The She-Camels of Las Anod

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She Camels of Las anodAn old interesting article but worth reading. This person belongs to one of the generations we have lost in overseas. He shares his story with us.”Patrick Erouart-Siad is a journalist and novelist living in New York…He is working on his fourth novel about the Horn of Africa.”

By: Erouart-Siad, Patrick

Sasha in Virginia asked me for a pony. Her mother e-mailed me to know whether I intended housing my livestock in the Bronx zoo. May, my daughter, had a special request for baby camels.

As eldest son of the Siad clan, I set off to claim the herd of dromedaries allotted to me by tradition in the wilds of Somaliland, which declared its independence from the rest of Somalia in 1991. The international community refuses to recognize the independence of the former British Somaliland — in the name of the untouchability of national borders inherited from colonialism, a principle invalidated by Eritrea. I left New York, where I live, for a “nowhere land,” “a country that doesn’t exist,” in pursuit of a dream of identity fervently handed down to me by my mother and my uncle, the Somali poet William Syad. According to them, we are the sons of chiefs, the “Garaads,” the Siads (Syad, depending on the spelling, from the Arabic Saïd, of which “The Cid” is a derivative). Their song is music to the six mixed-blood cousins from the West. Responsibilities lie in store for us, but also land, flocks of sheep and goats as well as the famous she-camels, their coats the color of wild honey. Our kingdom is called Las Anod, roughly translated as “the well of milk.” On the latest maps, “the milky fountain” lies just 350 kilometers from Hargeisa, the capital of the Republic of Somaliland. But in fact, we have to travel over 1500 kilometers there and back because the roads are mined.

In order to trace one’s family ancestry, it always makes sense to take a bush taxi. At the bus station in Hargeisa, I daydream, scaling the generations of my Somali family.

My grandmother Edith Joseph Farah was a baker in Djibouti; we all passionately loved and respected her.

My grandfather Joseph Farah Siad, who died prematurely, was a court interpreter on this same French Coast of Somaliland that became the French Territory of the Afars and Issas, then, upon independence in 1977, simply the Republic of Djibouti.

Our driver patiently endeavors to fill his taxi to a profitable capacity. His brand-new vehicle contrasts sharply with the run-down automobiles around us. Everything breathes material dilapidation in this capital I have been discovering over the past few days. Hargeisa is in ruins. In 1988, the dictator Syad Barré’s planes totally destroyed it, and the regiments of the inter-Somali civil war invaded from the South, leaving 50,000 dead. Among the rubble of the town’s light-colored rocks grow clumps of cacti and euphorbias. Entire neighborhoods are reduced to this rubble where herds of goats graze. In response to this chaos, this desolation strewn with thorny acacias, comes a desperate national pride. As I was told upon my arrival by a cheerful airport official, “building a country” is the only thing that matters.

“Why do these Europeans keep coming to look at us in our poverty?” a UNHCR worker hurls at me. His employer is one of the few international bodies together with the European Union and a few Scandinavian relief agencies that maintain an actual presence in this officially fictional country.

My two Somaliland cousins, Rachid and Robleh, are my interpreters and intermediaries in every type of negotiation. Robleh, a lawyer trained in the UK, hurried to my rescue as soon as I arrived with bundles of official documents duly stamped because I did not have time to wait in Djibouti for the laissez-passer to a republic without consulate or embassy. I had the choice of either being sent back on the next plane or pleading my case at the Presidential Palace and various ministries. Rachid, my faithful companion, sits beside me in the taxi that is taking me back to the land of my birth. He is always stoical, even when faced with the worst hornets’ nests stirred up by clans, bureaucracy, politics, and diplomacy. At that moment, a fight breaks out between our driver and the owner of a car brimming with citrus fruits whom he has backed into. A small crowd of fellow tribespeople organizes on the spot a heated council of conciliation. Feeling like Alice after 48 hours in Wonderland, I am getting an undeniable impression that Somaliland ’97 is one big “shir”: peace conferences Somali-style, palavers shooting up in every direction both at a local and national level. Poetical and political arguments stream from both sides; the aim of the game is to handle with care the ever-delicate balance of legitimacy. Be it a question of oranges fallen in the dust or the price of blood, there is every chance you will hear the name of Mohamed Abdallah Hassan the poet warrior, unifier of the tribes in northern Somalia at the beginning of the century, the national hero whom the English soon nicknamed the “Mad Mullah,” which is a reference to the Mahdi from the Sudan who defied the armies of the Colonial Office in a similar way for almost twenty years.

