We couldn’t carry water with us since we were in the Sahara (and on the road) for 18 days, so like everyone else in Chad (aside from those who live in N’Djamena, the capital city) we relied on wells for water. You know you’ve reached a well when suddenly there are animals. TONS of animals.

Camels, sheep, goats, donkeys, and cows GALORE. And they all self-segregate by species, and by owner. There’s a pecking order by which animals get to drink. It is based on how frequently they drink, more or less (and I guess by who gets there first, too). So for example, camels drink before goats, because camels only drink once every seven days, whereas goats drink every day. All the animals literally stand there waiting their turn, and they do so quietly and patiently. It is as adorable as it is fascinating.

Wells themselves, however, are rather chaotic and stinky. Children, who seem to do most of the shepherding in Chad (I was told children as young as age six are sent off alone with the family’s herds, usually for weeks at a time, to search for water and grass for the animals, surviving on camel’s milk and fruit they find in the desert), use camels and donkeys to pull water out of wells. So they constantly move to and fro, guided by children yelling and whipping them — and all the other creatures for that matter. It’s tough to watch animals being treated so poorly. But the children aren’t taught differently.

At some wells we encountered, the water was simply too dirty to use, even with filtration and purifying tablets. At others, like this one, Bir Dugul, we had better luck and could drink the water once it was treated. I was told this well was for women, though there were boys there. Anyway, in the midst of all the chaos, I spotted this little girl. She was beating a donkey, yes … but she was also really beautiful. Travel is never black and white.

girl  Bir Dugul Well, Chad

Photographed December 22, 2015. Bir Dugul Well, Chad.

crew pulling water out of well  Bir Dugul Well, Chad

My crew pulling water from the well and filtering it for us to drink. Photographed 12/22/15. Bir Dugul Well, Chad.

girl pushing donkey Bir Dugul Well, Chad

Young girl pushing donkey forward to pull water up from the well. Photographed 12/22/15. Bir Dugul Well, Chad.

Animals waiting their turn to drink Bir Dugul Well, Chad

Animals waiting their turn to drink. Photographed 12/22/15. Bir Dugul Well, Chad.

Toko Well., Chad

At Toko Well. Photographed 12/22/15. Toko Well, Chad.

Toko Well, Chad

At Toko Well. Photographed 12/22/15. Toko Well, Chad.