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The Fight for Survival

Dalol, Ethiopia

For so many life in Africa is a test of survival, a test they must take and pass on a daily basis to ensure their continued existence in an often harsh world. A world where the odds are stacked against them, where it seems easier to give up the fight and concede an inevitable defeat. That would be the easy option, but the African spirit dictates the battle must go on, the fight for survival will continue until it is no longer possible and then, only then, will the fight cease.

This battle to survive goes on throughout the African continent, and has done for hundreds of years. There is not a single country where somebody is not striving to live another day, to feel the morning sun on their weathered face once more, to know they have once again overcome the hardships of life. Of course there are differing levels of hardships, but every battle is equally important and in a way unites communities, regions and countries. A shared sense of triumph against life.

From my own experiences in Africa there is no race of people faced with harder conditions for survival than the Afar people, the very people who inhabit the almost uninhabitable Danakil Depression. With an average yearly temperature exceeding 38 degrees, no running water, no electricity, no, well no anything come to think of it, one wonders why they continue to live like this. For one this is their test of survival, this is the battle they must win. And then there’s the salt, the very commodity that enables them to eek out an existence.

As far as jobs go the extraction, transportation and selling of the salt found in the Danakil Depression has to rate as one of the hardest - especially when you take into account the paltry financial return it gives the Afari people. As the sun pokes its head over the horizon in the Danakil, tingeing the land a glorious golden orange, the silhouettes of men and camels can be seen marching towards the salt pans. Work here starts early, for with temperatures reaching 50 degrees in the mid-day sun there is no other choice; the hard work has to be done before the heat cripples the day.

With crude tools whole armies of men go about hacking blocks of salt from the earth’s surface, each roughly the size of a paving slab, and weighing as much too. For as far as the eye can see the land is flat, there is no rock face to hack the salt from, it must all come from the floor. This is back-breaking work of the highest order, and yet it doesn’t end there, this is just the start of the work. Once out of the ground the blocks of salt must be fashioned into a uniform shape and size ready for transportation.

By now the heat is taking its toll - I am only watching the process and yet my energy is rapidly being sapped by the heat, so I can only imagine how those doing the work must feel. Finally, as the sun reaches its peak in the sky, the salt is ready to be loaded onto the camels and taken to the nearest market - which is only a five day walk away. And so, with the heat at its worst, whole caravans of camels are marched off into the desert, with nothing but sand and mountains in front of them.

Each camel is carrying around twenty blocks of salt, and will march through unbearable heat for a minimum of five days. At the end of the march the hardy camel handlers will sell the salt and then march back to the Danakil Depression to start the process again. To do this, day after day, year after year would make you think the salt is worth a small fortune. Wrong. Each block of salt is worth just short of a dollar. Or, if you like, sixty pence of a British pound. All that effort for next to nothing in return, yet it is enough to enable these unique people to win another battle, to see the light of another day.

This is life, and as long as they have salt the Afar people will continue to defy the odds stacked against them and continue to survive in conditions where most would perish.

permalink written by  MarcusInAfrica on December 22, 2009 from Dalol, Ethiopia
from the travel blog: Cape to Cardiff
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