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The Heat

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If the hobbit was filmed in a dry environment, it would have been here, in the Eastern part of Senegal the traditional building methods become more and more dominant. However, in Mali they replace concrete, steel and corrugated rooftops entirely. A wooden fence encircles the village, which is nothing but twigs sticking out of the ground. The village consists of similar settlements that flank the sides of the streets. Picturesque they constitute of a few dwells here, a round building on poles there, followed by a living compound, a shack, a storage or simply an open wooden structure topped with a meter thick layer of straw, which provides shelter for its inhabitants during the hottest hours of the day.

The month of April is the peak of the dry season, the hottest and driest month of the year. The heat unfolds into the Savannah, as a flaring film. The flaring enemy is hostile and threatening to anything that lives or moves. Humans retreat into the coolest corners. Animals are hiding in the shade of scattered Baobab trees. Cars and Trucks are aching and steaming, struggling up the roads, until they eventually break down. Even the streets are not capable of withstanding the heat and melt.

The shepherd tears the rope, which has a bucket attached to its end, delivering the precious water out of the depth of the dwell. The work is physically demanding. However, the sweat evaporates, before even making it to the surface – it is that hot. He bites his lips, day in day out, the same demanding manual labor. Two villages down the road, the white man had implemented a hydraulic water pump, which is still manual work, but compared to his traditional dwell less exhausting and time consuming. As not enough, the bucket drops everyday a little bit deeper into the black hole. He has no choice; it is a matter of life or death.

Not far from the village, underneath a Baobab tree, two young boys spend their hours hiding in the shade, along with their bulls. While the younger one of the two, lays dozing on the ground, the older scribbles with a stick and without much lust into the dusty ground. The boy is lost in memories of the last rain. He imagines the cold rain, the feeling, when it hits the skin; the laughter of his friends, when spraying each other with water next to the waterhole. A gust of hot dry air brings him back to reality. The bulls, the bones clearly visible, are laying scattered in the shade. There is not much food left for them. The day seems endless. He wakes his brother up. It is time to go. To go to somewhere, where there be at least a few eatable leaves left. Slowly the bulls lift themselves, slowly they set in motion, slowly the day goes by, and slowly it becomes time for rain.

While the two disappear in the flickering heat somewhere within the scattered Baobab trees. A small tornado appears – one of many these days -and starts heading for the village. Swiftly moving, it accumulate dust and twigs, throws them up into the air, where they magically disappear.

The women, wrapped in colorful clothes, engage in panic and throw themselves up onto their pots, to protect the freshly pounded sorghum. As quick as the little tornado appeared, it vanished into the scorching heat of the Sahel. The heat. This time of the year every corn of sorghum counts. To contaminate a whole load it with dust and dirt will be a great loss. The bottom of the, on poles standing, storage is already visible. Last year’s crop comes to an end. After a short pause, regained breath, the women go back to rhythmical pounding. Usually, you can hear the women’s laughter and gossip way past the village, but not today. Today they are almost silent – almost.

Only few kilometers down the main road of the village, three men are hiding in the shade underneath a truck. The Truck broke down three days ago. The heat spares nothing. On a hot day, like today, you will see more trucks standing still somewhere along the road waiting to get fixed, before they continue on their journey. The two drivers had to wait for two days, before the third man, the mechanic, arrived. The mechanic has been busy fixing another truck that had also given up on their drivers, not far from where he is now. Once he arrived, he spent the whole day working and slept the night together with the other two men underneath the truck. Now they are waiting for news from the mechanics village. Maybe tomorrow, day four of the breakdown, a friend of his might make his way up to them and provide the needed spare part. Who cares? Who cares about days in numbers on one of these hot days? He grabs the last yellow, formerly plamoil, canister filled with water and takes a gulp, exhales loudly, closes his eyes, and lays back down his head resting on his palms, his body on a thin blanket. Ones is lethargic on one of these hot days.

The elders are sitting, without speaking a word to each other, in the casa de palaver, the coolest place of the village and the place of utmost importance. They know the time of the year all too well. In the past it has been them, chasing the cattle through the heat and tearing the buckets out of the dwell. In some extremely hot and dry years, they even had to walk the bulls down south, where it is always green and rich in water. Today they are old, today it is them who spend their days sitting in the shade, today they are well deserved pensioners. Sometimes they engage in heated debates, when working on their primary task, they discuss, argue and compromise political decisions. But not today. The heat keeps them silent. They sit together in mutual accordance and understanding. They know each other. They know the heat. They know about the problems. They know the rain will come soon, hopefully.

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Carlo Drechsel

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