Chapter 20: Chapter 4, Episode 4: Sahel
After World War II, a frenzy of independence broke out in Africa. Neither Europe nor the neighboring African countries wanted the Tuareg to achieve independence because they felt that they were overly militant people. It was an absurd reason, but it was a testament to the Europeans fear of the Tuareg.
The Tuareg tribe invariably lived to trade and farm, as they came under the control of those they had once enslaved. All that was left for them was their wounded pride.
The captain recalled the information regarding Ombuti that he had received from the DGSE:
Has the status of Imoharen amongst the Tuareg tribe of the Sahara.
Born into the northern Kel Ayr of Niger.
Lived in Bilma, Niger with his parents until he was 10 years old.
Lost his parents in a surprise attack by the Tubu Tribe and was adopted by a man of Imrad status who worked as a camel peddler.
Began his camel caravan at 20 years old.
The route crossed over Bilma, Niger and Paya Largo, Chads oasis city, following the northern Sahel region.
Became rich by selling gold products.
Married at the age of 25.
Lost his wife and 13-year-old daughter in an attack by FAP guerrillas, at age 38.
His wife and daughter were raped before they were killed.
He organized a militia with the Tuareg tribe to get revenge.
He lost against the FROLINATs Habib army in the Tibesti Joura region.
Unstable gait because he was shot in the knee during combat, but there is no difficulty in his activities.
While he was being chased by the FROLINAT, he was captured by DGSE and began working as a slipper.
Knows the topography of Nigers and Chads middle regions well due to his work as a camel caravan peddler.
A Class A local agent due to his many native connections.
As a bearer of Imoharen status is proud and responsible.
A high-class warrior who calls himself Imohag (a person of elegance).
Make sure he is not offended during the operation.
“As you can see, this Ombuti fellow is a guide. He is a Tuareg warrior and aristocrat. Treat him like a comrade.”
Paul revealed to his team members that Ombuti was the Tuareg tribes Immoharen and asked them to respect him.
Ombuti simply lifted the hem of his litam during the meal to eat. The team members couldnt see him chewing the food. It looked so uncomfortable that the onlookers felt disturbed.
“Black Mamba, that looks very uncomfortable,” Jang Shin commented.
“Didnt Chinese women of the middle ages consider their bare feet shameful, as shameful as revealing their private parts So just think of it as something along the same vein.”
Jang Shin nodded. The environment and culture were different. Outsiders would not easily understand the peculiar behavior of aboriginal rituals and customs.
After the meal, Chartres briefed the team on the Tuareg culture. He was fluent in the culture and history of African tribes; it was why he was chosen to be part of this operation.
The Tuareg upper class were Arabs. They were called “Ilalan,” the freemen. The Ilallan were divided into the ruling class called “Imoharen” and the servant class called “Imrad.” Imrad also consisted of freed slaves who had blood of the freemen mixed in with theirs.
All Imoharen were warriors. The Imrad lived under their protection and engaged in farming and ritualistic practices.
The lower class was made of black slaves called Iklan. The Iklan were distributed to the Imrad to be used as farmers or to cultivate date palms in the oasis.
The Imoharen were warriors and never worked. All they did was cover their faces with the litam and wield a Shamshir.
The Tuareg were a matriarchal tribe and, unlike other Arabs, adhered to monogamy. However, the Tuareg living near the Sahel didnt have such a clear class system.
The tribe living in the Sahara, on the other hand, maintained a thorough social hierarchy stricter than Indias caste system. It was an unusual case for Ombuti, an Imoharen, to work as a camel peddler.
Black Mamba stared at Ombuti with a curious eye as he prayed toward the northwest. The Tuareg were 99-percent Muslim. Ombuti was also a devout Muslim who performed five salats every day.
He had seen Muslims doing a salat in France. They pressed both of their hands to the sides of their heads and mumbled as they prayed. It was still a strange sight to watch even after witnessing it several times.
Ombuti gave the team members a white gandoura and litam. A gandoura was a traditional Tuareg dress that looked like a scroll.
