ML 148461


Environmental Recording 2:10 - 10:54 Play 2:10 - More
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Market ambi  







Environmental Recording 11:41 - 27:59 Play 11:41 - More
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Rain on tent  







Sound Effects 39:29 - 40:29 Play 39:29 - More
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Passing camel caravan  







dromedary -- Camelus dromedarius 52:01 - 52:12 Play 52:01 - More
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Sound Effects 1:06:49 - 1:09:00 Play 1:06:49 - More
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Desert thunder  







Sound Effects 1:11:29 - 1:17:21 Play 1:11:29 - More
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Passing camel caravan  







Interview 1:19:49 - 1:28:09 Play 1:19:49 - More
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Issa Mohammed  






Trans-Saharan trade  

Interview 1:29:13 - 1:37:03 Play 1:29:13 - More
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Wade Davis, Chris Rainier  






Trans-Saharan trade  

Interview 1:43:39 - 1:52:31 Play 1:43:39 - More
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Godfried Peter Agbezudor  






Salt miners; Trans-Saharan trade  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
15 Jan 2003

  • Mali
  • Timbuktu
  • 16.7758333   -3.0094444
    Recording TimeCode
  • :04 - 11:04
  • Mali
  • near Bir Ounane
  • 21.4556   -3.9219
    Recording TimeCode
  • 11:07 - 1:28:55
  • Mali
  • Taoudenni
  • 22.666667   -3.983333
    Recording TimeCode
  • 1:29:06 - 2:07:34
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Equipment Note
  • Spaced Omnis before 11:04; Decoded MS Stereo after 11:07

Show: Mali
Log of DAT #:6A
Engineer: Leo
Date: January 12, 15, 2003

RC = Roberto Cerea
IM = Issa Mohammed
PG = Godfried Peter Agbezudor
WD = Wade Davis
CR = Chris Rainier
AC = Alex Chadwick
CJ = Carolyn Jensen
Leo = Leo del Aguila

Leo sets up the recording at the market. OMNIS. January 12, 2003

Ambi. Market sounds.

Leo interrupts to check sound

Ambi. Market sounds.

Leo interrupts to check sound.

Ambi. Market sounds.

Leo interrupts recording because of low battery.

blank, no nat sound.

FX. Crackling sound-it's rain. MS. January 15, 2003

Leo sets up recording.

Ambi. Desert rain

Leo interrupts to face the other direction.

Ambi. Desert rain (this one has lower sound than previous).
Leo adjusts audio. He says grumbling sound is Alex snoring.

no sound

Leo sets up recording.

FX. Loud truck.

Sounds of trying to free the stuck truck.

31:56 AC
So Chris you've been on a lot of these expeditions many times. How often does this happen?

32:01 CR
Well, we're getting up into a position where there's a lot of soft snow, uh sand. So today we'll probably get stuck a fair amount. And it's always fun when you have a group of people along for the trip because it's like, ¿Hey, this is fun, it's a great adventure¿. By late in the afternoon it's like, ¿Oh, no, we're getting stuck again¿. *And you'll actually hit sections where we could do this for two to three hours and literally having to move five feet, five feet, five feet and work your way out of an area that can be 200 yards long. *And then it's a real challenge when you get all four vehicles stuck. So it's all a part of the desert.

34:00 AC
Well that's not bad. About five minutes of pushing we got the truck out. Uh, they're all together now. We're going to head off.

34:13 AC
Roberto, could you just tell me about what you're talking about here? (faint)

34:19 RC
Now we are discussing about at what time and where to stop for lunch. And what we want to do is to stop in Ounane, is a well. So at the same time when we are eating we fetch water from the well and we can fill all the containers we have because we, we need water for the night.

34:40 AC
And how far is it?

34:44 RC
Twenty-five, thirty kilometers, one hour more.

34:49 AC
How long does this section last with all this rock?

34:52 RC
After the well, the well will be the end. And after the road is much better. So we have still many kilometers to reach Taoudenni with, but a good road. We are not talking about a road, pave the road or highway, of course.

