An immense white tide lights up before the eyes; a shimmering sea that vanishes into infinity.
It is a dazzling light reflected by every tiny crystal that shines like the most precious diamond.
In this no man’s land, Sherif bends his back hundreds and hundreds of times every day to give shape to the block of salt in a way few people know.
The origin of this ancestral movement is lost in the mists of time: back when a slab of salt was a replacement for money, and each ganfur had to be cut to perfection.
None of these men still knows its origin today, but the fear that one day all this will disappear is as palpable and sharp-edged as a salt crystal.
Sherif has coal-black skin; his hands are like boulders, not stopping for even a moment.
Each cut slab is a piece of bread earned, a fragment of life conquered – and in these parts, life is worth just as much as salt.
Every morning on the plain, the light is blinding and the heat is suffocating, but Sherif and his companions work tirelessly: they split, lift, cut and load the salt.
The dromedary caravan crossed the riverbed to reach this place accompanied by the caravan driver’s chant, a melody so sweet and melancholic that it resounds like an echo in the vastness of the plain.
Sherif doesn’t have a beautiful voice and doesn’t know the caravan’s song, but he has strong arms and hands like boulders.
“Each cut slab is a piece of bread earned, a fragment of life conquered – and in these parts, life is worth just as much as salt.”
I have a special relationship that has tied me for many years with Danakil and with the Afar people. I was lucky enough to experience the magic of this place. I followed the caravans along the Saba river while they were carrying the blocks of salt. I learned about fragments of the lives of many of the people who work in the salt plain. Each of them has incredible stories to tell about this tough and hard-to-imagine life. There are dozens of cutters like Sherif, who spend their days always making the same movement. A gesture whose origins are lost in the mists of time.
Massimo Bicciato, photographer and traveller.