We camp in a brewery.
It does not look like any brewery I have ever seen before: a small oasis of doum palms, crawling with Afar men—lanky young boys, doddering grandfathers—who wander about, hacking at the trees with knives. An oasis of mad butchers.
Many of the young trees are decapitated, hacked down to nubs, to stumps. Beneath the open gashes hang cups made of old plastic water bottles. These catch the palms’ nectar, which oozes out slowly, melancholically, in a frothy drool. This viscous sap will be fermented for one week with the fruit of the palm itself. The end product looks like lemonade. It tastes sweet, fizzy. Each tree will surrender perhaps five gallons.
Hidden in this howling wilderness: a brewery of palm wine.
“It is very nutritious, even for children,” explains my camel guide Houssain Mohamed Houssain, who buys a large bottle or six for us. “You can put it in their sorghum cereal. It’s full of vitamins. That way, they don’t get malaria. The mosquitos bite them, but they don’t get the disease!”
An elixir Humphrey Bogart would approve of.