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The Kids of Kouba Olanga

We saw it shimmering in the desert heat. A tiny squat building that reminded me of the more elaborate buildings constructed by the Dogon people of Mali further west. Rising from the rippled sands of the Sahara, the building immediately caught my eye. We had arrived in the tiny hamlet of Kouba Olanga, near the border of Niger in northern Chad. Describing Kouba Olanga as a town was always going to be a stretch. Essentially it is a scattering of nomad huts constructed temporarily between squat adobe buildings that are weathering the wind and sand.

I sunk to my knees in the powder sand to photograph this building, the most intact example of Chadian vernacular architecture in the area and suddenly I felt myself being approached. Two small children had seen me from their nomad hut and decided to come over to see what I was up to. Initially I feared the worst. After all, we had been met with so much scepticism and fear during our travels in Chad, a country that rarely sees tourists, let alone photographers. As they approached, their faces broke into smiles. I was hooked. I instantly rose up and went to say hello.

We struck an instant connection so I asked if I could take some photos.

And as I did so, other children approached from their huts nearby.

Joining the little girl in orange was another wearing a black hijab

When I showed them my photos of the building behind them they both ran off towards it motioning me to photograph them with the building!

Very soon I found myself becoming the Saharan Queen of the Kids and I was mobbed.  I’ve never minded these situations.  I love children and exercising a bit of crowd control for me is often more fun than frustration.

I quickly discovered I had some favourites amongst them, including this little boy who I thought looked like a miniature man of the desert.

And then came this beautiful little girl who I got so caught up with photographing, shots of her dominated my entire time in Kouba Olanga.

In the end, I wasn’t sure who was having more fun – me or them.  It was one of the best mornings I experienced in Chad with people.  Sadly it was all in the harshest light but I am hatching plans to return to Kouba Olanga with some intrepid photographers who are willing to cross the sands of a trackless Sahara with me to photograph some of the most remote and isolated people in the world.


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