.: Qu'as tu fait de ta liberté? :.


.: Ne sais tu pas que la maison est le tombeau des vivants? :.

What are you doing with your freedom? Don't you know that the house is like a grave for the living?

Tuareg Proverb

  You don't want to read a lengthy intro? Go right to the start of the Sahel story  
  ur trip through the Sahel desert in 1974 was probably the biggest adventure of my life, at least up to now.  
  "Sahel" is an Arabic expression, meaning "shore". The Sahel is a semi-desert belt right south of the Sahara desert. In earlier times, to the nomads of the Sahara and their cattle the Sahel indeed was the saving shore. Camel caravans used to find shelter, water and food for their animals here, on the southern edge of the huge desert.  
  oday the Sahel is one of the most arid places on earth. Due to desertification, cattle pastures are a thing of the past. As an agricultural region the Sahelien savanna is nearly irrelevant, having been overpowered by the Sahara. There, the wind picks up half a billion tons of dust a year, the Sahel's remaining topsoil, consuming thousands of square miles on the Sahara's march south. A desert's ecological annexation of a savanna.  
  Desertification is not the natural expansion of existing deserts but the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas. It is a gradual process of soil productivity loss and the thinning out of the vegetative cover because of human activities and climatic variations such as prolonged droughts and floods. What is alarming is that though the land's topsoil, if mistreated, can be blown and washed away in a few seasons, it takes centuries to build up. Among human causal factors are over cultivation, overgrazing, deforestation, and poor irrigation practices. Such overexploitation is generally caused by economic and social pressure, ignorance, war and drought. .  
  A worldwide problem, desertification is directly affecting 250 million people and a third of the earth's land surface of over 4 billion hectares. In addition, the livelihoods of some one billion people who depend on land for most of their needs, usually the world's poorest in over one hundred countries, are threatened.  

n spring of 1974, in the seventh year of the worst drought ever to hit the Sahel region, we set out for Africa with the intention of buying camels and crossing part of the Sahel desert. As to how and where, we had nothing but the haziest of notions.

  The why is easier to answer: Two years before, in India we had wanted to sell our ancient Mercedes ambulance car and buy us a pair of mules. Unfortunately, in the end we only received 80$ for the car; the buyer never handed over the last 20$ to add up to the prize agreed upon. Realizing that one single mule cost double of what we had gotten for our vehicle, we had to desist, as we had no other funds whatsoever. Still with the idea on our minds of employing some animal or other as our means of transport, back in Germany, where we used to live at that time when not travelling, we decided on going to the Sahel region and buying some camels there.  
  reparations for once amounted to a bit more than for earlier trips: we actually bought a map, for the first time ever, even if we felt a bit stupid doing so. Going overland to India and Nepal hadn't required any means of direction; one just drove straight on, from one town to the next.  
  When a friend presented us with a compass on our departure, we accepted it so he wouldn't feel offended; we thought he was nuts. We had no idea about the countries we were going to visit, we hardly knew more than a few names. Timbuktu was among those, so we arranged with a few friends to meet us there in about a year's time.  
  "Lonely Planet" guide books were unknown to us, and even if we'd been aware of their existence, we would never have thought of buying one; we had all the time in the world to find out things on our own, and we had our pride as well. : ) The very esssenc of traveling, the exitement of encountering the unknown, gets lost if you travel by book.  
  We also were totally ignorant about the Sahel being in the seventh year of a devastating drought before actually being confronted by its deadly impact on our arrival in Niger, otherwise we might possible have decided on another region of Africa for our trip. In the area we were to pass through the loss of livestock, due to the drought and also to some rampant disease, amounted to am total of 80-100 %.  
  As it is, the Sahel region, one of the poorest and most environmentally damaged places on earth, never really recovered from the great drought between 1968 and 1974, when up to 250'000 people and millions of cattle lost their lives. Ethnic lines that divided many traditional occupations - herders and farmers - have blurred, often sparking bloodshed. Instead of sticking to the land, rural workers are now heading for the cities.  
  The drought also was to herald the end of the freedom of nomadic life for thousands of proud Tuareg.  
  he cheapest way to get to the African continent was a two-way ticket to Tunisia. We had no use of the return flight, but the package cost less than a regular one-way and included a few days in a bungalow somewhere on the Mediterranean coast. As it turned out, the bungalows as well as the beach were all but deserted, the climate windy and cold, and the next village far away. On checking out, we had to cover an electricity bill that amounted to about what we would have paid for three days lodging at some cheap local inn.  
  s to the photos in the Sahel section, we only had an old Kodak Instamatic along for the usual souvenir pics. When a few rolls of film were full, we used to send them back to Germany, to my erstwhile mother-in-law. That way we didn't have to pay for developing, and we were sure to get a decent job done.  
  From the several rolls of film we sent from Niger, the mother-in-law claimed to have received only one or two. About twenty years later, I discovered several pics of our desert adventure that I hadn't seen before at her place.  
  Be that as it may, all photos have completely lost their colours and are half eaten by fungus, so I corrected what I could and turned the results into duotones. The negatives were of no use either, as they were among those stuck together in solid blocks from being stored in our tools shed, in Brazil's tropical climate, for a few years.  
  In Benin, a while after leaving Niger, we were ill with malaria and so broke we even had to sell our cheap camera. That was the end of taking pictures on the West African trip.  
  To supplement my regrettably meager stock of pictures, I've added some appropriate ones from the web. They always will be marked as such, and are easy to discern because of being full colour, while my own ones, as mentioned above, are mainly duotones.  
  Doing the research for the Sahel part of my site, I was lucky to come across the homepage of Mr. Galen R. Frysinger, a retired scientist and seasoned traveler. Mr. Frysinger's site houses a huge collection of photos from his extended journeys all over the world. As he has traveled some of the same routes as we did so many years ago, I actually found pictures of villages we have passed through among his stock. It wasn't even necessary to "steal" anything; Mr. Frysinger is kind enough to mention on his site that he doesn't mind people making use of his photos. My thanks go to Mr. Frysinger for his generosity.  
  I also took the liberty of borrowing several photos from a site owned by a Polish couple; not understanding a word on their pages except some place names, I hope they don't mind me using their pics, and I want to thank them as well. Other photos I just picked up wherever I found them, and I hope nobody minds. I took great care and invested uncountable hours to find the appropriate pictures to illustrate my account; and, thanks to the immense amount of available photos, I just about always was able to find exactly what I wanted. The greatest challenge maybe was to find a picture of a water skin; those goat skins with legs still on used to carry water in the desert. I had already given up hope, when, about a year later, I came, within short time, not only upon one, but upon three different pictures of such skins.  
  or my African adventures I'll have to make an exception to the rule that I will only mention my ex-husband when it can't be avoided. As there were only the two of us on this trip, there's no way of leaving him out of my account. I'll just call him X for "ex"(-husband). I don't want his actual name anywhere on my site; it's bad joss.  
  o now that we're done with the preliminaries, allow me to take you on a trip back in time to the year 1974; and accompany me on my journey through the Sahel, the shore of the great African Sahara desert.  
That fabled old sign below will lead you to the start of the journey.
enter the Sahel pages
back to site index
back to main index