The Locust Curse

David Attenborough’s Planet Earth II continues to fascinate and instruct. Last week’s extraordinary footage of a locust swarm in Madagascar brought back horrific memories of the 2005 locust invasion in the Sahel, including our area of Burkina Faso. The locusts destroyed the crops of many thousands of people, prompted a huge relief effort (most of my work in Djibo that year was with the Red Cross and the World Food Programme) and inspired my second book Sophie and the Locust Curse, a story of creativity and resourcefulness in the wake of catastrophe.

“Watch out! The locusts are coming!”

A terrifying army of locusts is devouring crops in one village after another. Gidaado’s village is next. When the locusts arrive, Gidaado will need all his wits about him. He will need his friend Sophie, his three-stringed guitar, and an albino camel as fast as the harmattan wind.

How Chobbal the albino camel got his name

Fama is one of our neighbours here in Burkina Faso. She is eighteen and she makes a living from selling chobbal, which is porridge made from sour milk and millet. Every morning Fama gets up early and pounds millet in a wooden mortar until it is a fine flour. She mixes the flour with water and herbs and cooks it over a fire.

When the millet is cooked she leaves it to cool and forms it into balls (about the size of pool balls). She puts these millet balls in a calabash (a bowl made from the calabash fruit) and takes them from door to door. Each ball costs 50 African francs – that’s about 7 pence (10 cents). To make the chobbal, she simply mixes the millet balls with milk. She says it tastes better if you use yesterday’s milk rather than today’s.

Chobbal is delicious but it has a reputation for making you go to sleep. So don’t eat it at lunchtime if you’re working in the field or herding cows in the countryside.

I chose Chobbal as the name of the camel in Sophie and the Albino Camel. Like an albino camel, chobbal is an off-white colour – and very smelly!