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Tuesday, 01 September 2009

Into the Sahara: Timbuktu - Page 3

Written by James Michael Dorsey
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The blowing sand rocks our Land Rover as we reach the outskirts of Timbuktu.

Mahkmoud leans over the steering wheel and peers into the hazy lemon yellow that fills our windshield.  There is no horizon between earth and sky and I wonder how he can continue to drive with no reference points, yet on he goes with the instinct of a desert nomad.  I realize for him, this is normal.

After four more hours of trackless bouncing and sliding through loose sand, we see the outlines of low squat buildings in the haze before us.  The wind has never stopped blowing and we have reached Arawan.

Into the Sahara: Timbuktu, Arawan, travel to Timbuktu, Dromedary camels, Tuareg, The Blue Men of the Sahara, ancient Berber tribe, southern Morocco, through Mauritania, eastern Mali, James Michael DorseyI am anxious about our reception as I step into the maelstrom in my blue robes.  I am instantly greeted by the outstretched hands of the village elder, Halis’ uncle, who takes me into a low adobe for more tea.  The building is pockmarked with bullet holes from a time when the Legion ruled this country with an iron fist.  He tells me a visitor honors the Tuareg when they wear the robes, and I am the first outsider his nephew has brought to this village.

As I sip my tea, young men in indigo turbans file silently into the room to have a look at this strange westerner who would move among them.

After greetings, a communal rice bowl appears with cubes of seared beef.  The woman who serves it never lifts her eyes and exits the room quickly in one smooth motion.  As an honored guest, I must eat first and am careful to follow Islamic tradition by scooping only with the fingers of my right hand.  I smack my lips loudly to show approval and quickly pass off the bowl to hungry faces lining the wall, knowing the children outside will only get to eat what I and the other men do not.  As for the women, that is a world totally closed to me.

Into the Sahara: Timbuktu, Arawan, travel to Timbuktu, Dromedary camels, Tuareg, The Blue Men of the Sahara, ancient Berber tribe, southern Morocco, through Mauritania, eastern Mali, James Michael Dorsey

Halis calls me outside, yelling with excitement and pointing at a long black line on the horizon.  A caravan is approaching and it appears to be a big one.

Running over the dunes is very slow going for the two miles to the well where the weary drivers will allow their beasts to stop.

Arriving with the first camels, their nomad handlers are startled to see a Tuareg wielding cameras, running in and out of their charges like a gleeful child.

Into the Sahara: Timbuktu, Arawan, travel to Timbuktu, Dromedary camels, Tuareg, The Blue Men of the Sahara, ancient Berber tribe, southern Morocco, through Mauritania, eastern Mali, James Michael DorseyI run between long lines of Dromedary camels, (one hump) each carrying a handmade wooden rack on which is hung four tremendous blocks of salt weighing about 200 pounds a block.  Animals skins are slung between the blocks to act as buffers, and on top, numerous smaller slabs of salt are tied with rope to the carrying rack.  The camels lumber on ignoring me as I dash through their ranks, beside myself in disbelief at this photographic opportunity.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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