Bahai beach

Friday, January 19, 2007

Bahai Beach 37

Bahai Beach 37

January 18, 2007

Yellow Nile

Today I was very lucky to meet an American linguist and missionary in the plane. We started talking and he explained that for the last 5 years he had been working on studying Zaghawa language. As a result he had just released a 1500 word dictionary French-Zaghawa. An English copy will be released soon. He also had a booklet of proverbs and an approach to write Zaghawa in three different ways (as it has no alphabet):

1. Roman spelling
2. Use of Arabic scriptures
3. Use of the camel marking used by the Zaghawa

It was all the more exciting for me as Osman Imam, our Health Administrator in the camp had been trying to develop an alphabet for Zaghawa in the eighties. But he abandoned the project as it was too complex. I am sure he will be over the moon.

And I thought about the teachers they lack teaching materials in their own language. They must be excited to be able to teach their own language. For all the right reasons Zaghawa are proud of their heritage. Or the nurses who now have a way to better understand the ailments the refugees have in the camp. Language brings you so much closer to others. And many of the women and children are not proficient in Arabic so they may suffer to express their worries and pains.

While the plane struggled through heavy sandstorms I was given a crash course on Zaghawa history. Apparently since the Nubian times they have been around. As fisher men mind you on the border of the Yellow Nile. What is now the Wadi Hawa or the dried up riverbed running through Chad into Sudan. Even 3 decades ago the river bed was teeming with life. Trees and animals but lately it has become as dry as the surrounding desert. Imagine fish jumping out of the river, giraffes strolling bye food aplenty and compare that to present days’ harsh environment.

As the river dried up the Zaghawa ancestors moved to different locations. Jebel Moon in Sudan and Kanem in Western Chad were two sites. Even today they can understand each other although the Westerns became market men (and therefore despised by the people from the East). In the East they became warrior nomads with huge amounts of cattle and later camels. By nature they enforced themselves into a position of lording over others. Even today you can start to understand why even though only 1 % of Chad is Zaghawa they still rule the country! The toughness and ruthlessness which is required to survive the desert environment on can see oozing through.

Zaghawa men are said to be afraid only of women laughter and songs. Picture this; Every time a young man enters a room all women present sing a song about how he got wounded in battle, in the back… A clear sign he was not a hero. Or having to hear your whole life that you were not brave enough to steal a camel as dowry (this is custom for the braver members of the tribe)

The same men that attack any animal without fear, who battle until the last man standing have shaking knees when their women sing.

As our plane landed in between copious amounts of sand being swept around us we awaited the arrival of a second plane. It circled the airport three times but due to lack of visibility they had to return to Abeche.

We were lucky. On arrival I rushed straight to my chooks. A head count and it seemed 5 youngsters were missing. Only later in the day after a search of the compound I located all of them. Phew a good moment. And we now have to black kittens with blue eyes.

Tomorrow I can return to the camp. I cannot wait to see. It is 4 degrees at night and I hope all people have warm covers to sleep. Stories need to be shared with Osman, Adam, Zahara and the others. Finally I have laptop with functioning DVD player so I can show them the CBS 60 minutes piece. Also we have a visitor Melissa, media expert who will do some interviews, make some photos and explain the working of a camera so the project of the photo exposition may take of.

All of you a good night,



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Anonymous Marilyn said...

As I sit here in California reading your words, it strikes me yet again how utterly remarkable this technology is. Glad your plane landed safely. So much fascinating information in this post, particularly about Zaghawa men fearing their women's laughter and song. Reading your post, I can see how Africa and her people and cultures might be a place that could get under one's skin...and stay there. Look forward to reading about your return to camp...and hold hope that those there have sufficient covering to stay warm.

10:34 AM  
Blogger duxiangjun said...


Language will also give you clues about the people view illness and discomfort. Well done, my friend. We always have what we need if only we look around us:-) As the Chinese would say, "You flight was 'yuan-fen." In other words, a date with destiny!
Your Chinese (American) friend,
(Du xiang jun)

2:30 PM  

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