Thursday, March 19, 2009

Return of the animals

* I've got another new post below this, too - Bucket Baths!

The Rendille are pastoralists, which means, in part, that they keep huge herds of goats, sheep, and camels. But in a desert like Korr, there is little grazing for the animals, so young children – often as young as six years old - take the animals far, far away in search of grazing. Warriors, too, head out with the herds to the fora* to help watch the animals and the young herders. Everyone sleeps outdoors with the animals in round enclosures made of thorn bushes, often only eating a mixture of blood and milk from their animals to stay alive.

As the rainy season approaches, people slowly begin to bring their animals back to the goobs*. Once the rains come, there will be a little more water and grazing available closer to home, so slowly the herds all come back. This year people are bringing the animals back earlier than usual, as there have been many animal raids in areas where many Rendille animals have been grazing, so they’re heading home for more security. The animals are beginning to return to Korr.

Last week and the week before, I started noticing herds of camels ambling lazily across the hills in the distance as I walked to school. It was easy to spot the herders among them, their blazing red blankets standing out against the dusty landscape. Sometimes if I walk home for lunch or when I’m walking home after school, there are Rendille women and a warrior or two at the wells by the laga* watering their goats. This week, however, I have noticed a dramatic increase in the number of animals in the area.

When I first described my commute to school, it was across a deserted laga and past empty wells, still and quiet in the “cool” morning air. On Monday morning, that all changed.

Easily over a hundred camels were milling about around the wells and the laga. Have you ever smelled a hundred camels? A beautiful smell to a Rendille, I’m sure! Wooden bells tock-tock-tocked around their necks as they brayed and honked (bronked? What do you call the sound a camel makes?!?!), looking as if they were just thoroughly annoyed with the world.

As I wove through the crowd of beasts, women with large water barrels untied the ropes holding them to their backs and worked at some wells at filling them. Other wells were full of warriors drawing water for the animals, hauling water up and pouring it in the basin that leads to the attached trough. Their low, rhythmic chanting helped them as they worked: “Auhy-yuh, auhy-yuh, auhy-yuh…” I couldn’t see them as they dropped their buckets far down the hole – the walls of the well hid them – but I certainly knew they were there. The beads of both the warriors and the woman brought beautiful colour – red, white, black, yellow, orange – to the otherwise neutral land around us. Cries of “Nebeyon barite” filled the air as people greeted each other, and the odd donkey tied to a tree brayed, laden with baskets waiting to be loaded with the full water barrels.

Farther up the hill were women and donkeys walking huuuge herds of goats out to graze – a sea of white clattering along the rocky ground. Most herds were small enough I could just walk through, but for one I had to physically stop walking and wait while at least 200 goats crossed my path. I used the time to greet the women and use my limited Rendille to have a quick conversation with them. As I looked out over the hills, I could see seas of white where other herders were guiding their goats to graze or to drink.

The whole area was alive with sound and colour and activity, and I just stopped for a moment to drink it all in. So many animals, and the rains are still far off. It’s such a special time to see everyone returning, and gives me a much clearer idea of the truly incredible Rendille way of life.

* fora = grazing areas * goob = village * laga = dry river bed


CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

You do see some interesting sights, Hillary--and smell some interesting smells!

nachtwache said...

I'm glad you're enjoying it all and sharing it with us.

Adina said...

I'm living vicariously through you, Hillary! I love reading about your life in Africa - it's all SO interesting!! Thank you for the great blog entries - your writing truly gives us a great picture of your adventures there! Hope you're well and know that we keep you in our prayers!

Adina said...

Oh, and I LOVE the new blog template!

Canadi-Ann said...

Hillary - wonderful photo m'dear! You can't go to Africa and not DANCE!