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The Semi-Regular Newsletter


Mali, February 21, 2005

One Day in Timbuktu

Now I've been here. Have you?

morning rest
I will race ya!
kinda close there
Ian gets shorn
What do you at sunrise in Timbuktu? You could pray to Allah in the direction of Mecca. You could play football with the locals. Or you could go for a run in the Sahara. I chose the latter.

Around Timbuktu I ran, checking out the quality mud houses, stick houses, even animal skin homes that populate Timbuktu's suburbs. There isn't much to them, or the sand roads between them, and once they end, and they do end soon, its all Sahara. There isn't an end to the Sahara.

It is the border of the town, it is in the town, it defines Timbuktu (or Tombouctou as the locals call it) for what it is, an oasis in the Sahara Desert. And I am here, running around the neighborhood like its Washington DC.

The local Tureg stare, gawk, and shout, but less than I would expect. Apparently there are plenty of toubob here, they have seen white people before, and it is only me running that strikes them odd. Not running per see, because there is a Timbuktu running club, which I found on my morning jog, but it's a local running club. I am only unique because I am a toubob and running in their neighborhood.

After that run, and breakfast, then its time to shop. It will not take you long, as the Grand Market isn't so grand and the Artisit Mission isn't very artistic. I saw better and bought more in Bamako. That's the real Grand Market of Mali. This is just an oasis if you want to buy desert rock salt.

In the afternoon you can have a good couscous and mutton lunch and then retire to your hotel. Now that doesn't mean sleep. It means its time to get a haircut. Right in the middle of the Sahara, may present Salon Coiffure du Sahel.

Barber Mohammed Maig trims and snips right on the hotel patio, by the shade of a tree and with hand-powered trimmers and old-fashioned scissors. Reminiscent of a haircut and beard trim I had in Denpasar, my co-worker Ian is undergoing his own street trim.

Me, I am typing up the experience while a troop of street kids watch fascinated. They don't know what is more interesting; a toubob on a laptop, a toubob getting a haircut, or a third toubob photographing the other two toubobs.

Mali, February 20, 2005

The Road to Tombouctou

Back when I was a kid, I read about Timbuktu. I don't recall exactly where, but I do remember having the impression that is was a grand place with lush green surroundings and majestic buildings.

Maybe, once long ago, that was Timbuktu. Now it's not so lush or so grand. It can be very interesting for a bit, as the Sahara Desert meets the Niger River and the peoples from these two regions coexists.

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Mali, February 19, 2005

Wipers - Know Them, Use Them

We are on the road to Timbuktu, the long, dusty, dirty road to Timbuktu. We've crossed deserts, we've crossed rivers, and we've crossed the country, but not once in that entire two day and one thousand kilometer trip have we once used the windshield wipers.

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Mali, February 18, 2005

Always Eat on the Street

The best cooking is always streetside Open air cooking Three bowls happy A swank stop Oh am I hungry. Its been hours, seemingly days, since a good meal and I need one now. Not content to wait the usual two hours for 'fast food', there is only one option for...

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Mali, February 17, 2005

Dust, Dust, Dust, Dust, Dust

Dust. Rust red dust. From microscopic airborne particles that collect on every flat surface or in your lungs to big sand granules that amass in every un-swept corner of Mali, dust is everywhere here. It's in my laptop keyboard, on my clothes, and behind my teeth.

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Mali, February 16, 2005

Drinking Beer by Braille

Its happy hour in Bamako, Mali, and I'm at the Blue Box Bar with the Geekcorps. Now we call it the Blue Box not because there is any official name, no we call it the Blue Box because that is what it is; a big metal box painted blue. And as a metal box in Africa its baking hot on the inside during the day and still warm even at night. So we sit outside, in the soccer field, sipping our beers

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Mali, February 15, 2005

Business Sense in Bamako

Lets say you are a concrete building block maker in Bamako. You have your block form and a shovel. You walk to the construction site and make each block by hand. You mix the cement with the shovel on the ground, scoop it into the form, and then when it starts to fix and harden, you open the form and let it cure in he sun. This whole process doesn't take more than 10 minutes and you make about 5 cents a block.

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