Touareg Nomads and Their Desert Camp at Timbuktu

Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
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Trip End Jan 05, 2008


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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Touareg are among the most nomadic of modern day peoples in their extensive cross-border wandering in Mali, Niger, Algeria, and Libya and are responsible for one of my favorite sayings - "Houses are the coffins of the living."  This has become one of my own mottos in the years since I have come to consider myself a modern nomad always moving from place to place and never staying in any one spot for very long.   Thus I feel somewhat of an affinity for the Touaregs and other peoples like the Fulani, Maasai, Mongolians, and Kyrgyz I have encountered in my travels who lead such lifestyles. 
The Touareg's saying expresses some of their disdain for the sedentary agricultural peoples they frequently come into contact with in the region.  Similarly, I often can't help but feel pity for those Americans and other westerners trapped on the treadmill of unending toil to support their never-ending spiral of material wants, the vast majority of people who never get to experience the freedom of wandering about the world with no one to answer to
After a late lunch and a visit to an Internet cafe (I just had to send everyone I know an e-mail from Timbuktu) I went to the artisan's market in search of some things I just could no longer live without and emerged from it with two treasures - a Touareg knife and a dagger with beautiful inlaid handles.  Any intruder who tries to enter my tent now better watch out! 
I was befriended by a young boy named Mohamed who helped me find a merchant to exchange a few dollars since my cutlery purchases cleaned me out of my last CFAs and there's no bank in Timbuktu.  Mohamed invited me to join him for tea at his Touareg tented camp on the outskirts of town near the Flamme de la Paix, a monument commemorating the end of the 1990s Touareg rebellion against the Malian government.  At the camp three Touareg men in long blue robes and big black turbans, two of whom were also named Mohamed, served me tea to lower my defenses before they began the hard sell of their wares.  Despite their stories about their involvement in the salt trade and their nomadic movements back and forth between Timbuktu, Taoudenni, and Araouane, I think these guys were tourist Touaregs - people who live permanently around Timbuktu and make their living selling Touareg trinkets to the tourists at little tea sessions outside their tents. 
Tea with the Touaregs left my wallet as cleaned out of cash as if I had been pickpocketed on the street, but at least I came out of it with a pile of very cool looking souvenirs to show for it, including some jewelry, a few inlaid bottle openers and small knives, and a "Touareg wallet" - a camel hide pouch the Touaregs wear around their necks under their robes to store money and other valuables.  I tell you, though, those Touaregs drive a hard bargain.
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