I’m the Lorax. I speak for the trees.

I’m confused.

I’m angry.

I live in an urban area in a desert country. There is very little nature (at least not the kind I like, we have plenty of nature in terms of dirt, cockroaches, mosquitoes, and rats), very little natural beauty (on land, that is), very little natural green. Except these lovely birds who (used to) sit in the branches of the trees in our neighborhood.

My neighborhood was lovely, or at least comparatively lovely. We had tall trees in the center of a small square. They cast shade over each of the five houses surrounding them, at various points in the day. My own house was well shaded by trees in our own yard and in the neighbor’s yard. Our car and our bedroom were shaded almost 24-hours a day. This is super important in a country as hot as Djibouti. A country where we have successfully baked cookies inside our car.

And then…

The first to go were the trees in the center of the square. The guards were ordered by someone, I don’t know who, to take axes to them and in one day, they hacked down these thirty-foot beauties into naked little stumps.

Now the guards have to huddle in the small squares of shade left by the houses but that shade isn’t there all day because of how the sun moves. They used to hang out together under the trees and now there is no community. And less shade for all the houses.

About two weeks later it got worse.

Our neighbor ordered the guards to chop down all their trees. All of them. Except a few scraggly looking ones. ALL the trees around their entire yard. I’m not talking a little pruning. I’m talking take an axe and brutalize the trees until not a single leafy branch or even a leaf remained.

It looks like death.

It looks like skeletons. Like bony fingers protruding from the earth.

It is so ugly.

I almost cried. I couldn’t sleep, I had nightmares. I know this all sounds far too dramatic but trees, people! Trees! We live in the desert. We live in a city. We live in a steamy hot country.

What about deforestation? What about shade? What about the wild parrots and weaver birds that used to flit around the yard?


My daughter and I used to round the corner to our house and say, “We have the best looking neighborhood,” and “I just love driving up to these houses.”

Now? Nothing. Dirt. Stumps. Crows. And dead trees.

Well, okay, they aren’t dead. But they will struggle to survive. Leaves are the life source for trees. They will shoot up scraggly branches soon enough and branches will poof and look just like the Truffula trees in The Lorax. The problem is that these branches will be weaker. I did some research. They will be more prone to disease and to breaking off. They will throw off the balance of the trunk because the tree is more desperate for sun than stability. It is like asking a human if she would rather breathe ever again or walk ever again. I would choose to breathe.

I don’t want a thneed. I want trees.

I have been asking everyone why this is done in Djibouti, including the men who do it while they are doing it. I hear the axe and, like the Lorax, I pop out of my house and say, “Hey guys. What the heck are you doing?” I try to talk them out of it but they laugh. Just the odd American lady. Here are the reasons I’ve been given, with my responses in italics:

Someone told us to. If I told you to stop, would you stop? (Answer: no)

Now it is beautiful. It is not beautiful. It looks like death. Where will the birds go? (Answer: who cares?)

It is so they will grow back and make nice shade. They already make nice shade. (Answer: a shrug)

The branches aren’t khat, you can’t eat them. Therefore, they are garbage. They are not garbage, they are trees. (no answer)

It is the cold season now. It is 95 degrees and is only getting hotter and anyway, even in the cold season I still like trees.

It is because of mosquitoes. I notice no difference in the numbers of mosquitoes and if that is really true, what about getting rid of the piles of garbage in the yard or the street? What about cleaning up the standing pools of water?

I’m at a loss.

Maybe there is a good reason. I’m open to that possibility, I just need to hear it explained to me. I know trees need pruning but do they need hacking?