Ali Ould Sidi is the director of the cultural mission in Timbuktu. In his company, one is always sure to eat well because he is a blue ribbon and does not miss an occasion to taste something good.
Not only does he handle the funds of cultural projectsÂ financed by foreigners, which includeÂ the preservation of the antique manuscripts of Timbuktu, but he also cares about his Tuareg family in the desert.
It is he who kindly took me to the dried-out well of his Tuareg cousins in his car.
The Tuaregs are the princes of the desert, nomads and sometimes brigands.Â Â They are called the blue men because they dress only in blue clothes.
They live by bringing their cattle and camels from pasture to pasture, according to the seasons. Since theÂ drought has hit the Sahel they are desperately poor.Â
Despite the hardship that they face, they are always joking and laughing like children and we had a very good time with them today.
Their well has been dug with the help of an American man who named it after his daughter Amy, “Amy’s well.”Â Â Unfortunately, as the wellÂ is built on sand, itÂ fills with sand and the water thatÂ is produced isÂ Â becoming very scarce now that winter is finishing. There is no way to resolve the problem.Â By removing the sand out ofÂ the well itÂ would miss support in it’s bottom and would crumble. “We know this problem very well,” says the chief Tuareg, “When a well takes sand there is nothing to do”.
It is a deep but useless well, and the sixty families that live scattered around in tents during the winter have had to emigrate in order to survive. There is barely enough water for the animals of theÂ twoÂ families that stayed behind to keep the well.
The government has made a very deep hole near the well but as usual when public money is used the work is done badly and halfÂ way.Â They have intalled a plastic tube to reach the water but there is no pump to pull it up.
The Tuaregs tell me that this work is completely useless for them because they know veryÂ well that the plastic tube will break.Â A solar pump that is necessary to pull the water from this hole is too costly and fragile for the desert.
The only solution according to them is to dig another well, from which they will be able to pull the water out with buckets as they have always done.
It takes three months to dig a well in the desert and I do not know if I shall be able to stay such a long time. I certainly don’t want to start something that I cannot personally bring to an end.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
Tomorrow I shall have to askÂ the wellÂ expertÂ in Timbuktu if it is possible to modify the well in order to increase the quantity of water that it produces, or if it is possible to dig a new well in a month, working day and night.
In the meantime we are going, Ali and I, to buy 20 bags of millet for these people, but we tell them nothing, it should be a surprise.
I have noticed that the Tuaregs, just like myself, do not like to be photographed by strangers, but the Tuareg chief, Sheikh Adda, has seen my interestÂ in their well and asked me to take a picture together with him.