How do people live in the Ethiopian salt desert.
Author's Note:This post is an excerpt from my large report on Ethiopia.
.. Under feet again crunches - but not black lava, but white salt. She covered the earth with a thick crust and lace flakes, many meters thick and kilometers around - to the horizon.
Our drivers drove here in the predawn twilight to catch the sunrise over the salt lake.
We had time.
This lake was once the bay of the Red Sea. And even repeatedly - the water then left, then returned. The last such ebb and flow occurred by geological standards just recently - 30,000 years ago. Each time, evaporating, the water left a thick layer of salt. According to various estimates, the thickness of deposits varies from 800 to 1000 meters.
But the connection with the sea has not been terminated to this day - just over a hundred kilometers away from here. Part of the sea water seeps underground, flowing into a giant hollow (this part of the desert is 110 meters below sea level) and forms an underground lake at a depth of 7m.And then the capillary effect works - water rises to the surface and evaporates, leaving a crust of salt.
During the day there is unbearable heat and blinding whiteness, like snow in the sun. The hot wind ruffles the water and splashes it far beyond the lake. But early in the morning the picture is completely different:
Not far from the lake, the Afar tribes produce salt in the same way that their ancestors used hundreds of years ago.
After the incidents in Addis Ababa, I did not venture to approach the camera to people, and indeed, looking at their work and the conditions in which they work, I simply found it unethical to turn around, making idle photos. Therefore, close-ups and details will not be here. Only from afar.
Afar inhabit northern Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia. This is quite a warlike tribe. Blood feud is a part of their culture, although it has decreased significantly lately. A few decades ago, a young man could not be considered an adult man until he killed at least one enemy. Salt mining is a traditional fishing for Afars, a way to survive in the desert. 1,200 square kilometers of land is covered in salt. In the past, it served as currency.
The nearest settlement to the salt mines is 2 hours of walking, and the workers make this journey through the desert every morning.
Work begins at sunrise, the shift lasts 6 hours, 6 days a week, 10 months a year - from November to March. The production process can be divided into three stages. First, a group of workers with axes cut down blocks in the salt layer and with the help of poles they pry them off from the ground. Then another group rolls off the pieces, giving them the shape of a square or a rectangle with a side of about 30 cm.
Each square takes 2-3 minutes, the worker receives for him 5 bir or 20 cents. The guide said that they earn up to 150 Bir per day. Either he confused, or I did not hear. Because then I found the story of a former employee, where he claimed that salt miners can process 100-150 tiles per day, which is substantially more than 150 bir. However, when he worked, they were paid 1 bir per tile. Maybe our guide has outdated data?
The average annual temperature in the desert is 34.4C, this is the hottest place on earth (summer record 48C in the shade, 63 in the sun). During my visit in February there were about 30. There is no shadow. Safety too. People work under the scorching sun, constantly turning the salt with their bare hands and breathing in salt dust. From food - only homemade hard bread and tea.
Salt elite - owners donkeys and camels. After all, the salt must be sold, i.e., delivered to the consumer, and at present it is done with the help of pack animals. They are humbly waiting in the sun when they are loaded on their backs with a load.
Have you seen a sleeping camel? This is a cool sight. I could not resist and walked him from all sides ...
..and accidentally woke up, to which he was not at all happy
Ready blocks of salt weigh approximately 4.5-6 kg each. On a camel ship 120-180 kg. Only males are used for this job.
Until 2012, caravans with salt made the 175-kilometer route to the city of Mekele in a week or a bit more. Half the way ran through the rocky desert and the camels all the time went without food and water. In such harsh conditions, each animal could be used only three times per season.
Today, with the construction of the road from Mekele to the desert, caravans go only to the transshipment base halfway down, it takes three days, half of which are along the canyon with the river and bushes. On this base, the camels unload and further salt are being transported by trucks - one machine can replace 300-350 camels. But many guides tend to feed old infoy tourists about the weekly transition - so it is more dramatic.
The question may arise: what prevents to mechanize the production and transport salt from the source immediately - is the soil strong enough and can withstand a heavy truck?
Yes afar themselves and interfere with such encroachments. Already there was an attempt by a large mining company to start industrial salt mining in 2011. But the clan leaders saw this as a threat to their ancient business and joined together to oppose the project. The company left their seats a year later, fearing sabotage of their equipment. Afar are categorically opposed to any mechanization, automation and industrial development of deposits, because it will deprive hundreds of people, especially camel owners.
And how beautiful such a deserted 'train' looks like when it moves smoothly in the pink rays of the setting sun.
Unfortunately, with the gradual development of infrastructure and the construction of roads, more and more foreign corporations see Ethiopia’s richest natural resources as potentially successful for investment and development. To date, three companies have already obtained licenses for the extraction of potash salt on the Afar land. One of them plans to produce 600,000 tons per year.So, in the place of those landscapes that you see in this post, careers will soon appear.
We spent the night in the very village where the salt-workers live.
Slept on these beds
Under the canopy of sticks
And in the morning the children came to us - to take pictures for money.
Do you want to see the rustic toilet? I do not mind
No, this is not the stall that is hung with torn plastic, but the one next to it. The one with plastic is a shower.
And this interior
But on the other parking there were monumental towers of the toilet under construction specially for tourists on 4 seats in the business class.
In the morning we were shown evidence of the existence of an underground lake. In one place a layer of salt over it turned out to be very thin and fell inward, giving water the opportunity to come to the surface. It turned out some kind of hole in the desert.
The water in it is dark green, oily to the touch and incredibly bitter-salty - the salt concentration in the underground lake is 10 times higher than in the Dead Sea.
This means that on the surface you can lay your heels out
By the way, pay attention to the outlines of the hole. Nothing like?
Typical landscape of saline land - "honeycomb"
These mountains are also composed of salt - potassium chloride. I checked. How? Yes, just licked. So what?
As before, in this region we were guarded with weapons. But, looking at our defender, I wanted to ask the question, is it convenient for him, if the need arises, to run along the salt pegs in a long skirt and sandals on bare feet?
The next night was in the open air on the shore of the next salty (more precisely - salted) Lake Afder.
Its water brine is also several times stronger than the Dead Sea, and local residents use such a piece: they put a skull or animal bones on the beach and leave it there until they are covered with salt crystals, after which they sell the artifact to tourists
In the morning, I found, near my bed (she with a green mattress), a naked negro sitting in water and drying panties in the wind.
Salt is also mined near this lake, but in a different way.
Water from the lake is pumped into pools dug in the ground and lined with plastic (see the pipe in the foreground?)
When the water evaporates, a layer of salt remains on the bottom.
This is the gutter through which lake water flows and pieces of salt removed from it.
A new portion of water is pumped into the pool with the resulting salt, mixed and pumped into the empty pool nearby. When this portion evaporates, the procedure is repeated.As a result, a layer of salt of 15-20 cm is deposited on the bottom, which the workers then hammer with pickaxes, chop up and put into small pyramids
The pyramids are then loaded onto cars and dumped into one large pile, which the dump truck then takes away.
The work is physically hard and exhausting in the heat. All employees are young, well-built guys.
This is generally handsome
Inject until the sun goes down
For hard labor receive 6-7 thousand Bir per month, it is about $ 220- $ 250. Which, according to the guide, on weekends they let down in a rustic pub with girls. Because there is nothing more to do here. And getting on this job is a great success.
In the evenings, the tired guys bake bread to take over the next day. A piece of dough is wrapped around a stone, which is previously heated in a fire. We were shown the dough and the fire, but there was no stone in it yet
Something is impossible for a child under one year old: useful and harmful products, superstitious bans