Ritual Circle at Stonehenge

Written June 18, 2008, on the train From Liverpool to Manchester, England, United Kingdom

On the morning of Sunday, June 16, I woke up at 6:00 to get ready to leave the lodge by 6:30 for a brisk walk to Stonehenge. I walked on paths through sheep and cow pastures. I took some pictures of the sheep and the sun rising in the sky, then of Stonehenge and surrounding burrows (or burial mounds) from some distance away. Time grew short and I had to run the last half mile through sheep pasture to Stonehenge. I arrived just at 7:30 for the special early bird bisit with only about 10 other people. We paid a bit extra and reserved in advance for the privilege of walking in and around the stone circles and touching the stones. The massive stones, some fallen or covered in lichen, evoke a sense of mystery. Stonehenge radiates ancient energy, the sense that generations have stood hand-in-hand in circles within the stones for rituals of consuming importance.

The latest archaeological digs suggest the stones mark an ancient burial ground. The excavations also suggest the Cursus, a short distance away, was used for processions and possibly a settlement of some kind. Not much further away at Woodhenge, of which nothing survived except buried wooden post holes, now reconstructed with low concrete posts painted various colors. Nearby is Durring Walls, perhaps one of the largest prehistoric enclosure mounds.

After wandering through the stones at Stonehenge for quite some time and satisfying my yen for photos of the stones and of me posted with the stones, I got to chatting with some other visitors on that day from Slough, Germany, and Virginia. The two women from Slough were the most friendly. A site employee was checking pictures of the stones against the actual stones, so that any damage to the stones during the upcoming solstice celebrations could be logged. Last year, about 30,000 people visited Stonehenge for the solstice, the only time everyone can go right up into the stones for free. Chloe and ???, the women from Slough, offered me a lift and I told them I wanted to go to Avebury to see the large stone circle around the village there, along with nearbly Silbury Hill and the West Kennet Long Barrow. They decided to take a small detour on their trip to Bath to join me for the visit to Avebury.

On the drive to Avebury, we chatted about the differences between American English and English English. We decided to play a little game where I’d tell them about any cases where there were differences between the two dialects of English. I thought I’d only have to mention something every ten minutes or so, but it ended up more like every minute!

A Day in Timbuktu: Ahmed Baba Institute and Another Manuscript Library

The Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques – Ahmed Baba (IHERI-AB), formerly the Centre de Documentation et de Recherches Ahmed Baba (CEDRAB), commonly known in English as the Ahmed Baba Institute, houses an excellent collection of historical manuscripts in Timbuktu.

Sign for Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Bad Photo of Manuscript, Al Ahkam al Shar iyyat al Kubra, Copied in 1204, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Photo of Manuscript, Al Shifa bi ta arif huquq al Mustafa, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali

Photo of Manuscript, Al Shifa bi ta arif huquq al Mustafa, Illumination Detail, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Photo of Manuscript, Mus haf Karim, Illuminated in Gold Leaf, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Photo of Manuscript, Mus haf Karim, Illuminated in Gold Leaf, Detail, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali

Manuscript, Koran Commentaries Copied in 1241, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript, Koran Commentaries Copied in 1241, Detail, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript, Risalat fil Basariyyat, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali

Manuscript, Risalat fil Basariyyat, Detail, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript, Letter From El Hadj Omar, Copied Around 1850, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript, Risalat ila Amir al Fullan Ahmad Ahmad, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali

Manuscript, Pharmaceutical Treatise, Written 17th Century, Copied 18th Century, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript Copied in Marrakesh in 1599 by Ahmad Baba of Timbuktu, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Blurry Photo of Manuscript, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali

Blurry Photo of Manuscript, Detail, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript, Tarikh al Sudan, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript, Tarikh al Sudan, Detail, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali

Manuscript, Tarikh al Sudan, Detail, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript, Tarikh al Fattash fi akhbar al buldan wal juyush wa akabir, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript, Tarikh al Fattash fi akhbar al buldan wal juyush wa akabir, Detail, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali

Manuscript, Tarikh al Fattash fi akhbar al buldan wal juyush wa akabir, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript, Medical Treatise in Verse, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript, Illuminated Koran, Purchased in Fez for 40 Mithqual of Gold in 1817, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali

Manuscript, Two Pages of Parchment, Koranic Verses and Text About Arabic Alphabet, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript, Two Pages of Parchment, Koranic Verses and Text About Arabic Alphabet, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript, Biography of Sheik Sidi Al-Mukhtar Al-Kounti and His Wife, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali

Koranic Prayer Art, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Water-Damaged Family Tree, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali

We walked through Timbuktu from one manuscript library to another.

