Photos and manuscripts completed


COWGIRLS IN ECUADOR: A Time for Horses, a Time for Canoes (grades 3–7). During the summer-fall dry season, the 12- and 14-year old sisters spend much of their time on horseback, doing errands and helping herd the family’s 400 head of cattle. When school starts in autumn, they deliver their younger siblings. As the winter-spring rainy flood season approaches, the girls’ father and cowboys drive the cattle to distant higher terrain. For about four months, the father can join his family only on weekends. Meanwhile, with the family house on stilts above floodwater, the girls do errands mainly by canoe. To reach school, they must fi
rst paddle themselves and siblings to horses waiting on higher ground and then ride through mud and deep water.

   Each fall on Columbus Day, October 12, the entire family competes in a regional rodeo. They excel in lasso skills and stunt riding. As photographed here, the seven-year-old daughter wins the title of Miss Rodeo for her riding stunts. 3,000-word ms. complete; 60 or more photos






<Note to Publisher: Victor Englebert wrote the next three manuscripts in the imagined voices of the featured children,

two of whom could not then read or write. Yet all narratives are based on biographical facts that Victor photographed and observed. We feel he’s achieved nearly pitch-perfect child voices.>



SAHARA NOMAD GIRL (grades 2-6): Magnificently photographed by Victor Englebert, this is an account in the imagined voice of nine-year-old Ataka, a Tuareg nomad

girl in Niger’s Sahara. In this Muslim society based largely on barter, the men wear veils and the women do not. A diet of camel’s milk and millet nourishes a lean, proud “Blue People” whose indigo-stained skin contrasts with their pure white teeth. Periodic sandstorms force everyone inside blankets that help

filter out the airborne sand.

Atak describes several days in her life, concluding with the loading of camels and donkeys for the family’s move to better grazing. Note: Ataka’s mother died when she was a baby, requiring that her father “nurse” her with camel’s milk, often on the move aboard his camel. Doing tasks in camp, Ataka yearns for her father’s return from a trading trip, a cause for celebration in the narrative. Ataka begins her account as follows <4100-word manuscript completed, 51 color photos>:


I snuggle tightly in my blanket in my family’s tent. In the Sahara Desert, the January air gets cold before sunrise.

I am Ataka, a nine-year-old Tuareg nomad girl. My family raises camels that feed on scarce blades of grass and widely scattered bushes and thorn trees. Camels have hard gums, allowing their teeth to chew long sharp thorns as if they were grass.

When our camels have eaten all nearby plants, we move our camp close to other plants. This usually means moving every two or three weeks. With luck, we might stay in the same camp for a month or so. Our tents are easy to take down, pack, and set up.

I wakened before dawn because our 12 baby camels began moaning. Tied outside the tent, the poor babies are hungry and crying for their mothers’ milk. To my people, the crying of baby camels is music. Twice in recent decades, my family awoke to silence. Terrible droughts had killed most of the plants our herds needed to live on....

Note: To read the entire 4100-word story, please

scroll nearer page bottom here. The story’s 51 photos allow simultaneous split-screen review of manuscript and photos,

when you use this link:

http://gallery.me.com/nsoderstrom#101629


CAMEL CARAVAN BOY: A Sahara Desert Adventure

(grades 5–9). This is a factually true account, in the imagined voice of 10-year-old Ylla, a desert boy who assisted 9 men on

a two-month, 104-camel caravan round trip to obtain salt. Victor Englebert made the return trip with Ylla, who was assisted by his cheerful 9-year-old pal, Rabbedu. In Ylla’s words, “Most of our march was through the Ténéré, one of the Sahara’s most dreaded regions. It’s a region of endless high sand dunes, blinding wind-blown sand, and a bright scorching sun. The wind constantly erases footprints. It rearranges the dunes, as if trying to make you lose your way to the next water hole. If we miss a water hole, we could all die of thirst. The few water sources are separated by days of seemingly endless marches….” <7500-word ms. completed, 60–80 color photos>

Photo gallery: http://gallery.me.com/nsoderstrom#101384




A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A GHANAIAN SCHOOL GIRL (grades 3–6). Nine-year-old Becky describes her life in a closely spaced mud-hut village that has no electricity or running water. Eldest of four children, Becky helps her parents with chores, often assisted by her best friend, Bonsa.

