18 August 2010

Abd el Hai: Henri de Monfreid


K.S. Anthony said...

Mashallah...ou...Dieu le veut. Ça depend.

Regardless, they don't make them like that anymore.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for bringing this gentleman to my attention: I have just ordered the book: Pearls, Arms and Hashish.

In the 1980s, on a business development trip from Houston to Washington, D.C., to meet with the World Bank, my firm was presented with the prospect to bid on a geothermal development project in Djibouti. The country was probably a little more worn when compared to the days of de Monfreid, but it still was an exciting place, albeit very hot.

When our project team arrrived at the aiport along with French expatriate school children
who were traveling to spend the summer holidays with their parents, I remember thinking that the scene was out of the movies, since several of the fathers were French naval officers dressed in white shirts and shorts with knee socks.

The Port of Djibouti, which served as a French naval station, had a steady traffic of dhows connected to the qat trade between Djibouti and Yemen. The Red Sea traffic in the area, in terms of vessels and contraband, probably hadn't changed much from the time of de Monfried.

While traveling to the geothermal drilling location, which was a harsh landscape of small and densly-packed volcanic boulders, our touring caravan of Toyota Land Cruisers passed France's rapid deployment force conducting war games: In the mix was the last active detachment of the Foreign Legion.

Either before or after our encounter with the Legion, we stopped at a walled oasis that was situated on a route to the coast for donkeys carrying coffee beans out of Ehiopia. On a hill above was what appeared to be an old fortified compound. I wonder if de Monfreid ever visited this place?

One evening, later in the month, as the sun was setting during my second trip to submit the bid that we had prepared in Aberdeen, Scotland, I vividly remember standing beside a road in Djibouti, as a French tank lumbered by, while our agent's assistant told me that, "Anything is possible in Africa."

I was a young man, with a bit of the boy still in me, and all of the above and more made quite an impression.