Water is life! On the grazing lands in the Horn of Africa, Somali men pull water from the earth for their livestock. Traveling across this arid country, one sees this timeless ritual at all the wells and watering holes. Being able to photograph these pastoralists depended upon their goodwill, a disarming manner on my part and a lot of luck.
Traveling through the scrub lands of Somaliland saying no more than a 100 words in a day is a psychically cleansing experience, if you don’t go crazy. In this acetylene lit landscape objects achieve a tangibility I’ve experienced only in certain deserts. Instead of being oppressed into insignificance by the vastness, the people exert themselves against it.
Mohammed, who was my Somali driver, and I had been traveling together for several days through the highlands of Somaliland. He was an ex-SNM (Somali National Movement) rebel who fought against the Siad Barre regime back in the late ’80s. As such, he was an ardent separatist and eager to show me the old battle sites where he engaged the foe. Here, he stands on top of a destroyed Russian tank, and fondly reminisced about blowing it up with four claymore mines strapped to a bridge.
As we worked our way back up the dry wadi, he looked around and wondered out loud if there were any mines that might have washed down into the silt. (“Oh, God is Great!”) Since he was my guide, I let him walk a good fifty paces in front of me and carefully stepped into his tracks, until we were on hard ground.
I’ve spent many years living, working and traveling in the Somali inhabited areas of the Horn of Africa. You learn a lot about yourself when you enter into another culture. I like this photo because the young herdsman regards me with that look of “who are you?” Which just about sums up my whole relationship to this tough, proud pastoralist people.