FX. Truck motor.

Leo sets up recording for caravan of camels.

39:07 AC
It's just after noon. We've stopped because we've come upon a caravan that's on it's way to Taoudenni. There are about 40 camels here, and two men leading them.

Ambi. Sound of caravan going past.

40:40 AC
It's amazing how quietly they move in the desert. Forty of them just, just going past us here. You can hardly hear their foot steps. They're walking over sand and rock, but they pass us silently.

Ambi. Caravan. Camels walking past.

41:53 AC
We're driving across the desert in this rocky kind of area, and suddenly we've come upon a caravan. I would guess about 40 camels. They're just walking through the desert here. They're going toward the salt mining area, which is still probably 50 or 60 miles away. And the camel drivers are on foot, they're walking and leading these camels. There are three of them and 40 of the camels, all lined up. They walk with this precision. A camel steps so quietly it's legs working so elegantly, so precisely, almost like a model on a runway. So delicately they put one foot forward in front of the other and just move along completely quietly, very gracefully on the landscape.

Ambi. Camels walking.

no sound.

Leo starts rolling again.

Ambi. Camels walking at much faster pace.

no sound

Leo starts rolling again

Ambi. Tin case rattling.

47:39 AC
It's a tin a kind of a case. It's a tin case of a trunk. I don't know what it's got in it, water I would think. And that's what you hear rattling there with the chains on it.

Ambi. Tin case rattling.

Leo explains recording

no sound.

49:51 AC
Wade, is this the ethnosphere we're seeing walk by us here?

49:53 WD
Ya it's great because (unintelligible) is a friend of his. So he's very cool, it's very non-threatening, but it must be strange to have TV crews, radio crews, still photographers beeping all over them. This is the ethnosphere.

Ambi. Walking sounds, tin rattle.

FX. Camel sounding out.

Ambi. More walking.

FX. Camel sounding out.

Ambi. Herdsman leading camel through a tongue cluck and talking to him. Wind sounds.

Leo sets up recording for water hole.

Getting water from the well, and Arabs talking.

59:08 AC
We've reached a well. This is our third day of driving away from Timbuktu. We're at a well that's just here in the desert and we're throwing up the water by hand. It's about, uh, probably 35 feet and they have this rope made out of long strips of canvas hauling up the water bag and filling our water jugs.

Ambi. More hauling water sounds. People talking.

1:01:23 ?
This well has been built since 1986, and it is built as a watershed for passersby¿

1:01:07 ?
Ya, it was built for travelers.

1:01:50 AC
This well was built in 1986¿

1:01:51 ?
Ya, 1986, and it has been built for travelers on the road from Taoudenni to Timbuktu.

1:01:58 AC
Was there a well here before?

1:01:59 ?
No, it was not here before.

1:02:02 AC
So how do they know that there's water down there? Could they drill anywhere and find water?

1:02:05 PG
This was built by the government. They came up looking for water, where they could find water for the camel walkers for the salt trade and that's how they came about building a well here.

1:02:19 AC
If they could build a well here could they build it anywhere?

1:02:23 PG
Ya, it's only where they find the water is easy to reach that they build the wells.

1:02:28 AC
And how do they know?

1:02:30 PG
Experts. They have experts who come looking out for water. And even just across the road you will find the pila (?), which indicates 127, but that is not 127 miles either, it is 127 pila (?) from Timbuktu. So when you see that you just multiply it by 5 and you know the number of kilometers you have done so far from Timbuktu.

1:03:34 AC
We've been driving since this morning. We got stuck several times in the sand. Pushed the trucks out. It's about 1:30 in the afternoon now and we've stopped at this place on the way to Taoudenni, the place of the salt mine. And there's a well here in the desert that, uh, the government drilled, oh, 15 years ago, they say. They found a place that has relatively easy access to water and they put in these wells for caravans.

