Like much of the Sahel, Chad’s Guerra region is experiencing another bout of an all too familiar phenomenon: severe drought, food shortages, hunger and chronic malnutrition. Up to 18 million people across the Sahel are facing a severe food crisis and 1 million children could be affected by severe, acute malnutrition.
I travelled to Chad to document the impending crisis and was struck by the peculiar landscape of Guerra – a flat, arid expanse with boulders jutting out of the landscape. The local driver explained the geological forms with the legend of the Lady of Guerra.
From a certain angle, the boulders look like a woman lying down, looking up at the sky and watching over the people. In what is a very male-dominated society, the female character of this mythical persona seems odd but I found much of the determination and courage needed to survive in this harsh climate in the faces of local women who are mainly responsible for feeding their families. Many of the women I met would walk for miles in the searing heat to dig up an ant heap, looking for grass seeds hidden deep down to give their families something to eat, or boiling up stones in pans of water to make their children think that food was coming.
I started to photograph a woman in her home and when she realized she could see the image of herself on the back of the camera started shouting out to her friends and neighbours. Other women from all over the village suddenly crowded around and I realized they had not seen their faces like that before, they showed me a scrap of mirror, the size of a coin that 5 families shared between them.
Very soon, a large gallery of portraits of the Ladies of Guerra had developed: giving a human face to the endless statistics of hunger and misery that have become meaningless.