Donkey Cart, Town Square, Timbuktu, Mali View of Ostrich-Egg on Minaret of Mosque, Town Square, Timbuktu, Mali View of Ostrich-Egg on Minaret of Mosque, Timbuktu, Mali

View of Ostrich-Egg on Minaret and Layered Tower of Mosque, Timbuktu, Mali

The other library also had amazing historical manuscripts.

Al Shifa Qadi Alyad, Arabic Label, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali Al Shifa Qadi Alyad, French Label, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali Al Shifa Qadi Alyad, Illuminated Manuscript, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali

Al Shifa Qadi Alyad, Illuminated Manuscript, Blurry Detail, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali Albakhari, Volume III, French Label, Copied in 1277 H, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali Albakhari, Volume III, Illuminated Manuscript, Copied in 1277 H, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali

Manuscript Cabinet, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali Need Transcription and Translation of Title, Arabic Label, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali Need Transcription and Translation of Title, Illuminated Manuscript, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali

Ancient Manuscript Box, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali Old Small Manuscript Tied in Leather Case, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali Need Transcription and Translation of Title, Arabic Label, Small Leather-Bound Manuscript, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali

Need Transcription and Translation of Title, Arabic Label, Small Leather-Bound Manuscript, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali Leafing Through Old Manuscript, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali Need Transcription and Translation of Title, Arabic Label, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali

Need Transcription and Translation of Title, Marabout Magic Manuscript With Tables, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali Photo of Man, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali Photo of Man, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali

Puny French – Sarakonnay Dictionary

November 22, 2007, Nara, Mali

French Sarakonnay (Sonninké)
Bonjour Enmunhjamb
Bonsoir Kalela
Apres-midi Kakira
Bon nuit Kasunka
À demain Kumbani
Hier Daru
Lundi Tleninge
Mardi Terata
Mercredi Arabah
Jeudi Alakamusah
Vendredi Ndjuma
Samedi Sibiti
Dimanche Alahadi
Griot Djaré (singular), Djaru (plural) {Note: Bambara term is Djelimuso}
Merci Nané
Garçon Yugo
Fille Kuciné
Femme Yagaré

Ancient Cities of Wagadu Empire: Oualata Libraries

Sunrise at the hotel in Oualata rocks!

Sunrise at Hotel in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Sunrise at Hotel in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Sunrise at Hotel in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania

I enjoyed Mr. Moulay’s tour of the interior of Oualata homes. The alcoves in Oualata have a unique shape. Traditional families often have staffs mounted to use to hang objects in their homes.

Staffs and Alcoves in Homes of Ancient City of Oualata Home in Ancient City of Oualata, Mauritania Home in Ancient City of Oualata, Mauritania

Home in Ancient City of Oualata, Mauritania Home in Ancient City of Oualata, Mauritania Home in Ancient City of Oualata, Mauritania

Home in Ancient City of Oualata, Mauritania Home in Ancient City of Oualata, Mauritania Home in Ancient City of Oualata, Mauritania

Home in Ancient City of Oualata, Mauritania Prayer Spot on Wall When Water Unavailable, Home in Oualata, Mauritania City View of Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania

Doorway in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Doorway in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania City Entrance of Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania

Mr. Moulay showed me the door of the mayor’s house in Oualata, at an old entrance of the city. We entered the library for a look at the painted interior with those uniquely shaped alcoves and, of course, the incredible book collection.
House of the Mayor, Entrance to Ancient City of Oualata, Mauritania Doorway in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania City Entrance of Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania

Old Door to Residence of Mayor in Ancient City of Oualata, Mauritania Interior Doorway of Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Interior of Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania

Interior of Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Interior of Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Outward View From Interior of Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania

Interior of Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Interior of Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Book at Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania

Label on Book Repository at Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Book at Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Damaged Book at Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania

Book at Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Label on Book Repository at Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Label on Book Repository at Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania

Label on Book Repository at Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Doorway of Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Book at Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania

Book at Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Book at Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Book at Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania

Book at Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Label on Book Repository at Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Book at Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania

Book at Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Book at Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Book at Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania

Labels on Book Repository at Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Termite-Eaten Book at Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Book at Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania

Book at Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Book at Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Books at Library in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania

Next to the library was a museum of traditional objects of Oualata.