1:04:14 AC
We stopped at this place. We're going to get lunch here. There's a well we're pulling up some water. We're here, right here in the Sahara desert, and I mean, almost the middle of the Sahara desert. What happens? A thunderstorm. It's been raining. It rained this morning, it rained last night, it rained yesterday. I'm just astounded to come to the Sahara and find rain.

no sound

Leo sets up for getting some thunder sounds.

FX. Roaring wind.
FX. Thunder

no sound

Leo asks Roberto where he is. Sets up recording.

1:09:28 RC
(they discuss where they are).

Ambi. Caravan traveling through.

1:17:22 AC
This is late in the day, day three. We're probably 50 miles from our destination, Taoudenni. We're passing through this great flat expanse of rocky desert. We've come upon another caravan, this one headed south. About 50 camels, loaded with salt, walking with three men, walking beside the caravan, yelling at the camels, yelling at us, too, for stopping to watch them and take their picture and make recordings. They passed on just heading out of distance. They go much more quickly than you might think, since the men are walking, they're not riding the camels, they're walking, but they make very good speed.

Ambi. Wind rustling

1:18:26 AC
This is late in the day, day three of our expedition. We're getting close to Taoudenni, the salt mine. We've just come upon another caravan. You heard it walking by. Already they're almost out of sight on this great open expanse. They move much more quickly than I would have expected. The men, three men with probably 50 camels, they're walking. The camels are loaded with salt. Still, they make, still they go very quickly. Here we are, it's much more cold than you would expect. We've been very cold for several days. The sky is cloudy, it was raining earlier today, the Sahara. It's just not at all what I would have expected.

no sound

1:19:47 AC
So, uh, just say who you are. Go ahead.

1:19:53 IM
Issa Mohammed

1:19:54 AC
And so we're going to do a little bit more interview with Issa. And, uh, what did you think of that?

1:20:04 IM
I think it's, um, it's always beautiful for people to be able to keep traditions alive, and to be able to keep cultures alive, and to keep what is meaningful to them alive. This caravan has been passing through the route since the 11, 12, 13 ,14th century, up to now. So it is really a great opportunity to be standing in the Sahara here and to be observing a continuity of this tradition and of this legacy. And to see the strength and the courage of these young men who devote their time for this type of activities.

1:20:55 AC
Issa, you just heard the thunder here a moment ago. I thought it never rained here in the Sahara, and here we have thunder storms, and it's cold. The Sahara's not what I expected.

1:21:06 IM
Yes, um, thank you for saying that and myself, too, it has been a surprise even for me because this is the month of January. Normally it does not rain in Mali at all in January. The rain usually shows up for the first time in May, May, June, July, August, and the end of September, but the Sahara is really changing and there is a complete change in the climate and all I can say is there is a tradition, a saying of the prophet of Islam, that the hour will not come until the desert is green again. And scientists are proving right now that the desert is becoming green in Saudi Arabia and because of a shifting of the, um, glaciers, yes. So this is what comes to mind as I'm seeing green grass in the Sahara in January, which is really unusual.

1:22:19 AC
Are you worried?

1:22:20 IM
I am excited and worried at the same time. But it's just great to see that pretty soon, if the desert gets green, that means that the congested cities of Bamako, Mopti will be relieved of that burden because the Tuareg, the nomad will get back into their older lifestyle.

1:22:44 AC
You think so?

1:22:45 IM
Yes. Which means that we will be able to save these cultures that are right now on the brink of being lost on the edge of this crumbling. And this thunder is a hope.
*FX. Faint thunder. (This is on the end of when Issa says, ¿And this thunder is a hope¿)

Yes, this thunder, for me, it is a hope in the sense that it is a sign that the divine power is going to save these cultures. That the divine power is going to support your effort for coming and letting the whole world know about the beauty of these customs, traditions, and cultures, which is, are on the edge of vanishing if a positive action is not taken.

This is day three of our expedition out here into the desert and I'm wondering how you are feeling as you going along and see this. This is something¿You are a Tuareg, you were born around Timbuktu, but still you've never come up this far.

