Thursday, July 28, 2011

Desert dreaming

Ben Amera, third largest monolith, dreaming in the Sahara
Chinguetti; home of learing through the ages, now
threatened by the sands.

In the vastness of the Sahara Ben Amera dreams: the third largest monolith in the world, somehow Buddah-like as it thrones over the vast plains that once was a shallow sea, then marshland that housed wandering tribes of fishermen. Later sweeping savannas hosted people who carved designs on the rock: giraffe, antelope, dances and other rituals. And today the mountain still endures, unchanged, as the sands sweep over the railway that carries iron ore from Zouerat to Nouakchott.

This rock was a waypoint for caravans of camels that passed here, trading caravans, some carrying pilgrims. The old people talk of caravans of twenty thousand camels passing here, on the route through the Sahel, towards Chinguetti, Tichit, Timbuktou, Tamanrasset and Agadez, and eventually far Khartoum and Mecca.
We spent two nights in Chinguetti, the home of priceless documents from the founding of the first city here, in the year 777. The families that conserve these ancient manuscripts admit to not really knowing what they have, although the collections include works of Ibn Sina who, as Avicenna, was one of the writers at the heart of the renaissance of western medicine.
The collapse of tourism hit this area hard, but they
are used to hard times.
Jealous families guard their heritage, conserving these documents in libraries built in the ancient way. An ambitious UNESCO proposal for a modern museum foundered, since it implied that all documents would be surrendered. Surely there must be some compromise possible?

Walls can protect a garden for years, even decades,
but the desert is patient.

Priceless works, family heritage, at the mercy of termites

Surgery under the trees

And then there was the 500 kilometer road, in 60 degree temperatures, to Nouakchott, where we had to do some major work that should have been done before the trip started. And then Senegal awaits.

1 comment:

  1. it sounds like a real pity about the books, but who knows whether they would have survived this long in official keeping!