The desert wind


In the Sahara, silence is a palpable presence. The sound of the wind or the noise of a vehicle arriving in the distance doesn’t eliminate the silence of the desert, rather it enhances it, making us conscious of its strange audibility.

In the desert, wind is a companion of silence.

An ancient town, encamped at the threshold of the desert, gets swept away by the wind day and night. Wrapped up in the red dust of the sand storms is Timbuktu: a city that was once a point of departure and arrival for many camel caravans and ships carrying African treasures up the Niger River.


For centuries Timbuktu exchanged its gold for science books, maintained schools of Islamic knowledge, and copied countless manuscripts by the hands of its calligraphers.  All the knowledge that arrived in Timbuktu through the desert was then spread across Africa.  In the deepest part of the European medieval Dark Ages, the city was a bright light of civilization and it attracted students and scholars from all over the Islamic world.


Now in Timbuktu, there are only some old, crumpled manuscripts left:  stored in old trunks, hidden inside in the mud houses belonging to the descendants of ancient scholars. The splendor of Timbuktu has been swallowed up by the sand of the Desert.  It is now a ghost town, a fallen disgrace, like a mighty Caliph who was dethroned, mutilated and then reduced to the state of a beggar, in the streets of his own capital.


Timbuktu, once a mythical city in the ancient world, is now no more than a village besieged by the dunes of the Sahara.  Nevertheless, this small town is hiding a huge reality that is still alive beneath the sands of its cemeteries and hidden in the old trunks full of manuscripts:  the light of Timbuktu’s three hundred and thirty-three Sufi saints.


For months I lived among the desert people:  my face wrapped in the blue turban of the Tuaregs as a protection against the burning wind and sandstorms of the Sahara.   Then one day I realized that the same potent wind that had once destroyed the city could also be the means of its resurrection.

The very wind that burns and dries all it touches could also power the blades of the windmills, pulling water up from belowground to give life to new gardens and provide free electricity to light up the mud houses and the dark streets at night.


Two years after repairing a dried up well of the Tuaregs, I decided to return in Timbuktu, inspired by the idea to transform the destructive wind of the desert into a wind of mercy.

                      Next episode: Windmills



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