Rachid, in this “volatile” atmosphere, displays the talents of a bomb-disposal expert. His deep sense of conciliation defuses the most explosive situation. This time, the dispute does not even require his intervention. Both parties separate amicably amidst a profusion of conciliatory expressions.

Our last passenger, whose destination is the port of Bosaso in ********** country, brings with her the scent of household incense, which fills the vehicle. The land of Pount. It is difficult to wax lyrical while our car jolts along chaotic roads out of the center of town under reconstruction, then out into the suburbs skimmed by vultures where whole neighborhoods still lie in rubble. But in spite of the ruins and the reinforced concrete of the urban landscape, nostalgia settles in. The Land of Pount represents that mythology with which Uncle William Syad filled our ears; this was the name the Egyptian Pharaohs gave to the shores of the Horn of Africa where their feluccas came to trade in aromatic gum. The region of Erigavo recently resumed the export of incense, which had been brutally interrupted by the civil war, and the “Cape of Aromatics” can now legitimately reclaim its true appellation. “Nostalgia has no archives, at best some relics,” said Vladimir Jankélévitch. Let us classify the incense burners crammed with “cuud” among these relics, along with the family saga handed down by Syad, to which we shall return when we arrive at Las Anod.

Our poet died on arrival in Addis Ababa in March 1993. When he collapsed in front of them, the customs officers at the airport did not know he needed medical attention or the insulin injection that would have saved the life of this seriously ill diabetic.

Once past the urban frontier of Hargeisa, the driver decides to take us back to the land of our ancestors at breakneck speed and to send us ad Patres. The mountains of Naaso Nablood, “the young girl’s breasts,” have disappeared over the horizon, and in their place lies a coastal steppe crisscrossed by wadis, the realm of blackhead sheep with fat tails, the performing baboons, the warthogs spared by the waves of Muslim armies.

The geography breathes battles: tanks and armored trucks lie rusting in the thalwegs. Kids play on the steel skeleton of bombed-out bridges. Each blown-up structure forces us to make wide detours over sandy terrain that other kids from the neighboring settlements rake untiringly for a few Somali shillings. My mind roams over the line of ridges, between the real and the imaginary. Rachid, sitting next to me, oblivious to melancholy, chews on some leaves of khat. This amphetamine, imported from the high plateaux of Ethiopia by air on daily shuttles, plunges the Horn of Africa, from the Yemen to the western shores of Madagascar, into a voluble torpor from the early hours of the afternoon until dusk. A soliloquy of a thousand and one days. As if millions of consumers chose oblivion or a certain form of oral literature rather than the thankless sharp edge of reality, rent and heartrending.

Three days earlier in Djibouti, someone offered up the following reflection:

“In that France of yours,” he said, “if unemployment reached 20 percent, the social fabric would come undone. Here we have over 40 percent of our young people unemployed, and yet the word ‘solidarity’ becomes even more meaningful…The tribal community is strengthened by the use of khat.”

According to him, people spend their time in their Mabbrazz throwing khat parties in order to settle social issues.

From my point of view, the khat economy is so modern and effective under the most appalling traveling conditions that if the entire country were managed in the same way, the nations of the subregion would have the same standard of living as German-speaking Switzerland.

The taxi streaks towards Berbera and the coastal plain. All the men “munch” voluptuously the bitter leaves they gently tear off from the bunch — what is still called “la salade” over in French-speaking Djibouti. The stems of Catha Edulis tied into a bunch are sold in little plastic bags that are fast becoming the most serious ecological scourge on both sides of the border: the goats strangle themselves on them and the smallest thornbush is decked with these multicolored garlands made in Taiwan. Here in Somaliland, the bundles of bills needed for the slightest monetary transaction are wrapped in the same plastic bags that fly off with the wind as soon as they are emptied. The municipality of Hargeisa is said to have given the same priority to fighting this pollution as it has to registering the donkeys carrying water!

With or without khat, Rachid is still chewing over cheerful thoughts. Thinking of the time when he was director of a trucking company in Lusaka, then in Mombasa and Lumumbashi. Of the time when his father, Michael Mariano, my other uncle, was Ambassador, after having been appointed Minister and then thrown in prison by Siyad Barré. We have not seen each other for twenty-six years.