Village economy is based on cocoa, market produce, and subsistence agriculture. The baker, seamstresses, and other adults work outside their huts, some stirring cocoa beans drying on large makeshift tables. Others pound plantain and manioc in wooden mortars to make fufu, the daily starch food.

    Students carry chairs to and from their school, also built of mud. As punishment, the teacher can send children to weed her cornfield or gather firewood for her. Yet, if a child does well, the teacher may instead dance for the child and invite her to join in. During rain, the school’s tin roof leaks, so the teacher sends the kids home with their chairs––a rain day. <5000-word ms. 50% completed, 50–60 color photos>



A sampling of other of Victor’s photo-illustrated 

concepts, some with finished manuscripts:


•LETTER FROM A YOUNG PERUVIAN LLAMA HERDER (grades 3–7). This 13-year-old Andean girl, named Luisa, belongs to the Q’ero tribe, descended from the Incas. Among all Andean tribes, the Q’ero have best retained the original Inca language, known as Quechua.

     Most Andean Indians dwell and farm at a particular high elevation that limits what they can grow and produce, requiring trade with people living at other levels. But the Q’ero are more independent. They farm and graze their entire upper mountain.

At 8,000 feet, at the upper limit of the cloud forest, the Q’ero live in wooden houses, grow corn, and cut wood for cooking and heating. At 9,600 to 12,800 feet, they grow potatoes and other tubers. Higher up, at the foot of glaciers, they live in windowless stone houses and raise llamas, alpacas, and horses. <Recommend 3,000-word ms. and 60 photos>


A DAY IN THE LIFE OF AN AYMARA INDIAN FARMING FAMILY OF
BOLIVIA (grades 3–7). Living on the cold, dry altiplano on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the family grows potatoes and barley. Unable to afford or feed a draft animal, the father steers a primitive hand plow pulled by his children, while the mother nurses her seventh child. <Recommend 3,000-word ms. and 40–50 photos>

 

•LETTER FROM AN AMAZON RAIN FOREST BOY (grades K–3). Of the Yanomami tribe. <Recommend 1200 words, mostly as captions and 60 to 80 photos>


•BIG BROTHERS, BIG SISTERS (grades 3–6): A book on young children around the world, who babysit, carry, feed, entertain, or mentor for busy or deceased parents.

<Recommend 2500-word ms. and 40+ photos>


•EXOTIC PETS, a board book (preschool) showing children with their pet monkeys, sloths, snakes, opossums, parrots, and other birds and animals. <Recommend 200-word ms. and 12 photos>


•ANIMALS IN THE LIVES OF THIRD-WORLD CHILDREN (grades 3–7). In some countries, kids spend more time with animals, often whole days, that represent the family’s equity. These animals may be camels, water buffaloes, horses, donkeys, llamas, alpacas, sheep, goats, and birds including chickens, geese, turkeys, and ducks. <Recommend 3,000-word ms. and 60 photos>


•CHILD VENDORS OF THE WORLD (grades 3–7). Kids from poor families in many countries help bring food to the table by selling hats, handicraft, fruits, farm products, and other items along streets and roads. <Recommend 2,500-word ms. and 40 photos>


•GOATS OF AGADEZ (grades 1–4). Daily life in a desert town in Niger, seen through the eyes of its free-running goats that scrounge anything remotely palatable, including cardboard boxes and old clothes, as well as food they can steal at the market or through open doors. Their antics and relations with their owners are comical. <950-word ms. completed with 68 b&w photos>


•MY JOURNEYS AMONG MOSLEMS (grades 3-6 or 6–8 as Publisher prefers). The author/photographer’s gratifying experiences.


