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I had been explaining something to a dear friend. I noticed that while I was speaking to him he appeared lost in thought. I said, “I see you are listening to me, but your heart is somewhere else, is something worrying you?”
– “You guessed rightly, he answered, are you a psychologist?”
– “A perfumer is always a psychologist”, I said smiling.
– “I am preoccupied about the manuscripts, he confessed, a person came to me with two hundred very old manuscripts for sale and if I do not find the money to buy them I fear that they will be sold to some foreigner and they will be lost to us. This is how Timbuktu is losing its treasure, little by little for years now.”
I reflected for a while, then said to him: “There is a simple solution to this problem.”
– “what is it?”, he asked a little skeptic but visibly interested.
– “The amount that this person asks is too high, you can propose a much lower sum and he will keep the manuscripts. You propose to pay him for photographing them. In this way you will have saved the knowledge that the manuscripts contain. The rest is only old paper and of interest only, to collectors”.
“But photographing them will damage the documents,” my friend protested. “The flash will reduce them to powder, this is what the scientists have explained to us.”
I laugh heartily. “This is just what they want you to believe, it is as absurd as the old belief that Timbuktu has, that a short Imam cannot lead the prayer. I want to show you now how simple it is to do this. We shall take a few pictures of these documents right now, without the flash and you will see the results.”
We go to his office and he pulls out from a corner, two carton boxes full of antique leather covered hand written books.
I take only two flying sheets from the top and in a few seconds I have photographed them and transferred them to my computer and opened them with Photoshop.
As I was zooming into the image, I said to him: “Look, we can almost see the microbes, if there is any insects on the sheet you will be able to see them. Isn’t it even more easy to read than the original?”

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My friend is very impressed by this facility to save the documents and also, by the final result.

Nevertheless, he objected that a lot of time would be necessary in order to photograph two boxes of books.

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“Some time is necessary, surely, but you will then have saved the knowledge contained in the manuscripts and this is the most urgent and the most important. Afterward, you can even make CDs or DVDs of the books and sell them thousands of times to tourists or to researchers on the Internet. With only 10 of your students working with 5 cameras, you probably can save all in 3 days.

Another advantage is that after having saved them, if the original books are sold to foreigners, the government of Mali will be able to ask for their restitution from muses or private collectionists, because they have been illegally exported.”

What really goes over my head is why, with the milliards of francs spent for the Timbuktu manuscripts, this work has not yet been done.

Today I tried to connect my computer from the cyber café and I was unable to change the settings in order to connect. I was at lost when a young boy arrived and in a few minutes, he resolved all.

I have been stupefied to see how he was fluently browsing in my Italian settings without knowing a word of Italian.

Mohammad Maulud is a genius of computers, he has learned all by himself even though he cannot write proper French without a word corrector. It is him who has convinced the imam to open the internet point. He repairs and upgrades all computers and software of Timbuktu. He is often here for downloading the latest upgrades.


He is very business-minded. He travels up to Mauritania to buy computers and hardware that he then sells in Timbuktu.

He succeeded to adjust my computer easily, because, he doesn’t even need to read the texts of the options on XP, he knows their position, which is the same in the French or Italian program and he just clicks.

This boy is so clever and at the same time humble, and he has won my esteem. He has a desert motorcycle which is like a wild horse. When I saw him again today with his USB keys hanging on his chest, like a grigri, I told him: “You are the Bedouin of Internet.”
He was very pleased by this description and fully agreed.
We were sitting, the three of us, with my friend and I, told him: “You don’t need me to put into practice my suggestions, Mohammad is your man for that.”

timbuktu manuscripts

A few days later this manuscript (picture above and below) was proposed to me for sale. It is so old that it is at risk of crumbling every time one touches it.
I now know for sure that my suspects were founded; Timbuktu’s manuscripts are sold to tourists as souvenirs.

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