The last time, we were still living in the spacious family home in the pretty town of Mogadishu. Every evening the Good Lord made, we set off for the movie theater to watch spaghetti westerns or B-movies in Italian. The projection of Helga or the Real Life, a sex-education film with subtitles, had caused pandemonium at the gate to the open-air cinema. Rachid was able to guide me through the virtually rioting crowd and the hissing switches of the police, called in as reinforcements, that rained down on the spectators. Every Thursday evening, we had a table reserved for us at the “Gezira” — the Paradise. As soon as the brass of the funky-soukous-Somali band struck up, the entire gilded youth of “Mog” took to the floor. The Somalistyle solos on the Hammond organ sent the dancers wild. Our buddies from those evenings — Attilio and Hussein — were later to be caught up in the whirlwind of the nation’s history. One melancholic evening of exile, the former committed suicide in Toronto. The latter was cut down by sniper fire, not far from the movie theater with the sliding roof where we lounged under the full moon. I understood during this voyage back in memory why everyone I spoke to was so proud of their town, Hargeisa. For them, it was here, under the thorn bushes covered with multicolored plastic bags, squalid Christmas trees, next to the ruins, that hope was alive.

None of us would ever know the Mogadishu of our 16-20 years again, but from over here nobody could understand very well what it was like to be 16-20 in these streets of Mogadishu South and Mogadishu North divided between the followers of Hussein Farah Aidid and Ali Mahdi Mohamed, who, if you were lucky enough to be left alive, stripped you down to your shoes. Compared to this endless barbarity, this night fallen on one of the oldest and loveliest towns in Africa, the roadblocks of Hargeisa and their frightening squeal of whistles already had the appeal of Peace.

Between Hargeisa and Las Anod, we have to get through about eight of these improvised roadblocks, the only form of “governmental” control over the wealth of goods being transported. Every time it proves necessary, Rachid brandishes the name of his father like a passport. Since leaving the capital, we have been in Issak country, where the name Mariano is carried like a banner; later, in Dolbahante country, as we shall see, we shall have to fold this standard and flaunt the patronymic Syad as a laissez-passer. Past the port of Berbera where the herds of dromedaries are exported to the Gulf and Saudi Arabia, past the steep slopes of the Ogo Mountains, we cross Issak country without a hitch. William Syad made me dream about these mountains of Somalia! I keep an eye open for one of those rare mountain panthers from my boyhood dreams. Only the baboons are on cue, as well as the juniper trees and the sparkling meadows that carpet these 1500-meter-high mountains. In a rough eating house at the foot of these slopes, a customer, his mouth full of white rice soaked in camel’s milk, inquires very bluntly, very democratically (pastoral democracy) of my origins and my clan.

“Ah yes, he’s got the same eyes, the J.S. teeth…”

The J.S., the Jamas Syad, a minority clan of the Dolbahante. The initials ring out like a challenge, raising fear and admiration. These famous J.S. must have been awkward customers, no doubt about it. A President of the Republic had been assassinated at Las Anod. Mohamed Abdallah Hassan recruited his horsemen among the bellicose J.S. Las Anod had got itself an infernal reputation like Dallas.

The road that leads there across Issak country passes through Yiroowe, a gigantic African market sprung up from a refugee camp whose name is not even on the map. Burao, the next major town and crossroads, is systematically detoured for safety reasons. Between 1992 and 1993, a private British firm, whose Somaliland teams were trained in mineclearing, had disposed of around 80,000 anti-personnel mines out of the 1.5 million laid under the regime of Siyad Barré. But when the war suddenly resumed in 1994, the area around Burao was again sown with these devices of destruction.

The taxi gingerly makes its way between two solid lines of pedestrians on a thin strip of asphalt that resembles a ribbon in the middle of an ocean of corrugated iron. It’s the biggest market in Somalia, I am told. Incense, powdered milk, canned butter, cotton fabrics, prayer mats, acacia trunks carried on donkeyback, and every type of hardware from Southeast Asia, unloaded off the dhows of Bosaso, fill every inch of this plain at the crossroads of the four economic regions of Somalia.

Idlers stare at me as if I were an extraterrestrial. Amidst this swarm of traders at Yiroowe, mine is the only Arab-Indian face. Rachid, with the look of a Somali from the diaspora, his “Maui” baseball cap jammed tight on his head, wearing an international reporter’s jacket with all the pockets, stands out as much as I do among the crowd. The Minister of Mineral Resources, who received us in his Mabbrazz the day before yesterday, warned him: “You look like a tourist dressed like that!”

