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Category Archives: Mali

High on a dune at sunset over the Sahara, at a spot where salt caravans have been unloading their cargo for centuries, Oumar sits on a crest of sand as fine as powdered sugar and prepares a charcoal fire within the bowl of a delicate brass stove.  His turban is crafted with indigo dyed cotton, a deep Taureg blue.  Blue is the signature color of his nomadic tribe, one that predominates in the ancient city of Timbuktu and is responsible for the independence of Mali.  In fact, there is still Taureg unrest simmering across the Sahara which includes the kidnapping of tourists but tonight hospitality is in order.  We have just concluded a camel ride accompanied by a thicket of children (as well as thickets of ticks covering the camels) and turbaned Tauregs, winding our way through small villages and encampments as the sun sinks slowly over the hazy horizon.

The tea is brewed from mint leaves and other spices added to a small tea pot of boiling water allowed to steep for a minute or so before decanting.  The pot is held high above small glasses by the host and poured with an up and down motion suspended over the glass which creates heavy foam.  Women are served first.  In this tradition the first brewed cup is bitter, like death, the second is strong, like life, and the third, served with copious sugar, is sweet, like love!  Glasses are often shared in this lovely communion of spirit. All conversation stops as the host presides over this ancient celebration.  The dream like atmosphere totally enraptured me as I sat curled under my long skirt; bare legs tucked beneath me buried in the grains of warm, soft sand listening to story after story incanted by Oumar, his mesmerizing words spun out like sugar drops against the melting sky. 

I noticed that Michael was standing before me (his blue turban unwinding slowly in the breeze) but his face was frozen, his back toward the sun, his camera slack against his chest.  “Come, sit with me” I implored, smoothing the sand into a nest for him; such an incredible moment to share together.  I could not fathom why we were apart.  “Ummm…that’s ok, I’ll just stay right here!” was his surprising response.  Of course, I didn’t accept his answer and gave him the LOOK just when he collapsed into laughter.  I’ll let him tell the rest of the story:

Also sitting on the desert just a short distance behind Jenni and Oumar is Mohammad, our driver. Just before Jenni invited me to join them on the sand Mohammad leaped to his feet and was dancing around jumping from one foot to the other while pulling off his pants. So what does it take for a devout Muslim to shed his pants in front of a foreign woman, you ask? How about a scorpion. I didn’t want to ruin the moment. Jenni was mesmerized by Oumar, his tales and intoxicating tea ceremony. When I eventually responded to the LOOK, my reward for not ruining the moment was a totally undeserved whack on the head with her camera bag.

And so it goes here on the edge of the end of the universe in Timbuktu, were nobody knows your name.

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