•NATURE’S SWEETS (grades 3–8). A book series, each book devoted to a natural sweet that kids enjoy: Sugar, Chocolate, Bananas, Chickle, honey (and others) <Recommend 2,500 to 3,000 words per book—or more if Publisher desires and about

60 photos per book>


SCHOOLHOUSE ON STILTS IN THE AMAZON (3–6). Anticipating flooding the school is built on stilts, the children delivered by one of the fathers in a canoe powered outboard motor. Because the two-room school is new, the kids range in age from 5 to 19. The young European couple that founded the school and teach it get support money from friends in Italy. The wife, who is a designer by profession, teaches art among some other subjects. She got two children’s books published in Italy and Brazil using the art produced by her students and which illustrates the life they live in the Amazon. Some of the royalties contribute to school finances. The teaching couple survive like their jungle neighbors by fishing, slash-and-burn agriculture (manioc, plantain, bananas) and a vegetable garden on a river’s floating raft, which keeps ants away, besides a few chickens.

The scattered local people who send their kids to the little school helped the couple build the school and their own comfortable house with planks cut out from the forest. <3,000-words and

40–60 photos>


MANY MORE PHOTOS

For brainstorming with us, please feel welcome to visit Victor’s own website: www.victorenglebert.com


In addition, At the following website, you'll find six galleries of Victor's photos of South American children. Victor feels the first three galleries have the best pictures. "Whether the kids are dirty or clean," he says, "you'll wish that you could hug them. They'll melt your heart. To view them,

1. Go to http://pa.photoshelter.com/c/victorenglebert

2. Click Galleries > Collections > Children of South America.

Note: Because the Peru and Colombia galleries have more than 50 pictures, some are hidden on a second page. Just click on the button at the bottom of the page to see more.


*************


Full 4100-word manuscript for

SAHARA NOMAD GIRL

by Victor Englebert


To simultaneously view its 51 photos next to this text (as keyed into ms. here), please use this link:

http://gallery.me.com/nsoderstrom#101629




I snuggle tightly in my blanket in my family’s tent. In the Sahara Desert, the January air gets cold before sunrise.

<Ataka 01, Scarce pasture 03 to 05> I am Ataka, a nine-year-old Tuareg nomad girl. My family raises camels that feed on scarce blades of grass and widely scattered bushes and thorn trees. Camels have hard gums, allowing their teeth to chew long sharp thorns as if they were grass.

<Moving 06 to 07> When our camels have eaten all nearby plants, we move our camp close to other plants. This usually means moving every two or three weeks. With luck, we might stay in the same camp for a month or so. Our tents are easy to take down, pack, and set up.

<Baby camels 08> I wakened before dawn because our 12 baby camels began moaning. Tied outside the tent, the poor babies are hungry and crying for their mothers’ milk. To my people, the crying of baby camels is music. Twice in recent decades, my family awoke to silence. <Drought 11> Terrible droughts had killed most of the plants our herds needed to live on. Lacking food, our herds died as well. Left without milk and animals to barter at the market for food, thousands of nomads like us died of hunger.

      Besides, it’s good to have baby camels to awake us before daylight. For we are Moslems, and we must rise and pray before the end of the night. We will say four more prayers over the course of the day, the last one after dark. My grandmother and Aunt Maunen have awakened too. They are sitting up now and stretching on the carpet next to me. I follow them outside the tent.

In the dark clear sky above, the stars sparkle like diamonds. We almost never see clouds. And I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I have seen rain, and then little of it.

<Sandstorm 12> Only occasional sandstorms hide the sky. When they blow across the land, I can’t see where sky and earth meet. Sometimes there’s so much sand blowing that I can’t see my tent a few paces away. I know people who were lost a whole day while trying to find their camp, even though they had passed close to their own tent. During sandstorms, the air looks yellow or orange. To breathe then, I must duck inside my robe or under a blanket. Sand is always with me. Even on normal days, it blows into my eyes, ears, and mouth. I can feel it, smell it, taste it, and even hear it as the wind plays with it.    

     “Ataka, come here! Let’s pray. Are you daydreaming?”   

     That’s my Aunt Maunen calling. Yes, I was daydreaming. Aunts Fati and Sata are already out of their own tents, a few paces away. My sleepy cousins are dragging themselves out as well. They make me laugh. Cousin Adambo is trying to say something. But he’s still not quite awake.