Here, amidst the dense crowd at Yiroowe, in deepest Somalia, it was to be the cause of a few misunderstandings. We have to change vehicles, and the drivers take us for two odd merchant types on a spree en route to that perilous hinterland of Las Anod, three hundred kilometers down the road. We have to change our mode of transportation twice. At one point, the negotiations involve over sixteen adult men, often about to come to blows. By good fortune, we meet our first J.S., whose face with an imam’s beard reminds me of family, those numerous “cousins” and “uncles” of tribal tradition whom I have befriended over the years from Djibouti to Sweden and New Caledonia. His intervention lands me at the bottom of a moneychanger’s booth. Around me, young women are counting over and over again piles of soiled bills issued by the defunct Central Bank of Somalia or Somaliland shillings. Yiroowe is right on the border zone between the two currencies. Amidst the dust, the bills are stuffed with other piles into the inevitable plastic bags, wholesale size. The place smells of dry wood and oil lamps, since money, as we know, is odorless. From time to time, a colorful moneychanger character comes to check on me, after having chased away some kids craving for a look at the exotic. Absorbed in their counting, my female companions, as silent as a safe, never glance at me. The money smuggler, who always manages to keep intact half a dozen wads of bills on his rounds, comes to tell me that a deal has been made between a *****tine driver, Rachid, and the J.S. cousin. *****tine country spreads out on the other side of the border between Somaliland and southern Somalia. After a stormy false alarm two kilometers further on at a gas station where the employees juggle with iron drums and funnels, we appear to set off for good.

“Arab or Pakistani? Is he your son?” To every question up until now, Rachid has replied philosophically, nurtured by the stems of khat. He has never lost his calm and never responded to the provocations relating to clan that even I can pick out in the heated conversations. But now we are on the last leg of our journey, where his Issak family ancestry must give precedence to other loyalties: the Syad ancestors must now come into play.

We are in the no-man’s-land of no-man’sland, along the Ethiopian border in a flat country that will soon be mine. Half an hour after we leave, we take on three young guys, heavily armed, with whom Rachid shares his bunch of khat. They have laid down their machine guns beside them. In Somaliland, the legacy of Mr. Kalash continues to prosper. The AK-47 of the Soviet engineer M.T. Kalashnikov is slung over a shoulder at every street-corner. From the very first day in the antechambers of the Ministries where I had to explain my mission, the automatic weapon, just turned fifty, gave us the cool reception of a survivor of every revolutionary war. Even on the floor of our jolting truck, among the stripped stems of khat, it did not seem out of place.

On the two-lane road, strictly marked out by the compact clumps of acacias, a truck has visibly broken down. A little further on, the old driver, slender and wiry, with the malicious face of a red fennec, is drinking his cardamom tea by the side of the road. He hands our driver, a friend of his, three stems of wild mint whose peppery scent explodes inside the vehicle: the Cape of Aromatics. The expedition begins to smell of khat, dust, AK-47 cynicism, and the monotony of the halts at all the roadblocks, which become increasingly basic the further we get from the capital. We were now down to a pruned acacia trunk stuck in a truck axle, but with the ever-faithful Kalashnikovs standing guard.

At 75 kms from Las Anod, two hostile young guards armed with Kalashnikovs stop us unceremoniously. They hiss “Hand over the money,” and to make their point suddenly raise their weapons as they prowl around the vehicle. Our armed guards left us two roadblocks earlier. The Kalash good-naturedness, this sort of armed peace mixed with the torpor of the journey, is being taken over by a threatening feeling of danger. They have a grudge against our driver.

“You’re *****tine and you’re driving our enemy’s truck!” they spit in a moment of explanation.

Rachid, up front, tries to intervene and commits an offense by laying a paternalistic hand on the shoulder of one of the two young warriors. He finds himself staring straight down the barrel of an AK-47. The rage that his gesture has provoked prepares us for an explosion that will pierce the 4:35 P.M. serenity of our Somaliland bush. In a flash.

“Touch me again and I’ll blow your brains out,” the soldier belches out, instead of pressing the trigger.

The two infuriated foxes order our driver down to palaver under the acacias. The verdict of the tree. In the Xeer, the traditional Somali system of justice, judgment is preferably handed down under an acacia. A few moments later, Rachid in turn is summoned, which he obeys with admirable phlegm under the circumstances. The three men remain crouched for a long while waiting for him to finish lighting his cigarette. My cousin has one hell of a confidence in his negotiating talents. But hardly has he begun to speak in the sparse shade than our two angry young men jump up.

