An appreciation of ethnic jewellery and adornment
my first trip to Timbuktu and beyond
by Eva L. Baby
October 25, Bamako : My friend Iduna and I got up at 4.45 am. The sky still looked like an indigo cloth with a multitude of diamonds shimmering, insects were humming, roosters crowing. Then, the driver named Sidi arrived, to take us to Timbuktu. We drove along the river Niger from Bamako to Segou. Stopped in Mopti-Sevaré at the hotel Oasis Annex. We took a short roundtrip in the city of Mopti, a wonderful river port, with Sidi, but we were extremely tired. No wonder, it was about 38 deg. C in the shade.
Next day, October 26: Hotel Oasis Annex in Mopti, it was still 38 deg..C. in the room! Turned on the airconditioner, but effect was zero. Unable to sleep, I got up at 5 am, packed my bags, and took a shower. At 6 am it seemed as if outside electric light was switched on – bright daylight within 2 minutes!
We headed off again – direction Timbuktu – through Dogonland to Bambara Maoundé. Arrived at Koroyeme, a place at the Niger river shortly before Timbuktu, we loaded everything off the car and on a Pirogue in the river, and continued on the water. The mood on this Niger was just beautiful and calm, as we glided along. It took 45 minutes. At the other bank a car full of people awaited us to take us to Timbuktu, so we squeezed somehow in. This was all organized by our driver Sidi.
Later, having deposited my stuff in a tiny room in the hotel Amanar and taken a shower, I talked with a tuareg smith named Mohamed (everybody is named Mohamed here), who said it was absolutely safe in Timbuktu, and I could even sleep in the street all night without any danger. He showed me the blacksmith shop, where he worked and explained all the steps about making Tuareg crosses of metal and of wood (with metal slings in it, the Mauritanian way). Timbuktu is near to Mauritania and many Moorish people live there. Our first meal in Timbuktu I had with my friend Iduna, rice with meat and sweet strong green tea. After eating, we climbed on the rooftop of the forgery shop to see the stars. Impressive: the Southern Cross and a shooting star. I made secretely a wish.
October 29: I am sitting in my sleeping bag in the wind, in the desert. Sheep are nearby and Boujouma has started a fire. We are on a small hill overlooking a field of sand with many bushes. We have been riding last evening on our camels for a few hours into the desert. I am on a blanket, sipping my morning Nescafé made by Boujouma, our guide, on a fire, while armies of caterpillars and black beetles head toward me. Was trying to shovel them away with a postcard, it does not help. They keep walking – magically attracted by - probably my blanket.
We continue our camel ride to reach Tirikene in the evening, the Tuareg camp near Timbuktu. The Chief of the camp knows our Mauritanian guide, but they don't seem to be friends.. in fact our arrival seems every-thing else than friendly. We are exhausted and it is pitchdark. I practically fall from the camel directly to the feet of this chief, and am too exhausted to stand up. He talks to me that I must give him presents, everybody coming here must give presents. Our guide tries to calm us. (We are 4 persons, my friend Iduna, Boujouma and another guide named Mohamed). After a while, we get tea. I took my sleeping bad outside the camp, because the chief was so unfriendly and told us that we cannot sleep here! So we sleep outside the camp in the unknown darkness, but the stars are fantastic.
In the morning the Chief tried again to get presents from us, even before I can take a first sip of coffee (made by ourselves on a fire). I am relieved to leave this unfriendly place.
Oct. 30: We are riding over sanddunes, and flat areas with bushes of grass. All around there is nothing than sand, grass, and the vast far, and the wind. It`s an atmosphere with healing effect. You are touched by a second of eternity. Your soul brakes loose, you feel unknown freedom, and lightness. You exper-ience love! Happiness falls on your shoulders, like a protecting cape. You feel nothing, absolutely nothing, except that YOU ARE. My soul has become a butterfly and the wind is my friend, carrying me away. It is magic.
Towards noon we reach the tent of Boujoumas family. An old woman sits with a sheep, a child and a cat under a roof of woven fabric. A younger woman appears from nowhere and is really crazy about my silver bangle from Switzerland. It was not expensive, but I like it too. She is so poor, and they live so simple, that I cannot refrain – I spontaneously hand her my bangle and she is over-whelmed with joy. I have seldom seen an adult so joyous about a gift. When Boujouma saw it, he offered me leather items made by them (i.e. a cushion), beautifully cut and dyed. The woman's name is Chair, she gives me two old beads - I thread them onto the wooden Timbuktu cross that I bought from the silversmith.
Silver-coloured ants walk around under the tent, and black beetles. A place so forlorn and in the sand, and yet, there are living creatures here.. unbelievable. We take a long rest there, until two men arrive, also out of no-where, one has a letter in Arabic writing, Boujouma must read the letter for him, it seems that he cannot read. They talk a lot, the language is Hassanyia – the moorish Arab spoken in Mauritania and around Timbuktu. It was windy under the tent, this means, it was relatively cool. The negative side of it – I got the sand in teeth, nose, ears, and when swallowed, I could hear the cracking of the sand between the teeth.
Oct 21: we slept again in the bush (that is how they call the desert, in French: la brousse). Yesterday we continued our camel ride to an Arab camp, where they celebrated a wedding. This was just by accident, not planned. We could enjoy won-derful music, drums, singing, clasping the hands. We stayed a bit at distance, as we were too exhausted from the ride. We returned the same day to Timbuktu, and I talked to Boujouma about our car driver Sidi, that I would like to see him again....... He said that he could find anyone in Timbuktu, and he promised to find him for me....I knew nothing except his first name..
