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  • Writer's pictureDavid Clancy

Field Update: A Journey Into the Ennedi

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

I’m grateful I had the chance to spend time in this breathtaking region, learning from the original custodians of our beautiful planet.

I’ve had to go deep into the archives to figure out how this all came to life. Just over one year ago, I was standing in a narrow canyon somewhere in northeastern Chad. In the faint distance, I could hear the approaching march of dozens of camels on their daily walk to find water in the Guelta D’Archei. Their cries sounded like dinosaurs.

The Guelta D’Archei in all its beauty.

Of all the places I’ve had the chance to visit around the world, the time spent in this valley has stood out the most. The uniqueness of this part of the world continues to leave me speechless.

I became fascinated with this region called the Ennedi ever since reading an article by travel writer Sophy Robert. She described in detail how her journey to this desert left her with a feeling of immense awe.

I knew I had to make the journey for myself. I had heard about a woman named Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, a Chadian climate activist who is now world renowned for defending Indigenous peoples’ rights in the face of climate change.

Climate activist Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim.

We spent several more months brainstorming a documentary concept where she would accompany us to visit local communities and learn about how they are mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change.

More months go by, yet we still haven’t locked in funding or tackled the logistical challenges of how to make this expedition a reality. However, only a few months before our scheduled departure, everything started to come together. For this production, I arranged to have two South African cinematographers join me: Zander Botha and Rudolph de Girardier.

Flying over the endless sand dunes of the Sahara.

To get to Chad, we first had to fly from Cape Town to Paris and then back down again.

After more than 24 hours of travel, we arrived in N’djamena, Chad’s capital. It took more than 5 days of preparations before we finally set off on our journey northbound.

This is where the story gets interesting. Let me give you some numbers. Three Land Cruisers, 16 people (all Chadian except us), several goats and chickens tied onto the roof at any given time, and more than 3,000km of sand ahead of us. The biggest surprise was the lack of space inside the vehicles.

Zander and Rudi looking rough about 48 hours into our drive.

We were so crammed that we could hardly move our arms. Our experienced drivers whipped the Toyotas at backbreaking speed, only halting for the prayer stops we made (five a day).

The drive had some arduous moments. Some of us got sick. Dust and sand was everywhere. Our muscles had nowhere to breathe. As we continued our journey north deeper into the Sahara, we tried to imagine what was awaiting us. But we knew we were in good hands with our local companions.

One of our land cruisers flying through the dust at sunset.

Our first stop was a place called Ounianga. Near the border of Libya, in the far north of Chad, it is home to a small community living around a half dozen lakes which happen to be the largest lake ecosystem in the Sahara.

We spent a few days with the community learning about how they are adapting to the changing climate by building tree belts to prevent desertification and also producing more vegetables through agroecology.

After a few days of visiting the people of these enchanted lakes, we drove onwards east inching towards the border of Sudan. The landscapes had become increasingly spectacular.

An example of the tree belt the locals have built on the shores of the Ounianga lakes.

I couldn’t hold in my excitement. We arrived in the famed Guelta D’Archei.

Chad’s Petra without the crowds. In fact, we were the only ones there.

Every day, hundreds of camels come here to drink in the only permanent waterhole for hundreds of kilometers. This oasis is a well-known pit stop for the desert nomads. The water is shared by camels, livestock, and humans alike. The Toubou nomads have lived here for millennial. We shared endless cups of tea with them and learned about what they do to survive in such a harsh environment.

Zander and Rudi making friends with the Mbororo people near Lake Chad

The people we met in Northern Chad are completely cut off from the rest of the world. Their government provides them almost no assistance for education, infrastructure, or medical care. Yet, they’ve been surviving off their balanced relationship with nature for thousands of years.

The western world has so much to learn from these communities. I’m grateful we had the chance to spend time in this breathtaking region, learning from the original custodians of our beautiful planet.

Stay tuned for more info about this special project with Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim.

Photos by David Clancy and RandomGood team.

Hindou and I celebrating the end of a long journey.

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