Too early for the salt caravan - Helle Gammelgaard
We were interested in the salt caravan and had gotten a name from Jean Bakir in Bamako. His brother had lived several years in Timbuktu and was a very good friend of Abbas Kadeur, the third most important person in Timbuktu! Maybe he could help us with information. Abbas lived near the city centre so shortly after we went in the atrium in front of his house and knocked the door. After a while an elderly gentleman with bright white hair wearing an azure Bou-Bou appeared. He pushed the thick glasses to his forehead and greeted us both kindly. “What can I help you with,” he asked and guided us into his private quarters. We pretended to have a regard for him. “Pierre Bertet in Bamako sends his regards,” we said. “Ah Pierre, how is he doing, does he still work at the embassy,” he asked. We didn't have a clue but answered anyway. “Yes, of course and he is doing very well,” and hoped he would find us trustworthy. We told him our plans. Unfortunately the caravan had just started from Taoudenni, 750 kilometres north of Timbuktu and would not be in the area before at least two weeks from then, at its best. It was too bad. Sometimes you win and sometimes you loose.
Mystique is there - you just have to look for it
It is written that many who have been in Timbuktu before us generally find the city disappointing. There is a bit of truth in that. On the surface the city looks just like any other Malian desert city, and there's not much mysticism in that. In spite of that, in a few days, we managed to get a bit under the facade of the once so central city on the frontier to the Sahara. There was about three-kilometre walk to the centre from the hotel. We needed bread but because of the Ramadan we would have to wait until the afternoon to get it. We used the opportunity to explore the sandy streets of Timbuktu. Children were as always a pleasure to watch. Boys played marbles grinded matt of sand and time. Lonesome street soccer played with the shadow as team player, between the brown mud-washed walls that marked the narrow sandy alleys. Boys competed for the girls favour by doing acrobatic jumps, one more daring that the other. The girls didn't look as if they were impressed; they seemed to be the modest audience of the boy's game. Now and again they'd throw out a remark that could arose the boys' temper so much, that the only thing they could do was to fight the girls. Some things are the same no matter where you are in the world.
We had come to a little square where a woman was taking freshly baked bread out of a stone oven. There was already a queue so we went t the end. “There's nothing better than fresh warm bread with mayonnaise,” a man in the cue said to us. “Freshly baked bread and mustard that's the best,” said another man in the cue. “Mayonnaise,” Travaini said and laughed. “He doesn't know what he is talking about – mustard…!” said the first man. “Mayonnaise is the best,” Travaini said and paid for the bread.
A woman came towards us from the other side of the square. In her hand she carried a skimmer, which contained one red-hot coal. The woman at the oven noticed our inquiring faces. “That is coal to start a fire at home. It is bought daily from the people with ovens like mine,” she said.