Tom Bell on February 15th, 2008
On a high lonely rock in the Sahara
We’re short timers now. Homeland has chartered an aircraft to take us back to Niamey on Sunday so we can avoid the arduous two day drive. All 1800 radon detectors have been retrieved from the field and the films are safely packed in bags for their journey to the lab in Chicago for processing. This recon survey has covered four thousand square kilometers, a sizable chunk of real estate by anyone’s standards. The next step is to identify favorable areas and test them at a much greater sample density when we return in a month.
Our geologic traverses continue to reveal valuable information about the history of the basin that bears to one degree or another on our understanding of the origin of the uranium deposits. Tony Kovschak, chief geologist of Homeland Uranium, has identified most of the specimens in our collection of fossil plants and animals. The final phase of basin development (Cretaceous) was marked by a very large freshwater lake as evinced by a robust species of freshwater clam, algal mats, horsetails, and hungry hadrosaurs who grazed the edges.
Get off my back!
We still live in a happy camp. Our grubby existence has developed into comfortable routine. Up before dawn to a breakfast of Malrone (anti-malarial), bread, butter, and jam washed down with Nescafe for the unprepared or Italian roast for the more discerning palate. The honey dippers are regular visitors until the sewer is completed. Laundry is done by our security man with a bar of soap and bucket of tap water then hung out to dry on tent lines.
Everyone drinks from this contaminated well
We were treated to a Touareg roundup down at one of the regional wells yesterday. After a morning geologic traverse, we pulled into their camp where a grand lunch lay waiting. A ram was slaughtered and a platter of meat mixed with rice was placed before us on a rug under an acacia tree. Strong green tea with as much sugar as tea was served in shot glasses. The Hors d’houvre was aged sheep cheese. Armed with a soup spoon we all sat in a circle and dug into a mound of steaming food on a large platter.
Our lunch of ram and rice (probably made with well water).
After lunch we mounted our camels and under the watchful eye of the Touareg men were either led around or handed the rein. Steering a camel is done with bare feet placed at the base of their neck. Push the top foot and the critter goes right. Push the bottom foot and he turns left or at least that is what I thought I understood from my teacher. Pulling the rein, which is tethered to a ring through the camel’s right nostril, makes them complain in a loud Chewbacca growl. I think the rein works like a brake and accelerator combination.Â Mounting a camel takes some practice. The camel kneels with all four legs tucked underneath but the saddle is still nearly four feet off the ground. You mount by stepping on the camel’s left foreleg and throw your right leg over the saddle. The pommel is a trident of carved wood or horn that is best grasped tightly when the camel rises. They unfold their back legs pitching you forward at a 45 degree angle. The front legs unfold next throwing you wildly backward. Now, with your head eight or nine feet off the ground you have a grand view of your surroundings. It’s a long way to the ground as Drew found out when he was pitched off as his camel rose. Camels are just as ornery as some horses and like to rub you against the thorny branches of the nearest acacia. They seem immune to the two inch needle sharp thorns, munching them like candy. Their mouths are tough with a leathery pad instead of top front teeth. Camels have large canine teeth on top that may only serve the purpose of inflicting a painful bite to a neighbor when they compete for water at the trough. Their lips and nostrils are a wonder of evolution. Like a seal or walrus, they can close their nostrils tight. Their lips are as dexterous as the tip of an elephant’s trunk.
Looking like tourists in the Sahara.
After the men had a good laugh at our attempts to ride their camels, they showed us how it is really done. The camp women gathered under a tree with a drum and began to chant, sing, clap hands, and beat a drum. The men cantered their camels in a tight circle around the tree whooping. We were squeezed into the center of the circle with racing camels passing just inches away. After the show, a round of speeches was made pledging mutual cooperation and friendship.
This is how it is really done.
The regional well is in sorry shape. Hundreds of animals are brought there daily for water. The well is over 50 feet deep and the men and children labor to draw water and fill cement troughs so herds of sheep, goats, donkeys, cattle, and camels can drink. Everyone in the village drinks from the same well. All of these animals have left a rich layer of droppings around the well and the ropes used to lower the buckets slither through this muck with each hauling cycle contaminating the water in the well. A government health agent was present and despaired of the situation and his inability through lack of resources to rectify it. Homeland Uranium through their non-profit foundation has pledged to rebuild the well and create a system to alleviate the contamination problem. A contractor will begin work within the next few weeks.
A model of how the well could be.
That’s all for now. My next post will be from Niamey on the way home. Be sure to check out more pictures here.
So long pard.