1. TIMBUKTU, A STORY OF SAND, WINDS AND PERFUMES

The desert wind

deserto - 1. TIMBUKTU, A STORY OF SAND, WINDS AND PERFUMES

In the Sahara, silence is a palpable presence. The sound of the wind or the noise of a vehicle arriving in the distance doesn’t eliminate the silence of the desert, rather it enhances it, making us conscious of its strange audibility.

In the desert, wind is a companion of silence.

An ancient town, encamped at the threshold of the desert, gets swept away by the wind day and night. Wrapped up in the red dust of the sand storms is Timbuktu: a city that was once a point of departure and arrival for many camel caravans and ships carrying African treasures up the Niger River.

Tbtou1 - 1. TIMBUKTU, A STORY OF SAND, WINDS AND PERFUMES

For centuries Timbuktu exchanged its gold for science books, maintained schools of Islamic knowledge, and copied countless manuscripts by the hands of its calligraphers.  All the knowledge that arrived in Timbuktu through the desert was then spread across Africa.  In the deepest part of the European medieval Dark Ages, the city was a bright light of civilization and it attracted students and scholars from all over the Islamic world. Read more

2. WINDMILLS

windmill - 2. WINDMILLS

The windmill was probably the first robot that man ever built. It works tirelessly for him; turning grain into flour, pumping water from the earth, giving light to the cities.

Countries have been built and exist thanks to the work of the windmills: think of  agricultural America or Holland besieged by the seas.

During my last trip to Timbuktu, I realized that my project to promote free water and electricity for the poor using the windmills would not be welcomed by the rich and the notables of the city nor by the energy company that controlled the water and electricity.
However I recalled the story of Don Quixote and it was a happy omen for me. He had decided to destroy the windmills, as their huge threatening blades seemed like monsters to him. But in the end, he lost the battle against those powerful giants: windmills always triumph over human folly.  And I hope they have the same success against greed.

I started my research in the same manner as does every middle school student who seeks information: i sat down at my computer and searched for information on how windmills worked, how to build them, and where to buy them. Read more

3. BACK TO TIMBUKTU

I left Italy during a snow storm.  The weather was so bad that the flight had to be postponed for one day.  I like when trips start off with complications because I know from experience that it’s a good sign.

volo bologna bamako - 3. BACK TO TIMBUKTU

BAMAKO - 3. BACK TO TIMBUKTU
I land in Bamako, the city of mangoes. Another world.

vol bamako tombouctou - 3. BACK TO TIMBUKTU

A small plane from Timbuktu takes me to the sands of the desert. Read more

4. THE GARDEN OF THE AMERICANS

Two years ago when I came for the first time to Timbuktu, I had heard about a garden in the desert that the American missionaries had made 10 km away from the city.  They irrigated the desert  sand with the underground water which was pumped by two windmills.

tombouctou eolienne - 4. THE GARDEN OF THE AMERICANS

tombouctou eolienne 1 - 4. THE GARDEN OF THE AMERICANS

I went to see for myself what they had done and was stupefied. I saw an oasis where fruit, trees and vegetables of all sorts were growing.
In fact, all the vegetables sold at the market in Timbuktu came from here. Read more

5. THE ORCHARDS OF TIMBUKTU

maraichage0 - 5. THE ORCHARDS OF TIMBUKTU

As it became clear that the suburbs of the city are not the right place for the project, I decided to start searching further away, a few miles away from the city, along the canal where some of the poorest people are living off the orchards that supply the city market with some of its vegetables.

Water is the biggest problem for the gardeners, and as I will soon realize, it is one of the many problems they face.

Most of these orchards are situated in the outskirts of the city, particularly along the Kaddafi canal where the water is shallower underground.

The gardeners get allotted an area of land by the city hall. Then they find sponsors to dig a well and they start working, clearing the land, watering it and planting trees. After a few years, the city politicians expel them, in order to sell the plots of land that they have reclaimed from the desert sands.

