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"Chez Tuareg" - House of Tuareg, A Desert Tea Party

Kevin meets the Tuareg

See and hear the video of Kevin hanging out with the Tuareg.

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Check out Kevin trying to ride a camel.

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After a short drive down the tree-lined suburban streets of Timbuktu, we round the corner, pull our van into the Tuareg's driveway, unload our bags from the trunk and enter the house through the entrance in the garage (because the mosquito screen on the front door is being repaired). NOT!!! Here's what really happened: we ride some camels from Timbuktu into the Sahara Desert, go up and over countless sand dunes, stop near a Tuareg encampment of about 3 small huts, nearly fall off our camels as they lower to let us off, grab our bags and set them down on straw mats on the sand where we sleep the rest of the night under the open sky. Presently, Jasmine and I, along with Cisco and Christina (from Spain), are the only foreigners to the desert, but we are very welcomed guests at the home of the Tuareg.

Who are these Tuareg people that our hosts and their family belong to? The Tuareg number at least 300,000 and currently live in parts of modern-day nations such as: Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Mali, Burkina Fasso, and Niger. Just this decade, Niger has seen a strong political, sometimes violent, Tuaregian move towards autonomy. Their ancestors once controlled all trans-Saharan caravan routes or trade routes. They would tax the caravans crossing the desert, which were transporting copper from the North and gold from the South, in exchange for large slabs of salt. Additionally, Islamic culture has crossed the Sahara from north to south and black African slaves were brought north to the Mediterranean along these routes. The Tuareg are also attributed to having established the first camps which eventually became the city of Timbuktu around 1100 AD

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This is great!
Today, the Tuareg still speak their own language called, Tamershak, although they communicate with us in French and a little bit of English. The early evening hours out on the sand provide the most relaxing view of the desert sunset as we sip tea and listen to our host, Ibrahim, tell us about his people. We drink the tea in three specific rounds; each one has its own significance. The first tastes bitter and represents death. For the second, sugar is added to make it sweet, just like life itself. The third is also sweet and represents love. Ibrahim then tells us about how his people are herders and continue to raise sheep or goats as a source of food and to trade with farmers for their crops. Just near the huts, we can hear the cry of two small baby goats, still nursing from their mothers.

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Three car garage, washer/dryer, and a patio...Not!
Dinner is served shortly after the tea ceremony and the sunset ends. It is brought out by Fatima, a person we saw cooking for a couple of hours in the "kitchen" (a small plot of sand outside of the huts). An enormous amount of rice and lamb stew is served in one big bowl for everyone. We eat with traditional Tuareg spoons instead of our hands (like we have in other parts of Africa). As we eat, we listen to more stories. The Tuareg are Muslim and their religion is very important to them, but their Berber identity differentiates them from the Arabs that live throughout the Muslim world.

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Someone's in the kitchen with Fatima
Their people have traditionally been shepherds, priests, saints, and warriors. Much of the art they sell to tourists consists of intricately designed knives and swords of all sizes. The men wear a long piece of cotton cloth wrapped around their head and mouth to keep out the desert wind and sand. Their robes are mostly indigo colored which distinctly identifies the Tuareg. For the rest of the evening, we sit around talking inside one of their huts made of wood and straw. The Tuareg usually prefer to sleep outside on the straw mats for the fresh air and view of the stars. But this night we have to sleep inside of the hut because of the thunderstorm that hit us late in the evening. The Tuareg generously share their limited space with all four of us, yet another extension of their hospitality. Tuareg huts are strong and waterproof but are also easily movable when broken down into pieces and carried by camels.

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So maybe the door is a bit small
At the end of the summer they will move to another part of the desert in search of new shrubs for their goats to feed on. Their traditional nomadic lifestyle has been inhibited in modern times by border controls, competition from trucking (making camel caravans obsolete), drought and expanding desertification. But when I asked why they bother moving and setting up camp each time, Ibrahim responded by saying that the Tuareg,"prefer to remain nomadic in order to maintain independence and to avoid simply become a minority group within the many nations currently ruling the land in which Tuareg have inhabited for centuries."


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Jasmine - City of Sand
Kevin - All the Way Out in Timbuktu!
Monica - Contact: A View From the Other Side
Monica - Pirogue, a Traditional Boat Ride Up River
Making A Difference - Who Will Mop up Their Mess? Shell and Chevron Wreak Havoc in Nigeria

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