‘But there is a problem’ I was told as we walked up the stream.
Some projects are impossibly beset by problems. The one we were visiting was such. Environmental difficulties, security, and good plain old technical difficulties had plagued it from the start.
‘What problem?’ I asked, trying to keep the note of aggravation I suddenly felt out of my voice.
‘Jinn. Do you know what jinn means? I don’t know the word in English.’
I never thought those classes at school on spirit possession and the more mystical aspects of Islam would ever come in handy, but at last, their time had come. I was almost as pleased as the time I got talking with an old Azande man in south Sudan about witchcraft.
‘Yes, I know what jinn are. There isn’t really a word for them in English, although I guess we would say spirit, or genie. They are like European jinn.’
Jinn are invisible beings that live in remote places. Some are benign but, more often it seems, they are malevolent and should be treated with caution. They pre-date Islam and are frequently mentioned in the Koran, but are only begrudgingly accepted in orthodox Islam.
By this time the valley walls had closed in so tight we’d taken off our shoes and were wading up the stream. We were visiting a micro-hydro power project that I’d thought was finally finished. It was at last providing electricity to the hundred or so families in the village below. Or maybe not.
‘So what’s the problem with jinn?’
‘There are jinn here. People in the village say there are jinn here’ he corrected himself.
I could well believe it. It’s the kind of place I’d expect to find them: trees and flowers growing besides the water’s edge until the gorge constricts around a tight bend in the chill stream, the air cool in long shadows from the high, red-hued rocks.
And this particular project, far up the ravine, did seem like it had been prey to malicious forces, throwing a spanner in the works at every opportunity.
The problem this time was that the man who had to come and tend to the generator when it was dark was faced with a dangerous, jinn-infested walk to get to it. Not a prospect I’d relish myself.
‘But they have managed so far this week?’
‘Yes, three of them come up here together to be safe.’
There is no ‘tonic’ in this story, I just couldn’t resist.