     Now we join in prayer, facing east towards Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. Mecca is the birthplace of Mohammed, the Moslem prophet. We bend low and then kneel down.

“La illah ila Allah. There is no God but God,” we chorus in Arabic, Mohammed’s language, “and Mohammed is his prophet.”

  “Except to say those prayer words, we don’t speak Arabic. We speak Tamajak, a language also spoken by North Africa’s Berbers. We are Berbers ourselves. Our ancestors moved south into the Sahara many centuries ago, fleeing Arab invasions.

     My family is headed by three brothers. They are my father Bukush and my uncles, Amud and Taleb. In our camp, each uncle lives in his own tent with his wife and children. My mother died when I was a baby, so my grandmother and unmarried Aunt Maunem live with my father and me.

      <Riding away 14, In-Gall 15> None of the men is here now. A few days ago, my father rode away on his white, blue-eyed camel to In-Gall, an oasis town far to the south. There, he will exchange one of the two camels he is towing for sugar, green tea, a cereal called millet, and clothes for the family. The second towed camel will carry those things back to us.

<Imagined father’s trip 17 & 18> When my father is traveling, I miss him and think about him a lot. I imagine him riding through the desert, stopping to dig a hole in a dry riverbed, called a wadi, to water his camels and fill his goatskin water bag. My uncle Amud is watching over the family's 12 milk camels, a two-hour ride from camp. Much farther away, my uncle Taleb and a servant graze the family’s other 28 camels because there is not enough pasture closer

     The life of Tuareg people was not always like that. My father told me that our tribe, the noble Kel Rela, were once great warriors who ruled the central Sahara. We taxed Arab caravans and for many years held back the invading French. During those years, we had servants and lower ranking tribes to do the work that my family does now.

     I miss my father very much. He has been both mother and father to me. I love him above anyone else, though I could not wish for a more loving family. Until now, my father and I have rarely been apart. When I was a baby, he carried me in his arms when he rode camels. As we rocked in the saddle, I drank milk from a bottle in his hands. When I was only two years old, I rode behind him, holding onto him. But now he fears that long journeys will be too hard and dangerous for me. Tuareg women and children do not travel far in the Sahara. Maybe that is why our women do not cover their faces like our men do

     In our Muslim society, unlike that of Arabs and other Middle East people, our men veil their faces—not our women. Our women enjoy equal rights, and then some. Women can own property, and nobody can force them into an unwanted marriage. The children inherit their mother’s social status, even if the mother is married to a man of a lower caste.

<Veiled face 20> My father and uncles wear a tagilmust, a band of indigo fabric 2 feet wide by 20 feet long. They wrap it around their heads and faces, leaving only a slit for their eyes. They hide their faces most from the people they owe the greatest respect, such as their parents-in-law, women, and strangers. The tradition is ancient.

     On long desert trips, the men’s veils serve other purposes too. They reduce the sun’s glare. They keep lips from cracking and mouths from drying. And they prevent sunburn. Over many generations, each of our tribes developed its own way of winding the tagilmust. So each tribe’s tagilmust style looks different

     <Red sky 21> At daybreak, the sun is large and red at first, briefly reddening the sky before rising orange and yellow, and then bright white, chasing the chill away.

<Mother-camels arrive 22> Just now a great commotion announces the arrival of Uncle Amud and our mother camels. Amud drove them back to camp to be milked. Quickly, my cousins, Adambo and Mohammed, help him hobble the camels’ front legs to keep them from straying.

     With udders full of milk and hurting, the mother camels are eager to nurse their hungry babies.

     While my aunts milk the mothers, my cousins Lalla, Tiwilt, and I hold bowls under the udders.

    <Milking camels 24 to 25, Raisha walking baby 26> I help Aunt Fati with the milking. We let the babies begin nursing to start the milk flow. But then we need to push the babies back so we can get some milk for our families. When done milking, we let the babies finish nursing. Then Raisha, my 14-year-old cousin, walks them back to their stakes. The milk will be our breakfast this morning.