Nov.1, we took a tour through Timbuktu with Salem el Haj, met Mohamed the smith again on the Marché des Artisans and watched him making ebony crosses. Small metal slings made of various metals (copper, brass, silver – red – yellow – silver) were jammed with a hot iron into the black wood. Took photos of him and his work. Salem el Haj is a very wise and very cultivated person, something like a university of its own!. He explained me the whole history of Timbuktu and many sights of interest (the famous Djingarey-ber (great mosque), the Sankoré Mosque, the Ahmec Baba Centre, the former dwell of Bouctou (now dry), and more, e.g. , the ex-plorers. Timbuktu at that time was said to have 30'000 inhibitants, but looked much smaller to me.
In the afternoon the salt caravan Azalai, arrived from the mines of Taoudeni, in Abaradjou (outside quarter of Timbuktu). The camels were offloaded in the road, where we stayed, they had each two heavy big saltplates on each side of their bodies! It sounds exagerated, but I felt that the camels were smiling, happy to be back home.
Nov. 5: I enjoy the fresh morning in the garden of my little hotel, and the con-cert of the animals. Later I walked through the sand streets to the hotels Azalai and Bouctou. Walked very far, it was hot, hot, and I almost fainted. Bought from Salem El Haj two leaflets about Timbuktu (written by himself), and read them.
Nov. 7: Was drinking „Dourno“ (also named „Creme“), the national drink of the cara-vaniers here. It consists of flour made of millet and Baobab, dried goat cheese, spices (e.g.pepper), anis, sugar, water. It is very nourishing, and the caravaniers drink it on their travels, (of which they walk at least one half). Boujouma explains me the recipe of this „drink“ and I write it in my diary. In the evening we are offered a „méchoui“ ( a whole goat is roasted), for our farewell.
Nov.8: we leave Timbuktu by a 4x4 car at 5 am. We drive over uneven track, everything is full of dust. The speedy driver had the windows open, my co-traveller offered me his turban to protect against the dust, the best possible means. They call this route „la route des poussières“ (road of the dust). But anyway, there is no road between Mopti and Timbuktu, you drive over pistes and the driver must find his way somehow. Only local drivers can to this, in order to
a) find the way, and b) not to stuck in the sand. At around 3 am we reached Markala, a place at the river Niger with a huge bridge which is forbidden to photograph (I took one of course.....!), where we could get into a „hotel“ for sleeping 4 hours. Then a shower and knocking off the dust of our clothes, and on it went. Breakfast was a lemon picked from a tree. The route: Timbuktu – Goundam – Lèrè – Niafunké – Niono du Sahel – Markala – Segou -Bamako.
That was my first trip to Timbuktu and beyond.......... on November 11, Boujouma called me in Switzerland, he had found Sidi, (my later husband.........) and talked to me on the phone. That was 12 years ago. But this is another story.
My most interesting trip in Mali was the camel trekking some years later. If it interests anyone, I will take the time and shorten my travelog in order to add here.
I wish I had spent more time in the Far East, but was there only a few days as a tourist. We did manage to see the shrine of the enormous golden Buddha in Bangkok. How interesting to see all the sacramental events in real family life. Thanks for your good stories.
@thank you for your comment. I just phoned last night with people of my husbands family. They all cannot believe what is happening to their country (they live in the south, but other family lived in the north, they had to leave their houses (we heard that rebels live in their houses now and use all their things!!!) in Timbuktu and in Gao. The ones from Timbuktu fled to Segou, the ones in Gao to Niamey (Niger), most of their belongings are left and stolen. Women have been raped in Timbuktu, and a cousin of my husband (17 years old, he went to see whether his grandmother was ok) was shot. It is terrible, but the world talks of other things.
I attended the last Festival in the Desert in Timbuktu and left Mali late january of this year before they closed the airport and things got crazy. I am trying to get the news as best I can but it is difficult. I am saddened that the world does not seem to care. The articles in the New York Times have been grim. I have a lot of great photos I took that I will be posting as time permits. I collected a lot of beads while in Djenne.
I feel so sorry for the little girls in Timbuktu who were so sweet and playful, practicing their english and wanting my picture on their cell phones. i hope most of them got out before the madness started.
@Lynda thank you, it is for me important to know how things are seen by a foreigner. I have the reports of the people who live their from my family, even though most of them have fled. But I also have friends there who still are around, although they have gone for some time over the border to Mauritania. Like you, I am very sad that the world is not interested in this, too many other turmoils keep them busy. I will be looking forward to seeing your beads from Djenné posted on Ethnical Jewels. (This report was from my first trip there, many followed after...a big camel trekking of 10-11 days, two family visits....... but I have not been back there for some years now).
I have a friend,Daphne, who just returned from from Burkina Faso. She has a Malian B.F. who is in one of the border towns there and they talk daily. As soon as she returned to the Bay Area several weeks ago she drove her station wagon to Santa Fe, where she still is, to sell at the flea market. She has been working for many years with tuareg jewelers and a lot of people who live in Mali are familiar with her. she does the big gift shows. I buy old malian beads from her and we have become friends. we met through a mutual friend who knows her from the gift shows. Daphne has many artifacts and tribal pieces in a warehouse here in Oakland. I have spoken to her several times while she has been in santa fe. i have heard that the relatives of people speaking out are threatened by posts. what do you think?
what do you mean when your thread says "stop following - don't email me when people reply? I did try to email you the other day and didn't get a response.
Hi Lynda, just to clarify, the "stop following - don't email me when people reply? link on a page is a choice for you to opt out of communication, it is an integeral part of the site, and not added by Eva. I hope this helps
thank you Sarah. It does help.