Black Mamba flung the gandoura around himself and tied the baggy arms with a belt. He had been able to guess how to put on the gandoura, but the long rope-like litam was difficult to wear by approximation. He grabbed the litam and looked at Ombuti with his eyes. His gaze meant: “Would you be able to wear the hanbok if I threw it at your face”
Mike voiced his complaints.
“Why do we need to dress like robbers Just let us wear a mask.”
“Mike, this is an Arab nation. Do you want to advertise yourself as a member of the special forces”
Mikes complaints were immediately shot down by the Captain.
Ombuti summoned Emil as an assistant to demonstrate. Emil soon became a Tuareg Iklan. When he put on gandoura and covered his face with the litam, he couldnt be distinguished from the natives.
Black Mamba felt uncomfortable hiding his face in the middle of a war zone. Covering his ears and nose dampened his senses. He wrapped his face according to the demonstration, but he left out his ears and eyes.
Ombuti smiled at Black Mamba wearing the litam haphazardly. His expression looked as if he was seeing a housewife placing silk clothes into the washing machine.
Bzzz— Zzzz— Zzz—
A frighteningly large swarm of flies appeared. Black Mamba became frightened. It was only after the onslaught of flies that he understood Ombutis expression. There were many kinds of flies: flies that were smaller than a grain to flies that were larger than flesh flies. The flies flew into any opening. Like Ombuti, he wrapped the litam more firmly around his face leaving only his eyes out. He also wore goggles.
“Why are you wearing blue Were wearing white.”
Ombuti laughed at Mikes dissatisfied question. No, it looked as if he was laughing. He had covered his entire face, so they didnt know whether he was laughing or crying. They simply assumed that when the eyes turned thin, he was laughing.
“Blue can only be worn by the Imoharen. Commoners wear yellow or white.”
“So youre saying youre a noble, and Im a commoner” Mike asked as if he was going to bite.
“I dont know if youre a commoner, but Im certain Im a noble.”
The answer came out so easily. It was as if he was stating that a chicken had two legs and a dog had four legs. At his confidence, everyone felt resigned. Ombuti continued talking.
“This operation is secret. Shouldnt we avoid the attention of the aboriginal people and the FROLINAT Or am I wrong”
“What does the color of our clothes have to do with it”
Ombuti looked at Mike with a distant expression. His eyes were full of desire to firmly bash the black guy who kept on aggravating him.
“Blue is the color of a Tuareg warrior. Its not like it used to be, but the Sahara and Sahel regions still have famed reputations attached to a Tuareg warrior. If a large number of people flock together in blue attire, aboriginal people will become chaotic. They have a deep-rooted fear of our tribal warriors.”
“Ha. It should be notorious reputations, not famed.”
“Mike, if youre too thick-headed to understand, then shut your mouth. This is a real situation.” The captain shouted at Mike and his useless comments.
The captain and the rest of the team fully understood Ombutis explanation. There was nothing good in attracting the eyes of the enemy. The gandoura and litam were indispensable items for camouflage purposes, wind, and direct sunlight. The Sahels direct sunlight was intense enough to burn and blister exposed skin at once.
“Ombuti, this is my first operation in Chad. Same for my subordinates. The first destination is Korotaro. Could you explain how to get there”
“Lets see the strategic map.”
Ombuti peered into the map for some time, smirked, folded the map, and handed it back to the captain.
“This map was created by the French army 20 years ago. Its useless.”
“Youre saying the strategic map is useless” Mike shouted.
Ombuti wordlessly pulled out an oily paper from his chest in response to Mikes shout. When he unfolded the paper, a thin hide that had been folded several times appeared. When that was unfolded, a large map of about three feet in length and width appeared.
It was a handmade map made from vellum, a high-quality material made from cow skin, with silver and velvet that had been engraved into it with a bulls horn. It was an amazing map that detailed the deep sand plains amongst the steppe, the rocky regions of the Erg, Wadi where water had dried, and the grasslands. It also had a detailed, informative drawing of the oases in Niger and Chad, as well as the sizes of villages. It was a million times better than the strategic map Team Ratel used.
The teams eyes widened. The details, and of course the antique value of the map itself, were impressive.
