To Tombouctou

We left in the back of a Land Rover, me sitting next to a 55-gallon drum, extra gas (no place to fill up until Tombouctou). Unfortunately, the stopper didn’t seal well, splashing me at every bump. And, once we left the paved road, the bumps were frequent.

We were in the mail truck, me, my Canadian traveling companion, a Japanese man circling the globe (he planned on buying a camel and joining a salt caravan), a couple of Tamacheks, and a guy from the south who was not happy heading into the desert. It was the first trip of the season, the Niger River having passed its annual flood stage, and we would be making the road that would be followed until the next fall and the coming of the rains.

I’ve written of this trip before, but not quite in this context. I’m writing about it now simply because I just came across my turbans, one white and one black. The white one I got a couple of years later in Niamey, along with a heavy, canvas-like Tuareg robe. The black one, I got that morning, soon after leaving Mopti.

Our first stop was in a small town on the bank of the river, a place that has become famous recently as the home of the late guitarist Ali Farka Toure and his music festival, Niafunke.

I wanted to buy something to keep the gasoline off of me. The two Tamacheks told me that what I needed was a turban like they wore. They had me feel the material–synthetic–and told me to buy a three-meter length.

As it wasn’t a market day, I had to wander a bit before I found a shop open. Sure, enough, though, hanging there were just such lengths, of just such material. I bought what I needed, surprised by how wide it was, how much of it there was.

Back by the Land Rover, parked on the hard packed still damp sand by the river, the two showed me how to wrap the turban. The Canadian took my picture. If you look carefully, you can see the dust and sand caked to my shoulder along with the gasoline.

Twenty-two years later, and I still have that turban.

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