“But these are our men, our cousins, our uncles,” they shout.

The two warriors, ready to hack us to pieces three seconds earlier, walk back to the truck with broad smiles.

“Apti, Apti. They are our uncles!”

Rachid relishes his moment of glory, filter cigarette dangling from his lips, more second-generation Somali than ever. I envy him the extent he belongs to this land, this country, however fractured it may be. I myself lived through the incident at a rational distance. It ought to have shaken me to the core to belong to an entity bigger than myself, to belong to this system of social security supposed to accompany me beyond death. It leaves me bewildered. I look at the world through the eyes and with the heart of a Westerner — preferring to see in the sky, as I do at this very moment, clouds in the shape of dromedary humps!

At that moment, alerted over the radio from Yiroowe by cousin J.S., a full truckload of relatives turns up. The war despatch becomes more like a fairy tale. The acacia trunk stuck in an axle is opened. Our armed escort, come to our rescue — 75 kms there, 75 kms back — opens up the “J.S. avenue,” as they call it.

Our arrival in Las Anod is bound to be a cliché. The dense flocks of fat-tailed sheep scatter over the green meadows of the plateau; the moon rises behind a curtain of pink clouds while the sun sets on the other horizon. For the time being, there is no question of contesting the family legend.

“You are protected by a name,” keep repeating the Siyads, the Zyads and the Syads, all tribally related, as they walk me by the arm down the main street of the town. In 1971, before becoming the instigator of the civil war, Syad Barré had the Somali language transcribed into Latin script.

“I am for the J.S. — black or white,” the principal of the Warsama Syad school whispers to me, adding as we near the mosque where an imam is leading prayers, “Christian or Muslim!” I feel myself plunged into an atmosphere of civil peace that reminds me of the serenity of the evenings spent at Lamu or Zanzibar. As soon as we arrive, we are settled into a hotel for travelers owned by the family, then invited to celebrate our return to the homeland ceremoniously over our first glasses of fermented camel’s milk. Tomorrow we will visit our herds and make the rounds of the kingdom. The moon of Las Anod shines obligingly over the thousands of oil lamps of the family town.

One day in the 1920s, from this same town with its blond sandstone hills, my maternal grandfather Joseph Farah Siad was carried off by Christian missionaries. “Kidnapped,” says the family oral tradition. “It happened during the wars of Mohamed Abdullah Hassan,” adds the voice of the community. “The campaigns against the English occupier had left a forsaken country of misfortune, orphans, and wretches. The men in cassocks gathered up the children in big tents overflowing with food in the shadow of their cross. Then all trace of them was lost until the children were found baptized, living in missionaries and orphanages in Aden in the Yemen, Jijiga in Ethiopia and Djibouti.”

The elders at the hamlet of Gambadhe, at a roadblock to the south of Las Anod, knew the man they call Farah Joseph Siad and not the name the other way round. They can confirm it. The Christians carried them off. His brother, nicknamed “Telephone,” escaped and only found his older brother much later in 1936 in the port of Marseilles, popular at the time with Somalis seeking to join the navy. Telephone was to become a U.S. citizen, but never renounced Islam.

The elders are facing us, hair dyed with henna for those who have made the pilgrimage to Mecca, a cane propping up the forearm of others, seated cross-legged in their sarongs on the mats of a palaver house where steaming glasses of Somali tea are being handed round. Rachid patiently translates for me the adventures of Farah and his brother Telephone. Uncle Telephone, whom we still know as “the old uncle in America,” used to visit us in France every time he was in the vicinity of Grenoble to see his son, shell-shocked while fighting in the Second World War under British uniform. The Angel with Broken Wings was the title of a radio play by my uncle William J.E Syad — J.E for Joseph Farah. The high-and-mighty discourse of the elders floats out from the palaver house; we seem to have come full circle, but can one ever be the objective chronicler of one’s own history?

After having taken leave of the elders from Gambadhe, the Syad escort, who had requisitioned a truck for the occasion, wanted to take us to see our lands.

“Settle down here. This is your home,” I heard them shout out to me.

