How Timbuktu Saved Its Books

Harper’s
Bamako, Mali

Abdel Kader Haidara, Mamma Haidara Manuscripts Library, Timbuktu (Photograph by Tugela Ridley)
Abdel Kader Haidara, Mamma Haidara Manuscripts Library, Timbuktu (Photograph by Tugela Ridley)

I first met Abdel Kader Haidara in happier times. It was five years ago, and I had come to see his family collection of ancient manuscripts, which were stored in a grand house midway down one of Timbuktu’s sand-blown roads. Continue reading How Timbuktu Saved Its Books

Mali: first the war, now the crisis

GlobalPost
Bamako, Mali

A girl who fled northern Mali rests her head against a tree at a camp for internally displaced persons in Sevare, Mali (Fred Dufour/AFP)
A girl who fled northern Mali rests her head against a tree at a camp for internally displaced persons in Sevare, Mali (Fred Dufour/AFP)

Mali, it seems, is no exception to the rule that where war leads humanitarian crises follow. The French-led advance into the towns of northern Mali — Diabaly, Konna, Douentza, Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal — has been fast and effective.

In a little over two weeks around 3,000 French soldiers with armored vehicles and air support have ousted the fighters of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its allies from every town in the desert north, meeting little resistance along the way.

But with the focus on the military gains, the human impact has slid from view as aid agencies warn that the combination of insecurity, food shortages and drought threatens the lives of a million people.

Continue reading Mali: first the war, now the crisis

Townsfolk tell of brutality and death under the Islamists’ yoke

The Times of London
Bamako, Mali

For seven months Ibadassane Walet hardly left her parents’ house. She feared the armed Islamic militants who patrolled the sand-blown streets and narrow alleys of Timbuktu, enforcing the strict Islamic laws imposed on the town when they took over last April.

Like any 20-year-old woman, she missed her friends and her school, nightclubs and dancing. Most of all, she said, she missed the music. “Before the Islamists came life was so good. We had fun. But now there is a complete lack of freedom,” she said. Continue reading Townsfolk tell of brutality and death under the Islamists’ yoke

Malians want the French to stay

GlobalPost
Diabaly, Mali

A boy stands next to a charred pickup truck in Diabaly, Mali (Issouf Sanogo/AFP)
A boy stands next to a charred pickup truck in Diabaly, Mali (Issouf Sanogo/AFP)

Twisted carcasses of incinerated vehicles tucked between Diabaly’s mud-brick houses were the first signs of the devastating French strikes in northern Mali.

The French air strikes, which began on Jan. 11, were in response to a southward advance from Islamist forces that had wrested control of the northern half of the country.

Continue reading Malians want the French to stay

Mud, glorious mud

The Economist
Djenné, Mali

Plasterers wanted (Reuters)
Plasterers wanted (Reuters)

“Every year the whole community works together to replaster the mosque,” explains Fané Yamoussa, a local Malian historian. “We start at sunrise after morning prayers and by lunch it’s finished.” The dry months of January to March are the building season in Djenné, an ancient city in the Niger river’s vast inland delta. Its Great Mosque is the world’s largest mud building—and the reason for UNESCO naming the city as a world monument in 1988.

The minarets are 18 metres (59 feet) tall. The fortress-like walls are pierced with palm-wood beams. Every year in April, before the rains arrive, is the crépissage, when new mud is smeared over old walls. The city’s chief replasterers, some 80-strong, belong to a centuries-old guild called the barey ton. As one puts it, “a good mason knows the building and the spirits.”

Continue reading Mud, glorious mud

In Timbuktu, a new move to save ancient manuscripts

Christian Science Monitor
Timbuktu, Mali

Curator Abdel Kader Haidara leafs through a delicate old pamphlet (Tugela Ridley)
Curator Abdel Kader Haidara leafs through a delicate old pamphlet (Tugela Ridley)

Abdel Kader Haidara carefully picks up one of a dozen small leather-bound books lying on his desk and leafs through the age-weathered pages covered in Arabic calligraphy.

This tiny book is centuries old and one of more than 100,000 manuscripts that can be found on shelves and in boxes in Timbuktu, the ancient Malian city of mud-brick walls nestled between the Niger River and the Sahara Desert. Continue reading In Timbuktu, a new move to save ancient manuscripts