The blue men of the desert--men cover their faces, not the women. The veil is one long piece, often dyed indigo, and wrapped around the head to cover it and the face.
These are the nomads of the Sahara, often considered bandits, certainly wild ones who are almost independent of nations and borders. In northeast Mali they have a rather loose confederation with the Muslim democracy centered in the capital of Bamako 500 miles west and pretty well live their own lives from Timbouctou north and east.
As I have written, my friend and interpreter Assoumane Maiga, now a doctoral student at O.S.U., gave me one of these veils. The minute I put it on in the midst of other Malians, one said, "Ah, the Taureg."
Three years ago I was getting ready to go to Mali with a group from OSU on a state department grant to bolster the free press in this very poor country that is Muslim, and a U.S. friendly democracy. The two week trip changed my life in more ways than I can tell.
This sketch is just part of the memory. In the next month I will share some of my journal writing from there, and the photos I took.
I admire people like the Taureg... . they remind me of the American Indians who tried to withstand the so-called white civilization. But the Taureg have not succumbed. As Berbers from north Africa, they come from different genetic stock than most Malians, and their territory includes not only Mali, but most of southern Algeria, Niger and parts of Libya...in the Sahara lines on a map defining national borders are largely meaningless. Unfortunately Al-Quaida is using southern Algeria and Northern Mali these days, crossing paths with the Tuareg. But the Tuareg, who have a caste system and even slavery, are not terrorists.
I wore my veil and made a blue robe for a Halloween costume--you've seen the photo in an earlier post. I was immediately asked by someone if I had a bomb under it. The Tuareg wouldn't use a bomb. They'd slit your throat with some of their fine cutlery. These people spilled a lot of blood from the French Foreign Legion before the Europeans gave up and went home. So actually they have a lot in common with our American colonists fighting Redcoats. They've been featured and stereotyped--like American Indians-- in several movies, including Beau Gest.
These people are freer than most of us ever imagine, I think.