“Wow, to think Im seeing a map drawn on a hide, something that only appears in fairy tales,” Black Mamba said admiring it.
“A great map. I think it will help a lot with this operation,” the captain noted with sincere admiration.
“I inherited it from my stepfather. He drew it based around the French military-assigned map. I have added details while traveling around the northern regions for 20 years.” Pride flickered in Ombutis face.
“You added additional human geography and terrain and continued to update it.” The captain exclaimed.
It was a living map. It held great tactical value.
“Yes, all camel caravans have their maps. Desert predators, when attacking, first steal that very map. In the desert, maps are the most valuable items although water rivals that value very often.”
Ombutis map also had no cities or roads north of the Kanem province. That was not much different from military maps. If there was anything different from the military map, it was that the towns locations were in silver, and the Wadi and valleys were in blue.
Black Mamba pointed to a vast area from the northern Kanem province to southern Tibesti.
“Why havent you marked anything here”
“Do you mark rocks, sand, and grass on the map” Black Mamba was shocked at Ombutis response.
“Seems like this person is more offending than he looks,” Black Mamba thought.
He was aggressive to the point that he was comparable to Mike.
“There is no mountain, no river, no city, no road. Just rocks, sand, and bushes. Of course, there are many empty places. This is somewhere I have never been.”
Black Mamba found it hard to understand Ombutis words. The terrain of Korea was minuscule. If there was a mountain, there was a river; if there was a river, there was a field, and if there was a field, there was a village. Korea was connected from city to city.
Black Mamba, a Korean native, found it hard to understand the vast wasteland, grassland, and desert. At that moment in time, he didnt even know that he would come to experience that harsh region himself.
Ombutis mottled, thick fingers moved around the map. The skin was peeled off because of the intense sunlight, revealing the dermis.
“Muharib (warrior), I do not know the whereabouts of The Raccoon. The Bodele lowlands are too large to be searched with these numbers.”
At Ombutis words, the captain waved his hand in denial.
“Ombuti, do not call us Muharib, call us by our names. What exactly are the Bodele lowlands”
Even the captain, who was a lieutenant and spent 10 years in North Africa, knew little about Chad. It was even darker than the darkest lands.
The dark land here was not an indicator of racial or geological character but a political and economic characteristic. Chad was a country with no presence in the international community. It was less developed than Congo or Zimbabwe, which were infamous for poverty. Of course, they were all the same third-world countries where the difference in poverty was laughable.
“I see. Ill call you by your name if you want. The Bodele lowlands are wetlands. This is where Lake Chads water flows underground.”
“What The water from Lake Chad, 630 kilometers away, flows into Bodele ” Astonished, the captain refuted Ombutis words.
“The water of Lake Chad flows into Bodele through a groundwater channel called Bahr el Ghazal. The current Lake Chad is only 3000 square kilometers in diameter, but it is said to have been over a million square kilometers, 10,000 years ago.”
“I cant believe it!”
“I also cant believe it. Geologists say that the Bodele region was once a part of Lake Chad. So it remains a marsh although it is turning into a desert, too.”
“Wow, a lake over 700 kilometers! Seems like Lake Baikal isnt going to measure up.”
“What is the width of the Bodele lowlands I cant guess from the map.” The captain asked with a serious expression.
“Nobody knows exactly. Roughly 30,000 square kilos. Youll understand if you think of it as a wasteland with developed playa. Do not expect farmland or forests because there is no water. In the past, there were many swamps, but, now, most of them are dry. There are no plants or animals. There will be a lot of flies and mosquitoes.”
As Black Mamba heard the explanation, he became unsure about the harsh environment and unprecedented geography. How could it be so different from Korea
The distance between Seoul and Busan was 400 kilometers. If the daily difference in temperature exceeded 15 degrees Celsius, people unable to cope with the difference would emerge everywhere in Korea. In Africa, thousands of kilometers were discussed in a single conversation, and a daily change between 20 to 30 degrees Celsius was common. Additionally, they said that they had to search for The Raccoon somewhere in 30,000 square kilometers. It was something to be scared of.