We had to leave the asphalt to join the grazing grounds of the white she-camels. There they were, waiting for us: a wonderful herd of creatures standing serenely in the immense landscape. One of our camel drivers began to draw creamy milk after having pushed the baby camel aside. The young, curly-coated animal shakily circled its mother, its back legs trembling, and bleated out its muffled frustration. The entire Syad clan began to drink the milk fresh from the udder, risking the worst of intestinal upsets. Camel’s milk symbolizes the nation, the clan, the group, the community; its virtues have been sung to every rhythm by every poet. Even the name “Somalia” is said to mean “Go milk” — “So Ma.” I drank to the health of the J.S., to the memory of J.F. and all the others, and to this journey from New York to L.A. (Las Anod!) reconciling history and the family legend. At the end of the libations amidst the dromedaries, I could not help asking:

“Okay, I’ve seen the camels, but where are the famous horses of the J.S.?”

Rachid remembers coming here as a boy in 1960 with his mother Françoise Inader Syad, and he has never forgotten the majesty of the double file of horsemen who had escorted them to town.

“You did not warn us soon enough for us to receive you as befits your rank,” answers the brother of Hubbeï from Djibouti.

Even by radio, it is not easy to communicate with a country that does not exist. Hubbeï had finally managed to get in touch with Las Anod, but not in time to organize an equestrian escort. So we are immediately given a visit of the meadows, two palm groves further on, where three of our horses are grazing, wooden bells around their necks, tiny under the immensity of the rain-laden sky.

We are on the exact spot where the British bombarded the armies of Mohamed Abdullah Hassan led by the brave warrior Artane Boss.

Legend-wise, we have had our fill. All that remains is to share out the khat so as to receive the official greetings and requests from the extended family. Our fingers still smell of camel’s teat while I have the ceremonious speeches translated for me, holding a soft drink. They were to last over five hours, as we sat on the mats and the cushions of the Mabbrazz, sipping tea or chewing khat with little enthusiasm: Youssouf Ahmed Farah, Farah Elmi Ali, Abdi Douhalé Arab Salah Ismaê etc….all with the patronymic of Syad.

In the scent of cardamom tea, I am reminded of a little incident a few days earlier. A caravan of half a dozen camels, loaded up for a long journey, was passing by in the distance. A cousin cried out: “A Syad caravan!” before dashing in front of the nomads heading out. The animals in front braked suddenly, and the halt rippled down the line to the last camels bedecked with the domes and pegs of the traditional tents. The entire caravan moved closer to us while a laden donkey in heat took advantage of this Syad reunion to bolt off and join a she-*** with two foals at her side on the other side of the road. We all laughed.

“We lack medication for humans and livestock alike. Your parents brought us good fortune and you share their good name, so we will give you our blessing to encourage all your initiatives. The family counts on your knowledge and your relations. Thank you for coming so far to make our acquaintance.”

Their fine, soulful voices and watery eyes haunt me during the journey back. The “meccan” or ecstasy attributed to the khat makes the speeches increasingly eloquent, each orator taking care not to repeat the arguments of his predecessor. The many Syads talk of water pumps, Norwegian aid, the stormy coexistence with the neighboring clans, the oil they have managed to drill at a place called Hol Hol in J.S. country…then, without drowning these fine words, rain begins to pour.

Along the way back, the genealogical bush has been transformed into lakes. The wadis, dry on the outward journey, have become roaring torrents.

By good fortune, a taxi with four wornsmooth tires takes us across the Ogo mountains between two downpours. Flats and breakdowns were to come later. When night falls, we are washed up on the banks of a dried-up riverbed, now a raging surge of water.

I think of my fundamentalist cousin, the bearded J.S. from Yiroowe, who prevented Rachid from taking photos of the women of the household. He would do it himself. On arrival, we are presented with a series of very sharp photos of all the women in veils!

Apart from a few wizened faces, the only other women we see are veiled. It had not always been this way.

I think of my mother, my aunt and my grandmother, and their open, radiant faces.

We have abandoned our useless vehicle for another truck.

The moon rises over flooded landscapes, a bush under water, flocks of sheep washed away by the rising waters.

A counsel of men, the ultimate “shir,” has quickly gathered near the raging waters.

I think of William Syad, the “borderline African, the African of the Orient like the Queen of Sheba,” as his godfather and mentor Léopold Séddar Senghor defined him. The poet had invented nothing: we truly have a kingdom! Land, horses, shecamels — all held in common.

And while we ford the rising waters of the river, I cannot help asking myself, thinking of other legends, if the Queen of Sheba, our distant ancestor, also wore the veil in her kingdom?

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