I did not expect to see a man climb on top of a jeep just to have a cell phone conversation, but this is what Mir Ali, our indefatigable driver whose family is from this desert, did every time he needed to reach the outside world. If a jeep is not handy, Ali tells me, then the only other alternative is to climb the tallest sand dune and hope that one of Pakistan’s five telecom giants has sent some signal your way.
These little lifehacks have crept into the society here, like how some villagers now charge their cellphones with small solar panels, but this is still a desperately remote place, pristine but vulnerable to cycles of drought and famine.
The drought here in Achro killed at least 10,000 animals
Earlier this year the Tharparkar desert made headlines because of a cyclic famine which caused more than 200 deaths. The media covered it with outrage, and the government rushed with food and potable water for the residents. But the same drought here in Achro killed at least 10,000 animals, including most of the local camel population of the three villages I visited, but few media and fewer officials made an appearance. It’s just too inconvenient for politicians to come here and have their pictures taken while distributing rations to the residents.
“We had camels but they died and so did a lot of our goats,” said Mir Ali’s aunt, when we met in her village. That’s why Mir Ali, who runs one of the few jeep ferries in and out of the desert, is fortunate to have such good work. His jeep leaves for Khipro town, about 60 miles away, every morning and then comes back later in the day. The morning ride is usually free but if you miss that, then you would have to pay up to 50 dollars (5,000 rupees) to call Mir Ali for a custom pickup time. For the people whose only possessions are the cattle they rear and the clothes they wear, arranging for 50 dollars is next to impossible.