First Kiss. First Love. Pt. 1

First Kiss First LoveFIRST KISS. FIRST LOVE. (1/3)
In this photo, my daughter, Indima is kissing our neighbor, Adam. While I sat outside their squatter hut with Adam’s mother, Haoua, chatting about life, money matters, and happiness, Indima fed Adam pistachios that we had brought back from France. Adam must be very special to Indima for her to want to share her special treat. She would pop one into her mouth, and then the other into his. Then, every once in a while, she would bend over to kiss him and hold his hand. Goodbyes were difficult; as we left to eat lunch at home only two houses down, she cried and cried, waving goodbye to her first love.

Mats of the Wed

Mats of the Wed

MATS OF THE WED: As they roam the Bagzan plains with their herds, these shephard girls weave the mats of their future homes, ever preparing themselves for their wedding day. These colorful mats, made of dyed reeds, are used for the roofs and siding of the traditional homesteads of the Touaregs of the Ayr. The mats are the wive’s contribution to their future marriage; the young girl is praised for the beauty of her mats and weaving ability, as it is a sign of her dedication as a future wife and mother.

The Shangri-La of Tofatat

THE SHANGRI-LA OF TOFATAT

THE SHANGRI-LA OF TOFATAT: The next thing Aubine and I did was to climb high into the boulders, through indescribably twisted passageways where we repeatedly had to help one another. At the summit of Tofatat we discovered a natural marvel whose existence still baffles me to this day: there was a small limpid pond surrounded by an earthen sward where a few flowering acacias and tender shoots of grass grew.

In our travels we had occasionally chanced upon pools of water in rocky Saharan environments. Called “gueltas” in Arabic, they were usually fed by rain but sometimes by springs. However, we never before had encountered such an anomaly at the highest spot in a citadel of stones — especially during the dry season! Because of the vegetation we decided that our guelta must be fed by an underground source. But where could spring water come from, here at Tofatat; and how did it rise to this level?

Aubine and I were enthralled at finding this unexpected Shangri-La. We danced and hugged each other, and splashed rapturously in the water. Grateful that the life growing inside Aubine could experience our euphoria, we felt more blessed than ever by Creation. Together with our child-to-be, our growing “family” became like a vessel for the energy flowing from the boulders, the guelta, the trees, and the deep blue sky.

Text: by Michael and Aubine Kirtley, excerpt from “An Invitation to Tofatat” published in “The Walkabout Chronicles, Epic Journeys by Foot”, recounting their first trip to this mystical land of dreams.

Photo: by me… upon my return as an adult to the one place on this earth that I can truly call home. Here a lone donkey enjoys the grasses of Tofatat’s plains.

The Tao of Tofatat

Toffatat bird flying

THE TAO OF TOFATAT: From far away I spotted our destination, dominating a valley encircled at a respectful distance by small hills — Tofatat was a rocky desert queen on her sandy dais. Our footsteps quickened, keeping time with our racing heartbeats. La Nuit sensed our new fervor and barked incessantly. As we got nearer, no one spoke; even our Labradors seemed entranced. Arriving at its base, we just looked up in amazement, and understood why Ahoudan had been so proud to bring us here.

Much of the Bagzan is like a holy fountain that spewed huge stones into the air. When they fell back to the Earth, they cascaded atop one another, dotting the landscape with rock castles. The most extraordinary of these is Tofatat. A surreal monument towering 50 meters high, it is the inadvertent Stonehenge of the Sahara.

Tofatat is a natural paradox. It is a game of rock Jenga that got too tall, crashed to the ground, and in a one-in-a-million stroke of good fortune, created balance out of imbalance. It is a craggy citadel whose many chambers all break the ground rules of engineering, as if it were designed by celestial architects on hallucinogens. Palaces of giant stone mushrooms, mysteriously posed on top of one another, bigger ones frequently on top of smaller ones. Truncated pyramids, boulders ripped asunder. A few isolated rounded stones, polished by the wind. All of these together formed a perfect congruence derived from mayhem.

Text: by Michael and Aubine Kirtley, excerpt from “An Invitation to Tofatat” published in “The Walkabout Chronicles, Epic Journeys by Foot”, recounting their first trip to this mystical land of dreams.

Photo: by me… upon my return as an adult to the one place on this earth that I can truly call home.

Tofatat (continued)

Tofatat

TOFATAT (continued): I now grasped why Ahoudan had never attempted to describe what we would find at his secret sanctuary. You can’t describe Tofatat, any better than you can describe “love”; you experience it, you say what it is about, you write poetry about it, but its essence is lost in translation. Although Tofatat is made of lifeless stone, it is the most life-giving natural phenomenon I have ever experienced.

Tofatat is the beauty in bedlam, the yin in the yang, and the ephemeral in the eternal. Its very existence is proof that great art may come from randomness. It is a metaphor for humanity, maddening in its discordance while at the same time vibrant in its diversity. And here we were, specks of human and animal dust, basking in its unclaimed majesty.

Transfixed like the stones themselves, we huddled together – an American, a European, an African, two bastard dogs and a bony camel — sensing that we had now arrived at our cosmic apotheosis. In communion with this ageless pile of weathered stones, I felt a oneness with everything that has ever existed or will ever exist.

Text: by Michael and Aubine Kirtley, excerpt from “An Invitation to Tofatat” published in “The Walkabout Chronicles, Epic Journeys by Foot”, recounting their first trip to this mystical land of dreams.

Photo: by me… upon my return as an adult to the one place on this earth that I can truly call home. Here a man walks across Tofatat and its prehistoric ruins, a last memory of this ancestral land.

Abandoning the Baby Camel

Abandoning the baby camel

ABANDONING THE BABY CAMEL: In this photo, I am riding my camel with my Touareg father, Ahoudan, as we trek across the Bagzan mountains of Niger’s Aïr.  Always preferring my own two feet (hence “alzharawalking”), I was not an avid camel rider.  But on this particular trip, I became sick, and Ahoudan spent his time carrying me, or holding me atop my camel.

The Bagzan mountains shelter the mysterious boulders of Toffatat; ancient rock dwellings of prehistoric peoples.  At the very top of Toffatat hides a chrystalline pool with magical healing properties… so they say.  I remember our descent from the Bagzan mountains vividly.  We clambered down the rocky narrow path holding tightly to our camels.

Approximately halfway down the mountain lay a baby camel.  It was alone and whimpering.  I climbed off my camel in order to caress the baby, and asked what was wrong with the animal.  It had fallen and broken its leg.  Its mother had had to abandon it. “We cannot leave this baby to die.  I will not abandon it like its mother”, I declared.

My parents urged me to get back onto my camel, as I cried and cried.  Ahoudan gave it some water, and looked at me with his warm eyes. “We can do nothing for this baby”, he said sadly. I cried for days, wanting to return to save the camel, and take it as my own.

Photo by Michael and Aubine Kirtley.