     The mother camels keep Uncle Amud busy awhile longer. Aunt Fati, his wife, lights a fire. With the air still cool, we sit around the fire, sometimes warming our hands near the flames. Our blue robes help keep us warm. And when the sun gets hot, they will help keep us cool. But by midday the sun will be so hot we will need to retreat under our tents.

     <Preparing tea 27> We pass camel milk around as the fragrant smoke from the burning wood fills our nostrils. Then Aunt Fati gathers the fire embers into a sand-filled basin and places a small pot of green tea to brew. Except for a few dried dates, the sugar-sweetened green tea is the only sweet thing that I have tasted.  Because tea and sugar are very costly for us, it is a special treat. When my aunts pass the small tea glasses around, their eyes show pleasure.

     “Mmm!” Aunt Sata says. ”Smell it, drink it. Isn’t it wonderful?” 

     Aunt Fati pours more water into the teapot and puts it back on the embers. In all, she will pour water over the tea leaves for three brewings. The first brewed tea tastes somewhat bitter, the second tastes best, and the third brewing is sweet but not as strong. We each drink three small glasses. They satisfy our craving for sugar and quench our thirst better than a large bowl of cold water.

     While waiting for our second glass of tea, Raisha and I go to the baby camels to release them from their stakes. They immediately scatter to explore the surroundings. Three-year-old Abookabook jumps out of his mother's lap, grabs his father’s whip, and runs to help drive the baby camels to pasture. <Abookabook herding baby camels 28>

     “Hey!” everyone cheers loudly. “There goes an Amajer, a noble Tuareg.” They are thrilled that Abookabook wants to herd camels. An Amajer in our society is a noble person, and noble Tuareg wish for nothing more than to raise children worthy of that high status among other Tuareg. For a boy, the title of Amajer means skill with camels and sword. My people still command respect in the Sahara, even though droughts and political changes have reduced our population, as well as our former wealth and power.

       When Abookabook returns, Uncle Amud, who had joined us for tea, gives his son the sweet tea leaves in the pot to suck like candy.

      <Boys herding camels 29 to 31>  “You,” Amud says to Adambo and Mohammed, “herd the camels to pasture while I nap. I didn’t sleep much last night.”

     “Sure,” they say gladly. Adambo and Mohammed like nothing better than riding the camels. They immediately mount and then turn their chore into a game. Racing each other, they make the other camels gallop in front of them.

     <Amud napping 32, Fati 33>  With the boys and camels gone, the camp is peaceful again. Amud takes a nap in his tent with Abookabook. Outside their tent, Aunt Fati kneads a goatskin in a basin of dark vegetable tar to waterproof it.  That goatskin will become a water bag that will replace a leaking one.

     <Ataka spinning 34, 35> Outside my tent, I sit on a downturned wooden mortar. Normally, its bowl-shaped interior is used to pound millet. There I quietly begin spinning wool. Even though I know my father is not ready to return to us, I scan the horizon for him, just in case. Two little girl cousins chase after each other, sometimes bumping against me and against my aunts, disrupting our work.

     <Cousins 37> “Stop it!” my aunts shout. And my cousins calm down.

      <Lalla & baby camel 38> Resting her arms on a baby camel, Lalla watches us from a distance.

     <Raisha pounding millet 39, 40> In front of her own tent, Raisha pounds millet. It’s hard work to break the millet grains with her pestle.  So once in a while, Raisha rests by leaning on it.

     <Sata dyeing leather 41, Tiwilt grinding wheat 42> In her tent, Aunt Sata applies a red dye to a leather bag she made from goat skin, and Tiwilt grinds wheat between two stones to make flour. Sata will use the flour to bake tagila, a flat bread, in the ashes of the fire.

       <Ataka gathering dung 43>   “Ataka and Lalla!” shouts Aunt Fati. “Get me some wood for the fire.” There is no more wood around, so we gather dried camel dung in basins. It burns well too, but produces much smoke. After being cooked by the sun, the droppings are clean and odorless. After all, they’re just chewed up thorns and shrubs. We also use camel droppings as movable pieces in games we play in the sand. Droppings are also used to stuff our leather cushions and packsaddles

  <Mirages 44 or 45>   As midday approaches, the sun’s heat stirs wavy air currents on the horizon, creating mirages that look like distant ponds and small shrubs. These deceiving images attract people confused by thirst.

