As I walked along the dusty, walled streets of Tomboctou, I felt like I was living in a dream. I encountered one wonder after another.
Ahead of me, taking up a large part of the street, was a curved line of water jugs lined up to a well on one side of the road, with a gathering of women in the road beside the well. I stopped off to the side of the street to watch them and take a picture.
Everyone was patient, several women were talking, while others were just waiting stoically. I felt like I was visiting in another age. I felt fortunate to be able to experience this otherworldly, yet ordinary, setting in so fabled a place as Tomboctou. As I rose to move on, I smiled at several of the women who smiled back at me as I waved good-bye.
Down another street, several blocks away from the women at the well, I saw a group of men playing a game over to one side of the road. Further on there was a group of women standing around and listening to a female shaman in the center of the group, so it seemed.
I kept encountering gatherings of people, men and women in separate groups. While they kept quite separate, I was able to readily wander and take photos here and there. The universal need to socialize is everywhere, games or gossip are just an excuse.
I approached a group of girls in a kind of semi-circle. As I slowly approached, smiling, they beamed back at me. As we smiled at each other and they laughed, showed them my camera, and they motioned that it was okay to take a picture. One of the girls had the most elaborate arrangement of beads in her hair.
I had a sense of elation in being among these extraordinary beautiful people in this wondrous place. Who said Tomboctou was the edge of the world?
On my second day in Tomboctou, I arose early and found my way to the historical marker for the first documented European traveler to have reached Tomboctou, Alexander Gordon Laing, who reached Timbuktu in August 1826. He was killed shortly after he departed Timbuktu, some 5 weeks later. And the legend of the town’s remoteness grew.
I walked to the large Central Market. It was in a large indoor central Tuareg crafts market where I bargained for a beautiful little leather hand painted valuables case and an intricately engraved silver dagger.
The iconography and designs of the Tuareg are striking in their beauty and their artistry. I browsed quite some time in this large market, just taking it all in.
The city may be remote, but the people are certainly not. They are friendly and welcoming. When I was there it was highly unusual for a person who looked like me to visit. Now there are large convoys of tourist that make their way to Tomboctou, I think for the bragging rights. The culture and people are worth the trip to this former capital of an empire.