perjantai 10. toukokuuta 2013

Michael Asher: A Desert Dies

Michael Asherin matkakirja ilmestyi alunperin vuonna 1986, ja nyt se on saatavana e-kirjana: A Desert Dies (Master Publishing, 2013; ISBN 9789966052001).

Kirja kertoo Saharasta ja Sudanista kuivuuden keskellä, ja elämästä Saharassa vaeltavien kamelikaravaanien matkassa. Kustantajan esipuheessa kerrotaan tämän teoksen taustasta, siitä että se kuvaa hetkeä jolloin kuivuus ajaa vanhan elämänmuodon viimeiset edustajat perikadon partaalle:

From the start, readers are thrown into a world they are unfamiliar with, and together with the protagonist Omar, they learn the ways of the Kababish people in Sudan. It takes a poignant tone as the author reveals the degeneration of their culture by nature and urbanisation. A prolonged drought dries their oases, causing them to fight each other for resources. They are eventually forced to move into towns or else perish.

To quote the author, "Men wandered the ranges hungry and desperate. Women took the children to the cities. For the first time, the urban population saw proud Arab nomads begging in the streets. For the first time, they could no longer rely on their innate toughness and their ability to endure."

Kirja alkaa keskeltä kuivuuden riivaamaa maisemaa:

FIVE MINUTES AFTER MY PLANE touched down at El Fasher airport, I knew that something was wrong.

The rains had been due weeks ago, but the air outside the plane was dusty and dry, and the trees that stood on the edge of the runway were as stark as scarecrows. There was no water in the wadi that plunged down to the camel market, and the thorn bush that lined it was brittle and dead.

Asher ei ole ensimmäistä kertaa matkalla Saharassa, se ei jää lukijalle epäselväksi:

While working as a teacher in the Sudan for three years, I had spent almost all my spare time travelling and living in the harsh world of the nomads. I had ridden across the rolling Savannah of Central Kordofan and explored the then little-known country along the Chad border. I had journeyed with tribesmen of the Zaghawa and the notorious Bedayatt. I had suffered many setbacks: once, my camel had been taken, and on another occasion, I had been arrested by the police under suspicion of being a Cuban mercenary. Undeterred, I had set out again across the country of the Bani Hussaynbetween Gineina and Kutum, and from there had ridden through the Tegabo hills and penetrated into the narrow chasms of Iabal Meidob. [...]

Kamelin kuormaaminen ja kamelin selkään nouseminen ei ollut mikään helppo suoritus, tässä Asherin kuvausta hänen opettelemisestaan heimon tavoille:

Then he told me to fit my two saddlebags, one over each skin. 'Now fold up your canvas carefully and lay it over the saddle,' he said. 'Yes, that is the way. Now your sheepskin, with the head pointing towards you as you mount. Now the blankets, you fold them and lay them over the sheepskin. Then the saddle cushion. Good. Your water bottle comes next. Hang it over the saddle horn, then hang your shotgun on the right side so that you can grab it if there is trouble. You understand? If you fit the camel like that always, there will be no problems.' All this luggage made the saddle very high and hard to mount. It was necessary to step on the camel's withers with the right hand gripping the rear saddle horn. As soon as the beast began to stand up, the rider would hook his knee around the front horn and swing into the saddle as the camel reached full height. Trained camels tended to rise as soon as they felt the rider rest the slightest weight on them, and I had once seen an inexperienced rider break his arm when the camel rose suddenly in this way. The trick was to leap quickly and without hesitation, at the same time holding the headrope taut in the left hand so that the animal could not rise more than a few inches prematurely. It was a simple matter of timing.

Elämä uuden kulttuurin parissa ei ollut helppoa, toisenlaiseen elämänrytmiin tottuneelle:

Despite the sense of tranquility that engulfed me, there were inevitable times when the strangeness of the new culture weighed down on me like a heavy load. In the mornings, I hardly noticed the time passing, but the afternoons were vacant spaces in which the day stretched out like a desert to the far-off horizon of the night. I was not accustomed to idleness, and my body was still geared to the constant Stimulus of the town. I found that I had to make an effort to slow my body down to the ticking-over rate of the Arabs. They were never bored, and the words 'interesting' and 'boring' had no place in their vocabulary. If there was nothing to do, they merely retired into themselves, preserving their valuable energy for the next burst of activity. I had not yet learned to do this, and for a long time it remained my most difficult problem.

Ja vaikka Asher osasi Arabiaa, Kababish-heimon puhuma murre oli omanlaisensa eikä sen ymmärtäminen ollut helppoa, varsinkin heidän erityiseen elämäntapaansa liittyvän sanaston takia:

Language posed another problem. I spoke Arabic more or less fluently, but the Kababish spoke a dialect that I found difficult to understand. Not only was their pronunciation different, but they also used many words that were specific to their way of life and that only a nomad would have known. I set about learning as many of these words as I could, noting them down in my pocket-book in phonetic script, but the task was an unending one and the dialect seemed to get more difficult as I tried to pin it down.

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