As it turned out, camp life was pretty good for b’wana, although water was a major problem. It had to be trucked in from a half-day away. When poured into a glass, after about 20 minutes most of the dirt settled out to the bottom half of the glass while the top half remained a nice dull gray. We wouldn’t drink it, of course. We drank bottled water, and I developed quite a taste for the carbonated variety.
The beer we occasionally got was good too, but I can’t remember the brand. In Nairobi I drank Tusker, named after the African bull elephant, but it wasn’t a favourite of mine since it gave me the runs. Being the person I was back then, I drank it anyway. If I remember right, it was better-tasting than anything else they had at the time.
We had a reasonable camp cook, who fed us a lot of spaghetti. Thankfully, that ensured that the filthy water we had to truck in was somewhat purified by boiling.
We ended up literally eating the sacrificial goat – kind of like pork, but a tad tougher. We all got a kick out of that.
We fashioned a shower out of a 45-gallon drum, painted it black and mounted it on a stand. One of the boys was responsible for keeping it filled. We had hot-water showers heated by the sun at the end of every day. In fact, because the drum was so dark, the water ended up being too hot, and we had to wait until later on in the evening when the water had cooled off, otherwise it was unbearable.
Every afternoon we had clean clothes – ironed and folded – placed on the foot of our beds. Consequently, we only needed two sets of clothes. We didn’t even have to make our own beds, since the sheets were removed and cleaned every day and the bed made up.
The tent was swept and dusted daily.
Flies. Need I say more?
Perhaps the most amazing sight was the night sky. I remember that first night in the desert when I looked up at the clear dark sky. The southern cross virtually jumped out at me, and I knew then that I was most definitely not in Canada any more.
Drought, famine, starvation and death on the Horn of Africa
Somalia is no stranger to drought and the death it brings, as evidenced by the occurrence of the worst drought ever in its history while I was there. Animals, people – they were all dying from lack of water and grazing. Refugee camps had been set up in many areas of the country including the north to house and feed the people.
One day a herder wandered into our camp. He had lost his 12-year-old daughter while on his trek to a refugee camp with his animals. He asked Ali, our foreman if he would keep an eye out for her. Well, Ali came to us and asked if we could take a quick look, which we did. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see any sign of her, not entirely surprising given the starving condition of the hyenas caused by the drought.
Ali, our Somali camp foreman, was a pretty good guy, and all of us spent time talking with him. His dream was to buy a truck and travel around his country drilling water wells for his people. Of course, his biggest obstacle was money for the truck and drill since his annual salary amounted to 350 shillings a year. At the time, that was about C$35.00.
Whether he ever accomplished his dream is unknown, but at the time I had some sympathy for his plight and that of his countrymen.