After the sun has reached its highest point, Adambo and Mohammed return with the camels. And we prepare for our second prayer. As always, the boys are laughing heartily.     

     I ask them, “Why are you laughing so much? What did you do all morning?”

     “Oh! You know. The usual,” says Adambo. “We rode until reaching that place where Amud told us he’d found some fat green plants. We hobbled the camels to keep them from straying too far, and we let them feed there. Their babies are beginning to eat plants too.”

Mohammed continued his story, “It was hot, so we settled in the little bit of shade under a small acacia tree to talk.  But then a herd of gazelles passed by. We would have liked to shoot one for lunch. But we had no gun, so we ran after them, yelling to scare them away.”

     “Ah ah ah,” laughs Adambo. “He was so frustrated he started shooting at me instead, with camel bullets. Ha, ha.”

     Of course, Adambo means camel droppings.

     “I hid behind a camel and shot back.” Adambo goes on. “Amud did the same. We used the camels as shields. But the camels did not think it funny. You know how short-tempered they are. The more they gurgled in protest, the more we laughed. In the end we got so hot that we made peace and ran back to the shade. When the shade spread evenly around our little tree, we knew it would soon be noon milking time.”

     Just in time. Any later, and the baby camels would have drunk the milk that by then had started forming in their mothers’ udders.

     Adambo and Mohammed own robes, but they take them off as soon as they get hot. Most boys do, though not the girls. We Tuareg love indigo clothes. When new, the dark blue fabric shines like the moon and its dye stains our skin blue. That’s why other people call us—the Blue People.

     Adambo and Mohammed will start wearing the tagilmust to cover their head and face when they become sixteen or seventeen. Like all of us, they wear amulets around their necks. Amulets are tiny leather bags that we believe protect us from evil spirits we call jinns. Inside the bags are lines from the Koran, the Moslem bible.

<Adambo 46>  Now and then, the boys’ heads are shaved except for a long tuft in the middle or back. We believe the tuft will help Allah (God) to pull them up to the Moslem paradise when they die. When the boys grow up, that hairstyle will also insulate their scalp from the sun-heated tagilmust. Sometimes, to protect me against jinns, my aunts paint my face with lines and dots. <Ataka’s painted face 47>        

          Our prayer said, we milk the camels a second time. Aunts Fati and Maunen divide the cooked millet porridge among three bowls. Then they pour fresh milk over it. Sitting on the ground and using wooden spoons, my grandmother and aunts eat from one large wooden bowl. Sitting apart, Uncle Amud eats alone from a small wooden bowl, passing his wooden spoon under his tagilmust. My cousins and I eat from our own enamel bowl. Our youngest cousins eat with their hands. <Kids eating 48>

We Tuareg eat meat only on rare occasions. We do so to celebrate a birth, a wedding, or some other important event, and to honor a distinguished guest. We trade our animals for clothing, millet, tea, and sugar. We also trade camels for things that need replacing, such as wooden mortars and bowls, camel saddles, spears, swords, and knives.  But we crave meat as much as we crave sugar.

     Adambo and Mohammed now chase off the mother camels, leaving the babies in camp. The mothers will graze unattended until evening, when the pressure of full udders will force them back to their babies for nursing. Then we will milk them again.

    <Drinking tea 49> Meanwhile, we receive the visit of Tahenkat, Raisha’s married sister, and Bikkalu, another relative. The afternoon passes lazily. To avoid the blistering sun, we gather inside for tea.

<Tahenkat braiding hair 51, Making sandal 52>  That afternoon, Tahenkat braids her mother Sata’s hair. Bikkalu works at a pair of sandals. She creates sandal soles by stacking pieces of leather and sewing them together. Meanwhile, Uncle Amud repairs a camel saddle.