The city assigns them new, arid land further away in the desert so they have to dig new wells, which often gets them into debt with “charitable” western organizations.  And they have to begin the process all over again. Read more

6. TAHARA’S HOSPITAL

After meeting 4 well-diggers, I am stuck.

I don’t feel confident in any of them. I do not know what to do. I don’t have a well-digger nor a location to dig a well, but I am not worried because during this first week in Timbuktu another parallel situation has developed so I am not left inactive.

It all started when I began to cure the people of the hotel with my aromatherapy essences. They were easy patients with disturbances that I knew well how to cure. Headaches, tooth ache, back aches, haemorrhoids…

The news spread very quickly that my medicines were good and the people of the neighbourhood began to come to the hotel asking me for remedies.

When the elderly arrived with their joint problems I cured them with acupuncture with such success that after a few days 15 or 20 people would be waiting for me every morning in the street in front of the hotel.

hopital tahara9 - 6. TAHARA’S HOSPITAL

The patients became so many that I could not cure them inside the hotel anymore and neither could I do it in the street. I asked Tahara to lend me her tent in the courtyard of the restaurant to receive the patients. Read more

7. THE WIND RIDER

william Kamkwamba 3 - 7. THE WIND RIDER

It’s not so hard to become President of the United State for someone whose grandparents are part of the Nation’s elite, who went to the best schools in the country, who has more money than the opponent to spend on the political campaign. Furthermore if the whole world agrees with this…

william Kamkwamba 5 - 7. THE WIND RIDER

Then the endeavour of a young African boy from Malawi that dreamed of putting the force of the wind to his service is much more surprising.  He had to drop out of school because his parents couldn’t afford to send him anymore so he began building windmills that generated electricity out of twigs and pieces of shrapnel, without any technical knowledge or access to the internet.

william Kamkwamba 1 1 - 7. THE WIND RIDER

His windmills attracted the attention of local journalists first and then from the international press. He was invited to America to tell his story, and then he wrote a book to inspire young Africans who he had become a role model for. Read more

8. THE KING OF THE TUAREGS

 

bir amin4 - 8. THE KING OF THE TUAREGS

The surroundings of the well, 15 km north of Timbuktu

 

I  went to visit Bir Amin, the dried up well of the Tuaregs which I repaired 2 years ago.

fine62 - 8. THE KING OF THE TUAREGS

Read more

9. THE POLICE OF TIMBUKTU

police2 - 9. THE POLICE OF TIMBUKTU

Two policemen in civilian clothes erupted in my hotel one morning. It was early by Timbuktu police standards, that is to say, 9 o’clock.

One of them knocked at the door like a madman but without saying, “Police, open the door!” the way they do in films. His failure to announce himself as a police officer initially led me to think that it was a crazy person who was punching my door, so I did not hurry to get out of the shower to open. This made him even more nervous, judging by the increased rhythm of the punches on the door, but still he did not pronounce the magic words “Police, Open!” Later on, I asked them why they did not announce themselves, and they said: “If we say ‘Police,’ the people escape by the window.” Timbuktu seems to be like the Bronx! I thought that, when there is a place where everybody fears the police as in Timbuktu, either everyone is a criminal or the police are corrupt. Read more

10. THE PEOPLE OF BOKIAT

I am on probation, I cannot leave the city or the country. I cannot go back home, and I don’t know what the police are brewing behind my back. They no longer tell me anything. Patients keep waiting for me every morning on the street, but I don’t dare to cure them. Tahara cannot let anyone inside, because the health inspectors are in ambush ready to close her hotel.

I secretly continue to give some remedies to the people on the street. How can I refuse to help a mother who is pained for her child?

Bokiat8 - 10. THE PEOPLE OF BOKIAT

I prepare them in my room. During the police inspection, they forgot to confiscate some bottles of essential oils that I immediately hid but I no longer have needles and for the majority of patients I cannot do much, especially for the elderly who are disabled by rheumatism.

Bokiat92 - 10. THE PEOPLE OF BOKIATRead more