1:24:11 IM
Yes, uh, this is my first time to go this deep into the Sahara desert, and it is, it creates a sense of relief within me. It creates¿(thunder)¿a sense of being freed¿(interruption from Leo at 1:24:34)¿Yes, it creates a feeling of being freed once again. Because this is where I was born; in this openness, in this immensity in this infinite, infinity. And suddenly I find myself in cosmopolitan cities; Los Angeles, New York, Washington D.C. Beautiful cities, by the way, but very busy cities, you see. Coming from a simple environment and finding myself into a much larger, modern, with the noise of technology and everything and then suddenly find myself in my original setting and place from which I took the first steps to go abroad. So it is a feeling that I cannot really describe. Sometimes it is just better to enjoy, just to let go and enjoy. So I feel really, reconnected with my inner self with myself. And although I am really appreciative to my work in America, I have met some very beautiful and wonderful people and I have learned a lot of things. And for that very reason I do believe the world is evolving into a bigger village of culture and traditions where one can eat breakfast in Los Angeles, and then having a French dinner in Paris, and then having beautiful African dinner or lunch or breakfast the next day in Timbuktu. So we are really becoming one and it's a time to celebrate our difference and to really embrace each other. So as I see this caravan passing by it reminds me also of the human cultural caravan.

no sound

When you get back home what are you going to tell your children, ¿Daddy what was it like in the Sahara?¿ What are you going to tell them?

1:27:21 IM
I would say it's, um, it's very beautiful, it's a really divine, spiritual place, it's a place where one can really, really assess things. It's a place where one can refocus his zoom of destiny, his lenses, zoom, just like a camera. And you can really sort out things in the Sahara, which will give you a greater grip and mastery of life in the cities. That's what I saw in the Sahara.

1:28:08 AC
Thank you.

no sound.

Ambi. Roaring wind.

no sound

1:29:14 AC
Uh, this is our first morning in Taoudenni. We've just kind of come over to meet the Maribou, who's the guy in charge and now we're just setting out to walk around and see things. Wade, what do you do, what are you going to be looking for, what are you trying to do today and tomorrow?

1:29:31 WD
Well I'm just trying to get a sense of what it actually means to work this isolated mine. I mean here's a mine that has been worked since the 11th century and it was extraordinary riding last night in a storm of Biblical proportions with lightening exploding in the sky, with winds that swept away our tents, and then to wake up this morning to a perfect sunlight, on a plane that seems to go forever. And then to see in the horizon the small workings of this mine. It really is a whole scene that seems to be coming out of the Bible. So I think I'll just drift through the mines, try to get a sense of what it means to work here, who's worked here longest, what the relationship is with the various satellite communities, what the relationship is between the caravans that are departing with the salt and the people who are left here to work it, who owns the land, how do they keep their, their space, you know, who controls what access to what bit of this ancient lake bed, just trying to get a sense of the lay of the land.

1:30:30 AC
Chris, let me just ask you about, um, what you're doing here, what you're going to be looking for today.

1:30:38 CR
Well, having been here several times before, I want to just continue to dig deeper and deeper into the culture and get beyond kind of the stereotypes of what we think this place is, try and create kind of images that really portray who these people are, what they're doing here, why they are hear out in the middle of the Sahara desert; surely it must be easier to have a job in Timbuktu or Bamako. Why go through all this experience? And put that into visual terms and hopefully out of those moments capture some iconic moments that speak at this place.

1:31:16 AC
(There is a goat bleating in the background while Alex is talking-very cute) That's what really bewilders me about it. So far we've at least learned at Timbuktu what you get for the salt tablets when you bring them back, just the dollar value of them and how you divide them, so much for the caravan, so much for the merchant. It seems like there's almost no money in this at the end of it and incredible travail to come up here to dig this stuff to mine it, to go through getting it back down there, the genuine dangers, never mind the labor, for what?

