud when he stayed in these parts. And if Ali had his way, his modern-day homonym if not homo-something else, Rambo, would no doubt be mowing down those Somalis to the south.

Randa countryside
Village mosque on way to Randa
Tadjourah harbour
Tadjourah port
Rimbaud's house

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