Lucia has something to say

Monday, October 23, 2006

Timbuktu

Like many people, I a) wasn’t sure if Timbuktu was a real place or a mythical one, and b) had no idea what country it was in. So, let's establish right off that yes, it's an actual city, and it's in central Mali which is in western Africa. It feels like northern Mali, because it's as far north as you can go before you're in the Sahara desert, where no one really lives, although there are nomads with cattle and salt miners passing through.

Timbuktu has achieved a remote and mysterious glamour, but here's the thing. There's really nothing there but sand streets and mud brick houses. That’s it. It’s monochrome tan. One travel guide described it as disheveled, which about sums it up.

A co-worker read an article in National Geographic twenty years ago that said in another 20 years, only one of two things would be true. One was that there was something to see there, and the other was that it would be difficult to get to. Sure enough. The first one is gone, and it’s still difficult to get there.

We got to the other side of the Niger on the ferry and sloshed off. Within a few kilometers, we had a flat tire. (Nothing new there.) Then we headed into Timbuktu. And there we were. In nowheresville. Sand blows into everything. Every crack in a house. Into the food. The wind picks up and threatens rain.

It’s too stuffy to sleep inside, so the mattress was dragged onto the roof. A mosquito net is rigged up over it. And the sky is packed with stars. I looked up at the stars and fell into a very sound sleep.

It is in Timbuktu that I learn the phrase, “if it pleases Allah.” I am told this phrase follows every plan, and, my translator says with a smile, that Allah usually isn’t pleased by meetings happening on time or people showing up when they’re supposed to. It's a convenient excuse.

Timbuktu is just a stop on the way. My destination was a smaller village several hours outside of Timbuktu. I headed there for work, to meet with an artisans association in the Tuareg village of Gargando. I'll write about Gargando sometime soon.

8 Comments:

Blogger jen said...

i almost have dust in my mouth myself..that sweet, perfect dust under that brilliant, radiant sky.

yum.

11:06 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Hi Lucia,
All this time I thought you were in my favorite city on Earth. Going to Timbuktu is cool enough, but go beyond it? Does Dr. Suess know about this trip?

I very much admire your adventuresome spirit. Mosquito netting, cars getting stuck, dust in the mouth....all would put a damper on my joy in life. I have to read more to figure out what the devil you are up to.

Thanks for your kind words on my blog. I was happy with the floaty green drawing. You must understand that this drawing stuff is really knew to me. It's a big adventure.

Ho hum, I'm off to the Long Island Expressway, which pales in comparison to your drive.

4:40 AM  
Anonymous gr said...

Wow....

7:27 AM  
Blogger Maggie said...

It occured to me that flying all over the world, travelling in trucks which get flat tires frequently and seeing nowheresville and even smaller villages while adventurous has this sound of serenity for your soul. Do you feel that way?

8:13 AM  
Blogger Lucia said...

You're all so great!

Jen: I love your spirit of adventure.

Caroline: I am in Madison. I'm just slipping into present tense every once in a while. I'm between this trip and my next to Bangladesh and Nepal.

GR: Yep, I think that pretty much every day I'm on the road.

Maggie: Oh, yes. You're very perceptive and right on here. It definitely feeds my soul, and in the sometimes chaos, I find serenity.

8:56 AM  
Anonymous Rhea said...

How cool to see and hear about the fabled Timbuktu! Safe travels!

9:14 AM  
Blogger Susan as herself said...

Allah enjoys being chronically late and disorganized? Hmmm. I think I know him.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Thailand Gal said...

Fascinating! Fascinating! Fascinating! Keep the stories coming! You write like Taylor Caldwell. I can feel the dust, smell it...

Wuuuunderful! :)


Thailand Gal

~*~*~*

2:35 PM  

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