Monday, June 22, 2009

Tuareg Hygiene

When my two dogs have emptied their plates, they go lick each other’s. Hygiene is of course of no concern to them. And why should it, if it’s not an issue for so many people?

This reminds me of a scene that I was unable to photograph because it made me laugh so uncontrollably that, to avoid offending anyone, I had to move away.

It happened while I traveled with a Sahara Tuareg salt caravan. One man discovered before sitting down with his eight companions around a bowl of millet gruel that he had lost his spoon. I offered him the use of mine, but he rejected it as being too small. It was a metal table spoon. The other men had all larger spoons carved out of wood. If he used my spoon it would leave him at a disadvantage. He would be eating less than the other men. Those men worked way too hard for anyone of them to be forced to eat less than his already meager portion. But they had a ready solution. They simply passed their spoons around the circle. After each man had eaten a spoonful of millet, he passed his spoon to the man to the right, and took the one coming from the man to the left. And on and on until emptying the bowl. What was so comical was the matter-of-factness with which they did it.

Poor Tuareg! They have so little water, and it’s always so far from camp, that they can rarely bathe. I once saw them cool a dirty feverish baby in a big wooden bowl of water, after which they returned the used water to the drinking-water goatskin.