Terjit Oasis: Greenery in the Heart of the Desert
(3 of 4)

Around three p.m., after the full ferocity of the sun had eased, I stroll to the village for a look around. The Land Rover is there, but there is no other sign of life. Some kids gather around me, especially a little girl who wants many lifts up, and more swing-arounds. The Land Rover is attended by the fellow who operates the park and prepares meals. He says “Tomorrow.” Perhaps it is a plot to keep us here and paying. So, back through the sea of heat to the cool oasis. As yesterday, we had the place to ourselves for the night. Yesterday I’d forgotten that Sunday was my chloroquine day, so this morning I remember to swallow my final pills. I have at last left likely malarial areas with none ahead, and have finished the four week trailer also.

Farewell to the “ugh days” after most of a year since resuming in Khartoum. Ampara goes off to seek today’s story even though the caretaker had said “No vehicles on Monday” and while she’s away, two fellows arrive and call to chat. They say they’re police officers, and would like a photo. Shortly after, they leave. Was this an inspection? Why only a flying visit if not? Ampara returns with the standard word: “Tomorrow.”

The rest of the day passes quietly, indeed very quietly as no other visitors turn up except for the local children wanting to splash in the pool. I wander about the shaded area downstream of our tent, where the stream is split amongst some small channels twisting their way past the date palms. There is also a more substantial channel along the cliff base, but it is not currently in use. The other channels are all on sand and their flow diminishes with dismaying rapidity.

I am unable to restrain myself from following the longest-reaching channel, and then removing obstacles to the flow and deepening the channel with a scrape of the foot, so that the water may reach yet further out into the thirsty sand. Alas, any augmentation of flow along my chosen channel means a corresponding reduction in flow along the neglected channels so that new areas fed are offset by previously-fed areas starved. No doubt the water soon sinks through the sand to seep along just above the bedrock. I don’t see any definite sign of piping to capture this flow, but perhaps the villagers just use a well down to the water table. Certainly, in the valley floor, there are scattered date palms.

Refuse-fed boiled Mauritanian goat

Lunch turns out to be rice, even though it was the turn of pasta as requested, with legs of boiled kid. Refuse-fed boiled Mauritanian goat is finally too much for me. A noxious throat-clenching cervine stench suffuses everything so that I couldn’t finish the rice even if I ignored the meat, which has flavored the rice anyway. I will make do with the dates.

In the late afternoon a group of Italians arrive, but otherwise we have the place to ourselves to lounge on the mattresses in the shade. However, all is not peaceful. We both have an argument with the caretaker, who asserts that the charge is each U700 a day, and a further U700 for the night as well, and that this has been the arrangement for twenty years. Ha ha ha. I suppose we should be thankful that he didn’t charge U700 for an afternoon too, but we’re annoyed.

Anyway, an early night, with guitar strummings nearby. The supposed transport for “tomorrow” is again a mirage when “tomorrow” becomes today, and of course there will be a shared taxi departing tomorrow, ha ha. We decide to wait in the village in the hope of having a chance at whatever vehicle does leave, and also to avoid the charge for the day. Today is extra dusty, and there is a thin high overcast, but away from the greenery the sun is nevertheless hot. We sit awhile under the thin shade of a thorn tree, repeatedly requested by villagers to come and have tea in their hut. “You can see the road from the window” they say, but you’d have to be lying at floor level to do so actually. Finally we agree, and while within being requested for “Cadeaux,” a pair of vehicles roll past. Grr.

So we decline all further entreaties and go out to sit in the sun and semi-shade. A black hosepipe runs nearby, containing near-scalding water. There is a multi-blade windmill a way off, and pipes snake across the village in an impromptu network. The joins are mere push fits, and no doubt there is some etiquette as to which sections are joined and which disconnected. More useful to me is that near the windmill is a large holding tank and a tap where children gather to fill various containers then stagger off with their burdens. Around one p.m. even the brats retire from the sun. Slowly, slowly, the day drags by.