By Noel Ihebuzor
The small aircraft drifted down the scantily clad almost naked desert skies
The noise of engines banging at our aching eyes
It bumped as the hot desert winds punched and pushed its under belly
And then a thud and furious rush as we hit the stone and dust infested dirt strip of a run way
Stones and rocks and pebbles and dust rose and flew
as if in protest behind us as we taxied
and then the aircraft came to rest on this harsh, hard and sullen sterile desert
located in the middle of nowhere
Six four wheel drives stood at odds with the desert terrain….
and soon we commenced the drive to nearest town from Conoco, Garowe
Driving into town in an assorted and mixed convoy of aid workers, armed guards and security personnel
We passed malnourished shrubs
valiantly brandishing their thorny bristles
and sharp ends and keeping away sheep, goats and camel predators
in this intriguing fight for life in this arid,
thirsty, empty and sterile place where much life has flown
We passed a young shepherd boy angrily checking and herding his stubborn flock
brandishing a stick and controlling sheep, camels and restless goats.
We drove along a dirt road carved on the dry desert land
A road framed in a sterile, yawning and gaping desperate desert
We drove on a flat terrain cooked and roasted slowly by a heartless sun
Past waterless heaps of sand and stones, and dunes
In this place that screamed want and waste.
Soon we came across a fallen camel in its final sleep
its huge carcass still as it lay where it had fallen in its last and lost struggle
for life in this place of death
Its still and silent form still sang its last heroic but futile fight for life
As its parched throat, empty stomach and weakened body eventually emptied her body
and it yielded up its soul to the empty desert sky.
Even from the distance of time and space, I felt I sensed her last tear of pain and shame
as the harsh dry desert slowly and inexorably desiccated her body, spirit and soul.
The sun with the passage of time had roasted her flesh,
the harsh storms, the night winds, the eternally shifting sharp sands, stones,
the smaller inhabitants of this stony place,
all of these had stripped her flesh almost bare
baring her huge bones and her huge rib cage
leaving her white bones standing there,
exposed, whitened and bleached by the sun, by the stars
Two hundred metres further down the road as we hurried to Garowe,
we passed yet another whitened and whitening carcass,
still in death, arresting and strident by its presence and size….
and yet another, a kilometer further
Who will shed a tear for these fallen camels, who but their bereaved owners?
who will weep for the fallen ships of the desert,
drowned in heaps of hot and harsh desert sands?
Will any one remember them as they sleep in this empty space,
as they lie still and stilled in this place of want and waste?
Who will wail for these lost souls
when the ears of men and women have become deaf and numb
by the din of greed, stunted by the seduction of ambition
their consciences stiffened by the creed of greed, grab and material incontinence?
Who will bury these white bones whose presence troubles me so?
who will remove them from the eyes of my heart?
who will bury these huge white bones and many other white bones of waste and want that lie scattered in empty spaces and places?
The carcasses of waste and destruction sleep cheap in this place as in many others
where the creed is greed, greed the creed and thus fecund in death, stones and sterility.
The silenced souls and the fixed white bones speak loudly to me
bring moisture to my tired eyes
their awkward and precocious eternal sleeps gnaw
raw and savagely at the edges of my fragile conscience
and thaw tears frozen in the back of my skull.
They remind me of the dimming and dimmed voices of the weak
The hardly heard and often drowned voices of the frail and feeble
And the eternally ignored gestures of children and women struggling for life and air and some place in the light of life.
In their grotesque sleep of life and death, I see also the early sleep of children,
the pains and tears of harmless children who are harmed by the harshness of the strong
the agonies and empty deaths of all children who fall to the whims of the wicked
And the wicked who stand on the graves of the fallen
The sleeping camels conjure in my mind
future spectacles of soon to be enacted sleeps of the innocent
who will lie still in this place and other places of sand and stone,
Their souls parched, their spirits broken, their weak limbs crushed,
their paltry belongings looted as they scamper and scatter
and stoop and cower in polythene and card board hovels on the first stage of their journey to eternal
but early sleep
as silenced, they return to their silent creator
their frail frames framed in shallow and unmarked graves
****Written in Garowe in 2005 when I did humanitarain work in Puntland, Somalia
5 thoughts on “Conoco”
Wow, Noel. I did not want to fill up your comment area, so sent you an e-mail. This is incredible, incredible.
Oh and may I FB this?
Gladly! I will be honored!
Thank you–you honor me!
This is stunning Noel. So many rich and powerful lines that made this as real as anything I’ve ever read. My heart aches for this land…for the fallen ships of the desert and I cry as I read the pain and frustration and hopelessness not helped by the ‘looking’ but not ‘seeing’ world that allows this suffering of women and children at the very hands of the ones powerful and strong enough to help them. If this is the world you see regularly N, then my heart breaks for you too.
To read and feel the passion you have been able to hold onto, to nurture, while in such a place, cannot begin to suggest the true depth of what your writing reveals of your heart.