1:31:56 CR
Well, that's a fascinating question because it is not ultimately an economic activity. For all kinds of rational reasons you'd be far better to buy sea salt or imported salt from Europe in terms of a cost benefit analysis. What's interesting to us is that this practice and this tradition persists despite all that, and has persisted for hundreds of years. What is it that salt means to these people? You know, you hear it described as the gold of the desert. *What is it about the act of digging the salt, the transport of the salt, the entire culture that grows up around the movement of that salt through that vast and impossible desert that we traversed in a vehicle at 50 miles an hour over the course of three days? But they of course take 40 days disappearing into the void, if you will, where, as you mentioned, they trade for a pittance. Clearly it's something about the dynamic of interacting with the Earth, of getting the salt out, of making the exchange, of moving through the sacred geography of the desert, a concept probably never talked about, but never forgotten, to get to this point of exchange in that ancient center of knowledge. It's the dynamic, it's the actual existence and legitimacy and value of the effort that allows this tradition to persist.

1:33:21 AC
Okay, great, thanks.

1:33:23 CR
You know it's interesting how that question provokes that thought, but it's absolutely true isn't it? I mean, there's no rational reason why this should happen. And this is this is gives me an indication, in a sense, of how monochromatic our lens is when we begin from our perspective, from our cultural perspective, to begin to understand these apparently exotic traditions around the world. The minute you try to reduce it simply to values of economy, you know, labels of monetary worth¿

1:33:56 AC
Which is how we measure almost everything.

1:33:57 CR
Which is how we measure almost everything, you suddenly see that it's absolutely futile. This is not the way to take the measure of this tradition. And that's true in so many things around the world. And what we are really here to explore in Taoudenni is what is it the essence? Because it's not a pleasant thing to do. We can see the sores on the hands of the kids that mine this stuff. We can see the bare feet that walk across the desert to get it back. I mean, it's not about being fun, it's not like these people are having a good time, but there's something inherent in this effort that has a value to these people that allows all those vicissitudes to be overcome, otherwise the trade would simply disappear.

1:34:45 AC
That's it, and it's trying to figure that out. I mean, I guess that's the essence of the ethnosphere project: what is that value, and how do they get it?

1:34:55 CR
And what do values like that do to maintain the kind of sense of self and the sense of being alive. I mean why do any of us have traditions? It's to remind ourselves A) that we're somehow in control of a destiny which in reality spins out our control all the time and we create structural and cultural boundaries around our lives to give meaning to those lives, to give orientation to those lives. And what we're seeing here is sort of this ancient exchange and it's got to be something about the very act of moving into the desert has inherent value, the challenges of that desert, the knowledge one must acquire in order to make that passage through the desert. The salt in that sense becomes symbolic as a Eucharist when we take Holy Communion. It's got very little to do with nutritional value or the alcoholic content in the wafer and the wine of Christ. It's that, those items become hugely imbued with power and symbolism and I think the salt, even though, of course, if you asked any one of these men it's an object of trade, it has a value, you know, so much per kilo, but at some larger level the salt exists and the salt trade exists because it gives meaning to the lives of these people, however difficult those lives, indeed, are.

1:36:18 AC
You realize that one of those tablets weighs about 90 pounds and sells for about, at the highest quality, sells for about nine dollars. It's one dollar for 10 pounds of this salt.

1:36:36 CR
And that's what it sells for at the exchange point in Timbuktu. But here, we'll find out today what one of these young men gets for cutting it out of the ground. No doubt something far less. Indeed, I think from what I understand many of these people are working five days for someone else and two days for themselves.

1:37:02 AC

Leo explains he's trying to get goat sounds.
Ambi. People talking in background.

no sound

Alex explains they are at Taoudenni trying to get sound of caravan camels.

Alex approaches camel herders.

1:43:39 PG
See what, see what they do. (audio gets loud)This is the kind of strings they make out of some of the straws that are meant to feed the animal (audio gets soft again). And these are the kind of strings they use in tying the slabs together on the back of the camels before they start moving away.