<Abookabook 53, Ataka and Lalla 54> Grabbing his father’s leather whip again, Abookabook goes to his favorite playmate, a white baby camel. My other cousins play outside too, girls with girls and boys with boys. I chat with Lalla at the edge of my tent, in its shade. As always, my eyes scan the horizon for my father.

     <Two visitors 55> “Hey!” I shout. Two more visitors! Two men on camels!” The men stop a hundred paces from our camp. There they dismount and wait politely. Our tents allow little privacy, so outsiders are expected to wait at that distance until invited to approach. Amud rewinds his tagilmust more formally before walking to meet the visitors.

     "Salaam Aleikum, Peace be upon you," the man says to Amud.

     "Aleikum es Salaam, and upon you be peace," Amud answers.

     <Host and visitors 56>  The men sit and exchange news before coming to our tents. This gives our family time to prepare for the visit. We recognize one of the men by the style of his tagilmust, also by his vivid eyes shining through the narrow slit of his veil. Those clues and his proud bearing reveal his identity. He is Bushra, like us an Amajer, or noble man of the Taitok tribe. The Taitok were once deadly rivals of my Kel Rela tribe. But common interests have removed all hostility. In fact, we are now on the best of terms.

     <Ahaggar Mountains 57, 58> We all greet Bushra warmly, and invite him and his friend to sit on the sand in our midst. Bushra recently traveled north to Algeria’s Ahaggar Mountains on an Arab truck. Those jagged 10,000-foot mountains are the original homeland of both our tribes. There, black volcanic mountains rise like a vast rugged island above the surrounding flat stone plateaus and sand dunes. The mountains once served like a fortress from which we attacked intruders. On narrow irrigated terraces stretching along a few dry riverbeds, the Kel Rela and Taitoq are still the masters of that land and maintain a few gardens there. <Harratin 59> Black sharecroppers, whom we call harratin, maintain date-palm and fig orchards there. In the shade of the palm trees, they grow wheat. <Ahaggar herd 60>  Many Tuareg still herd sheep and goats in those mountains. But our many camels needed more pasture land, so my family had to move south into Niger.

     <Drum 61> To celebrate Bushra’s visit, Aunt Fati makes a drum by stretching a wet goatskin over a wooden mortar. When Raisha begins beating the drum, my aunts and the visiting women clap their hands, while singing a hauntingly beautiful song.

    <MenDepartingThatNight 62> And so night comes. Having returned, the camels have been milked. We have shared our supper of boiled millet with our guests. We’ve cleared the bowls away. And we have all said our last two prayers of the day—at sunset and a couple hours later. The visiting men and Uncle Amud saddle their camels and lead the milk herd out of camp. The men mount and ride into the night––Amud back to his camels’ pasture, Bushra and his friend back to their camp.

     Wishing my father were here, I lean uneasily against Aunt Maunen. Our survival is always uncertain in the Sahara. And it seems even less certain as our men disappear into the night.

  <Large herd returns 63> Two days later, Uncle Taleb and his servant, Bujimra, return. Their tall silhouettes rise above the family's main herd of 28 camels. Raisha, who is Taleb's daughter, immediately lights a fire to cook millet for them. <Lighting fire 64, 65>

     <Bujimra prepares tagila 66> Bujimra jumps from his camel to prepare tagila in the ashes of the fire with the last of our family's wheat. Having brought water from the well along the way, he also helps Sata give her sick baby a bath. Water is so precious that they bathe the baby without soap. Then they return the water to the goatskin for later use. <Washing baby 67>

The two men have had nothing to drink and eat but camel milk for several days. Even so, they laugh and tease and play with the children. The rest of us could not have moved closer to them because we would have had no water.

     "We found new grazing," Uncle Taleb says, grinning. "Tomorrow we will move near it."

That evening, Uncle Amud takes the entire herd to the area where the mother camels are grazing. Uncle Taleb and Bujimra have earned the right to rest with the family for a night. After moving camp, it will be Amud's turn to take the camels to graze far from the new camp. Taleb will replace Amud on the nearer pasture. For Bujimra there will be no change of pace routine because Amud will need his help with the larger herd.

