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17

Although, no man's land? That is not true. This remote area is the home of the

Afar

, a nomadic tribe that has lived here for

thousands of years. The Afar don't have the best reputation. They are combative and solitary, but when we see the harsh con-

ditions they have to spend their days in, we understand their outlook on life. Their main source of income is salt mining. Here,

is where we find the enormous dromedary convoys of this morning again. The Afar chop salt plates with simple hammers and

pickaxes from the salt crust and use those same primitive tools to turn them into squares of 50 by 50 centimetres. Seeing

them work squatting down, unprotected in the blistering sun, their dark and stringy bodies devoid of any fat, their hands and

feet burned from the brine and their faces marked from the hard labour, we can only bow in respect for this strong tribe.

Anyone who can make a living in these barren conditions is truly a survivor. As the men are slaving away, the dromedaries

and donkeys are quietly standing around, snoozing. They are resting while they can, because they know what's coming. At

the end of the day, the salt squares are hoisted onto the backs of the animals - on average 20 per animal, corresponding

to a load of 100 kilogrammes. Fully loaded, they start the long journey into the inhabited world. It will take them six days to

reach Mekele, where the white gold of the desert is processed and traded.