Segou, we are in Mali and happy.
Mauritania still on our minds. Deep are the impressions when we head for the border and beyond. Mauritania was a good country, its people welcoming and we have got used to not drinking.
We don't stop till in Nara, the first town in Mali. What overwhelmed us (after Mauritania/where everything despite their friendliness seemed to be a bit difficult/like changing money and registering at a police post), we are overwhelmed by their "professionalism". and friendliness.
Police and Customs handle our immigration procedures in a very formal/quick/professional manner, without asking for presents/money. Moved to tears I shake the customs duty officers hand, thanking him for his friendly welcome.
If all Mali is like that I will love it. Malians seem to be more accepting/tolerant.
We take 2 days to get to Segou. Of course we drink beer in Nara. Beer after the drought of Mauritania. Indeed like rain in the desert.
But apart from that we enjoy the green of the Sahel region between Nara and Sokolo, many villages we cross and new is everything to us, the way these villages are organised, their mud housings, the wells in the town centres, the dresses (or lack of any) of men and women.
The closer we get to Sokolo and later Niono on the Canal du Sahel the more organised agriculture becomes. Rice and sugar cane fields line up one after the other for hundreds of kilometres. Enormous projects, some Japanese and US financed, have been carried out, with all the infrastructure necessary. Canals, roads, refineries, ..., work for thousands, schools and hospitals.
We reach Segou on 28th of Dec. and Nico and Julie (who we had met in Essaouira in June more then 6 month ago this year) a day later.
We discover that we are still friends. Life cannot be better.
After Christmas Eve in the Mauritanian desert had been quiet (too quiet for me), New Years Eve with Nico and Julie is definitely different.
2005, a year has passed, and so much I (we) have experienced.
We have made it. I looks like we have made it. Not just through the desert of Mauritania. It looks like the concept of travelling has worked.
The places we have gone to are uncountable so are the people we have met and the hands we have shaken. It makes my head turning when I think back.
Morocco, Senegal/Gambia, Mauritania.
Just thinking of only these past 5 weeks in the dust and sand of Mauritania, these roughly 3.000km (look at the 3 previous stories). Already it feels unbelievable what we have accomplished. Unreal already.
Life truly cannot be better.
Nico and Julie work for the Festival sur le Niger, that will be staged later here in Segou beginning of February.
And they'll provide me with a press badge. My first assignment as a fully accredited photographer.
So some time remains for practicing and trying the camera.
The Segou festival is still a month away, Essakane is first.
I spend my entire time in Segou under the vehicle, again a U-joint needed replacing, then the fuel tank leaked and needed rewelding, and lots more.
We finally leave Segou on the 7th of Jan, taking the road north via Markala and Niono further onto Nampala, Léré, Diartou, Niafunke and Goundam to Tombouctou.
Always keeping the river or one of its branches and canals to our right.
Essakane, festival au désert.
The festival au desert. Wednesday 11th, after a day and a bit in Tombouctou (which does not inspire) we reach Essakane after darkness. Thursday we are allowed onto the ground, "laissez passer" no1. We are first.
Hasna becomes friends and "sisters and brothers" with all the organising Tuareg folk quickly, she does not pay for the entry. Everyone is happy to see a Moroccan Muslim lady visiting their festival.
It's good to be there. Before the crowd, before it all starts.
And it starts slowly, with the Touareg gathering before sunset on camels (dromedaries) high.
It is their festival, their time to show off.
Here I begin to understand the uniting power of art and music and festivals.
We Westerners are allowed a glimpse into the Touareg society - they in exchange get some shoulder rubbing with us, the toubabs (the whites), and we all later go home with greater understanding of each other and more tolerance. So and such is the concept, one to be embraced, on the road to the "one world for all".
The festival is heavily sponsored by the likes of UNICEF and the EU. Every year there is complaint and blame "Where did the money go?" And every year the organisation seems to be getting just a little bit better.
But - what the heck, if the money serves peace and allows two or three worlds to meet (West, Black-Africa, Touareg).
It is worth keeping in mind that in the early 90s the same parading Touareg folk was fighting for recognition in a bloody uprising.
Lo' Jo seems have quit since then (P.S. Aug 2007).
Austrian Hubert von Goisern played Essakane in 2005. I like and share his "a musician's thoughts" about the festival.
Yet, for most (western) tourists coming here is a long arduous trip through the desert, long flights before but some excellent music in the end.
Not to forget the rip-off prices that some pay and the multiple hassles they feel exposed to (no good food, warm beer, souvenir vendors that never leave you alone, useless guids, bad sanitation, sand and sand....)
We (of course) did not pay 600 Euros to get here, had cold beer in the fridge, cooked our own food and made lots of new friends....
And for me as a photographer (in the making) it is on festivals like this that I am allowed the intrusive look at faces and bodies and camels and musicians.
Tiris, Saharawi Occidental.
From Western Sahara, "The Sahara is not for sale", he shouts, it had to become political. A bit.
Tiris, app. the Mauritanian name for the area of Western Sahara when under its control between 1975 and 1979.
Hasna is surprised, that everyone outside Morocco calls the Sahara south of Morocco Western (Occidental), instead of Moroccan.
Tiris is a hot group with miraculous siren voices. (visit here for more).
But why do Tiris play twice, Friday and Sunday? Lack of bands? Cancellations?
Young Malian Baba Salah,
Afro pop, some say,
But there's more to it...
You hear the desert, as this man comes from Gao, in the north east of Mali, on the Niger river....
... and sometimes the Hendrix inside.
He'll be on in Segou as well.
There is more to come ...
... on Essakane.
Some patience pls..