     <StrikingCamp & Moving 68 & 69> Next morning, after milking, we break camp. Each of us has special tasks. Lalla and Tiwilt help me gather donkeys browsing nearby. The others fold the leather tents and the rugs. We pack personal things, cooking utensils, and water skins, and load them on the donkeys.

     Men and women put saddles on the riding camels, and then we mount. Women and girls ride much wider and more comfortable saddles than men and boys do. <NobleWoman’sSaddle 70>

     As we leave, Uncle Amud gives a last look around to make sure we’ve left nothing behind. Then we ride away chatting, laughing, and singing without looking back.

     <71 Setting Up Camp, 72, AuntMaunenStakingTent> Once we have set up our tents, the days will follow much like those I’ve described. Arguments rarely disrupt our peace, though my small cousins sometimes misbehave. After a scolding by its mother, a child might throw sand in her face. Before the angry mother reacts too harshly, an older relative will quickly carry the child away. Then, after a few minutes, the child will crawl back to its mother, who will pretend that nothing happened.

     <Sandstorm 74>  Soon a great wind arises. The horizon blurs and disappears under a huge and fast-moving wall of sand. Calmly, we move inside the tents, lower their sides to the ground all round, and seek patient refuge under blankets. Such sandstorms may last a mere afternoon, or they may last several days. But, no matter how many days they last, they always leave a star-filled sky during the cool night, giving us temporarily relief.

     <Well 75, 76> Every four or five days, a couple of my aunts and one or two children ride donkeys to the distant well. There we fill our goatskin bags with water and hang them under our donkeys’ bellies.

     We never camp close to a well. That’s because too many camels, donkeys, sheep, and goats walk there every day to be watered by other Tuareg people. Those animals leave no edible plants. Still, the long journey to the well has its rewards. We always meet Tuareg we know and exchange news.

     Finally, finally!  A long-awaited visitor gets a very warm welcome. Especially from me. Of course, I was the first one to spot my father in the distance. I immediately ran to him.

     He’d been away for ten days. He had first returned to our former camp, and then followed our tracks to our new camp. He’s brought us millet, mostly, but also soap, salt, matches, sugar, and tea. He’s also brought white and indigo fabric that my aunts will sew into new clothes. For me, he brought a beautiful silver bracelet. Oh, I’m so happy!

     That evening we stay up late, sitting under the stars in the sand. News of my father’s return has traveled fast, bringing visitors who want to hear of his trip. We drink tea around the fire. My father has news from relatives and friends, and stories about his journey. We laugh, we sing, we challenge each other with riddles, and we play.

One of our games always makes me very excited. We throw each other glowing red embers from the fire, and catch them with bare hands before quickly passing them on. We need to be very quick to avoid burning ourselves. I haven’t laughed so much in a long time.

     <TahenkatPlayingAnzad 77> Later, as the fire dies, the women pull a rug from a tent. We all then sit on the rug closely together. Tahenkat brings out her one-stringed violin, called an amzad. With her bow, she strokes sorrowful notes that enchant our men. The other women sing and clap their hands. Their beautiful music fills the cooling air and rises far into the starry sky.

It’s been a long day. I rest my head on my father’s shoulder. But I don’t wish to fall asleep until he does.


THE END











 

Victor Englebert Concepts for Kids & YA

Victor Englebert’s photos and texts have documented the lives and customs of more than 30 indigenous peoples in Africa, South America, and parts of Asia and Polynesia. Also an explorer, Victor was among the first to photograph the Amazon’s Yanomami and the Sahara’s Tuareg nomads.

    Recently, on assignment for Scholastic, he’s been photographing and writing about South American kids in primitive as well as developed areas. Besides nine articles in National Geographic, Victor’s articl
es have appeared in The Smithsonian, Natural History, The World and I, International Wildlife, German and French editions of GEO, Paris Match, and many other magazines. His 17 photo books for kids and adults include award-winning Wind, Sand and Silence: Travels with Africa’s Last Nomads and, with David M. Schwartz, Yanomami: People of the Amazon. His website is victorenglebert.com
 

Peruvian girl and her puppy

Children’s book:

Photos by Victor Englebert Text by David M. Schwartz