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The calm is followed by the storm

Wire-Camp — 2000-05-29

The morning starts quite relaxed. I’ve just finished taking down the tents and packing everything, when Jo and Tanja take the camels to the loading place. Suddenly, some horses appear on the clearing. They stop, snort, look anxiously in the direction of the camels and soon decide to take to their heels. Istan is now also frightened and leaps ahead in panic. Jo and Tanja try to calm him down, but he doesn’t listen, on the contrary, he bangs into the four mates in front of him with the whole weight of his body, they now panic, too, and try hard to get away. Jo leads Sebastian and has difficulty holding him by the nose and guide leash. Coming up to a tree, he and Kadesh go to pass it on the left, while Hardie, linked to Kadesch, and his followers Jafar and Istan run off to the right. The situation that seemed harmless at first quickly gets critical. I am too far away to interfere and be of any assistance to Jo and Tanja. The neck-connecting rope tightens around the tree and Hardie bellows as if being slaughtered. The rope around his neck is obviously choking him, because meanwhile he is running ahead to the left while Sebastian and Kadesch run ahead to the right. Jo is in an alarming situation because she would like to simply run over Sebastian. Actually she should let go of the guide leashes, but that would jeopardise the life of Hardie, who is being more and more strangled by the rope.

Jo’s reaction is extraordinary. She leads Sebastian back in a sharp curve to the left thus taking away his speed making his circumvent the tree from behind. Instantaneously, the rope around Hardie’s neck slackens, because all the camels are now on the right side of the tree. “We must undo Istan’s rope” I call excitedly, because he still behaves like a madman. Jo hands over Sebastian to me in order to detach Istan’s neck line. But he does his level best to ignore me and I have to muster all my strength to hold on to the nose and guide leash. Suddenly Kadesch comes up as well. I desperately try to keep control over these two big animals, and during this battle I fell a pungent pain in the small of my back. A short while later, Jo and Tanja have detached all the camels from one another and tied each to a tree. I lead Sebastian to the loading place and make him sit. To make sure that everything is okay with Tanja I have a quick look around, and just in this very instance, Sebastian leaps up again and my little finger, once before dislocated by him, gets stuck in his halter. Another piercing pain passes through me and takes my breath for a moment. I make Sebasian sit down again, and when Jo comes to help me fix the leg ropes, both my back and finger joint ache like hell. “Well done.” I praise Jo and Tanja for their brilliant reaction. Ignoring my aches and pains, we now begin with the loading. I have a hard time tightening the belly straps, but I cannot let myself go now. Finally, all the camels except for Istan are loaded. Unfortunately he is making trouble again. He virtually throws himself on his side to make sure the horse monsters are not jumping at him from behind. We try to calm him down, but there is no use. Jo proposes that should he ever do that again, I should keep him pressed down by the saddle to prevent him from rising. "In this position, a camel is most vulnerable. While you are holding him down like that I’m going to slightly smack him on the belly with my flat hand. This will be a lesson to him, and we can be sure that he’ll stop playing this game on us. Only minutes later, he indeed throws himself onto his side again. I hurry towards him and, fighting the extreme pain in my back, hold him down by the saddle in this vulnerable exposure. Jo is there at once and smacks him on the belly. Istan has no chance of getting up, rolls his eyes and puffs. Moments later I release him and he stands up.

After our experience on previous expeditions, especially in Pakistan, watching how brutally the camelmen there beat their animals to break their will, I enthuse over Jo’s painless and sensitive way to handle the problem. Certainly, Istan didn’t like being held down, but he didn’t take any harm, either. On the contrary, it is highly dangerous if a camels lies down on his side in the loading process, because it can easily squeeze a person do death with his weight.


Notwithstanding the difficulties we are ready to go at 11:30 a.m. and leave the clearing. The strong wind that blows against us today aggravates our march. An hour later, Jafar decides to plainly sit down in the middle of walking. As a result, Hardie’s neck rope gets extremely tightened. He roars like a lion, but he cannot stop because he is tied to Kadesch. Jafar is being dragged along for a few metres before he gets back on his feet again, bellowing in agony. All this happens so fast that Jo has no chance to stop the caravan in time. As we walk on we notice that with his stupid action the inexperienced Jafar has strained his ankle, he limps a bit. I feel like tearing my hair. Sebastian’s knee has just barely healed up, and now this! We examine Jafar and come to the conclusion that it’s just a minor strain. Again, we have to pass through a river. To our dismay we discover a number of dead sheep that are scattered here in a chaotic pattern. The air is filled with the foul odour of decomposition. The camels get very nervous and want to go on. Everywhere I look I can see carcasses ripped open, most of them under the railway bridge that crosses the river. What the hell is going on here? At least a handful of the dead animals float in the water. We assume that a freight train has run into a flock of sheep and caused this disaster. I investigate the bridge and find it covered with entrails. In a hurry we leave this place of horror.

At 4:30 p.m. we cross another river. We reach the other side without any problems. Jo slowly guides the animals along the river bank. I follow her and suddenly notice Kadesch striding over an old rusty barbed wire fence that lies flat on the ground. “Stop! Stop!” I scream. Jo reacts instantly, but by the time all the camels have come to a halt, Istan gets his foot caught in a wire loop that protrudes from the grass. Kicking wildly he tries to free himself from it, however without any success. In a flash I unpack my Leatherman and cut through one wire after the other, never stopping to talk to Istan with soothing words. I praise him with relief when he finally stops kicking and carefully approach his hind leg where the big wire loop hangs. I am well aware that a single blow of his would cause some serious injury, but what can I do? Taking great care I bend down and cut the sling with my pliers until his foot is free. “Okay!” I call and Jo leads the caravan on. Only some hundred metres further we discover a suitable site and erect our camp no. 7. My spirits are as low as ever. Agonised by all different kinds of pain, I set up the tents in slow motion. Everything happens as if in a trance. I pray to God that my back ache may subside. My shoulder, the chafing, my finger and more parts of my body do an outcry with my every movement. The days of rest are long forgotten and the doubt is back.

Day: 18






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