1:43:59 Camel Herders

1:44:11 PG
They don't actually, he doesn't sell it. But they are making it for themselves because they have got their own camels here. So they are making it¿(interrupted)


1:44:24 PG
They make their ropes in order to tie their own slabs that they are going to buy from the people here and they tie them on their own camels and walk them down to Timbuktu.

1:44:35 AC
So these are, these are caravan merchants. They're going to buy the salt. They're not actually miners. They're actually going to buy the salt and load it up?

1:44:45 PG
And then load up the camels.

When are they going to go back to¿?


1:45:00 PG
In two days


1:46:51 PG
So, what they actually do here is the miners normally reside here in the mines and they live here for a long time, and the salt buyers come from Timbuktu with their camels. It could be 50 camels, it could be 100 camels, but as soon as they get here, those with salt will quickly approach them and say, ¿we have salt, so if you want to take our salt we have the best quality,¿ just like any other merchant will do. And what they do, for every single camel they have four slabs of salt and on each camel only one slab of salt belongs to the miner and the other three belong to the owner of the camels because he's going to walk for all this 40 days from here down to Timbuktu to sell the salt. So he comes up here with his camels, he gets into contact with the miners, he loads his camels, go down to the south, that is Timbuktu, sell the salt, get the money, come back again in another 40 days. That is in all, 80 days, 40 days to go, and 40 days to come back. Now, when he's coming back he buys food for the miner and the rest of the money he keeps in tact for him. So that's the way they are doing their trading.

1:48:19 AC
So if you have, so if you have say, uh, 20 camels, would that be a good size¿how, how, I'm trying to figure out how much money would a miner, a miner make? He has the food, they bring back food for him, and how much money. It would depend on how many slabs of salt he sold, but I mean what would be normal, what would be average for a day?

1:48:49 LEO
How much would they pay for it?

1:48:51 AC
From one miner, how many slabs of salt would they buy?


1:50:54 PG
Okay, now it is something that they don't normally give to people like strangers. It is between families. Now, somebody will walk all the way from Araouane or from Timbuktu and say I'm going to work on the mines. When he gets here he goes to the only authority, asks for permission, goes to a place where no one has ever mined. He starts digging, maybe with a group of two or three people. They start digging. They dig to a level and they find the salt is okay. They start mining until their family comes over, or they send a message to somebody they know to come over and collect the slabs that they've harvested or they've mined from this particular hole. Meanwhile, when about they get a slab they keep it, they keep piling it up, until a caravan of a known person comes, then they give all to him. Say, of every single four bars, I have one share, now when you get back to Timbuktu, leave this in my family house because I want to get as much as a thousand, two thousand, three thousand because they always have an aim. So, if I say don't sell it, you keep piling them at my house in Timbuktu. If I say sell it, then you sell it and give the money to my family in Timbuktu. So actually, people who work here do not always work for people. They also have their own mines waiting, make their own living.

Alex asks to record the camels

Leo starts recording the camels

FX. Starts with camel herder talking, Camel roars throughout.

FX. More camel roars.

Ambi. Herders talking, fainter camel roars, sound of walking.

FX. Loud camel roar.

Ambi. Sound of walking and camel herders talking.

2:04:26 AC
These camel herders have, about, I guess 40 of the creatures staked out on the plain. They're not staked, though, they're just wandering around. They don't go too far cause the camel herders have a big pile of hay and every now and then they come over and drop some of it off and that keeps the camels pretty happy. There's one man who's going around with a bag that he's carrying, and he keeps walking around this group of camels. He's picking up camel dung, which are little, oh, marble sized palettes. It's not like the piles that cows make, it's even smaller than what horses make, the kind of apple-sized chunks the horses make. They're pretty small, hardly bigger than a good-sized marble, maybe 30 or 40 of them at a time, and this man goes around, he picks these up and they put them in a little stove and that's what they use for fuel, dried camel dung.

Ambi. Sound of people talking, walking sounds, guy gathering camel dung.

Close Title