Pouch and Elaborate Door Key at Museum in Oualata, Mauritania Mr. Moulay Showing Me How He Says Traditional Women Play Gourd in Ancient City of Oualata, Mauritania Maybe Traditional Jewelry Box in Ancient City of Oualata, Mauritania

Maybe Cowrie Shells at Museum in Ancient City of Oualata, Mauritania Traditional Staff at Museum in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Traditional Bag at Museum in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania

Maybe Door Key in Museum at Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Traditional Bracelet or Anklet at Museum in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Maybe Tobacco and Pipe Pouch at Museum in Ancient City of Oualata, Mauritania

Unknown Object at Museum in Ancient City of Oualata, Mauritania Amulet at Museum in Ancient City of Oualata, Mauritania Unknown Object at Museum in Ancient City of Oualata, Mauritania

Pipe and Tobacco Pouch at Museum in Ancient City of Oualata, Mauritania Traditional Water Container at Museum in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Traditional Sandals at Museum in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania

Pottery Object at Museum in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Traditional Stools at Museum in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Traditional Camel Saddles at Museum in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania

Traditional Camel Saddle at Museum in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Mr. Moulay Showing How Staff Used as Authority Symbol, Museum at Ancient City of Oualata, Mauritania Traditional Bed Platform at Museum in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania

City View of Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania City View of Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania City View of Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania

Doorway in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania City View of Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania Interior Doorway in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania

Doorway in Ancient City of Oulata, Mauritania

Ancient Cities of Wagadu Empire: Approaching Oualata

The truck guys from Koumbi Salah, Baba and Sidi, were off having tea while I spoke for awhile with Hassan, then he sent me off with them after they had already picked up some passengers along the way. Baba got the owner guy to translate that he too wanted a cadeau. I asked if I had already paid for the ride and they agreed I had. The first third of the ride to Timbedra, Sidi the navigator wanted to get in on the act and kept nagging me for a gift. I kept telling him to talk with Hassan if he had any problem. But he just wouldn’t stop after dozens of times, so I just put my fingers in my ears and sulked for awhile. Only that seemed to work. I felt actually quite hurt because I had through we were becoming friends, or at least buddies. I sat without speaking and pondered the situation – the needs some people have or feel they have, the stereotype of the rich foreigner, what it means to give, to ask, and to demand, and how to set limits to make my voyage even possible. I nearly cried.

Mother and Baby Camel on Route from Koumbi Salah to Timbedra, Mauritania Mother and Baby Camel on Route from Koumbi Salah to Timbedra, Mauritania Mother and Baby Camel on Route from Koumbi Salah to Timbedra, Mauritania

Finally, we arrived in Timbedra. I gave Baba Ahmed, the driver, and Sidi Mohammed, the navigator, each a small packet of tea as a gift, then we said our goodbyes. The meditation on this experience brought me to a place where I could thank the rip-off artist who brought me to Aoudaghost for helping me to learn a lesson.

Desert on Route from Koumbi Salah to Timbedra, Mauritania Desert on Route from Koumbi Salah to Timbedra, Mauritania Desert on Route from Koumbi Salah to Timbedra, Mauritania

Sunrise in Desert on Route from Koumbi Salah to Timbedra, Mauritania Desert on Route from Koumbi Salah to Timbedra, Mauritania Desert on Route from Koumbi Salah to Timbedra, Mauritania
Timbedra, Mauritania

In Timbedra, I hitched a quick ride to the garage for Nema. I waited awhile for a vehicle that didn’t look like it was leaving anytime soon, since they drive wanted a total of nine passengers. After two other passengers had paid, and I had wisely withheld paying, another driver offered to take me for 3000 ougiya instead of the first car’s price of 1000 ougiya, but with the advantage of having no other passengers, and more importantly of leaving right away. We did actually leave fairly soon thereafter, following an argument between all the drivers at the garage and a threat to call the police. Of course, the driver I went with packed the back seat with passengers, but at least didn’t try to push any more into the front seat with me. We got underway, and the driver, a Malian from Bamako who already had four kids by two Mauritanian wives, grilled me about how to get to America to make lots of money. I explained the usual four ways I know of and discussed at length with him why it would be difficult for him to marry an American woman.

Nema, Mauritania

We arrived at Nema and I dragged my bags through the sandy market streets to the “permanent garage? for Oualata. For some reason, the driver wouldn’t sell me the more expensive seat in the front of the vehicle. While sitting on the sidewalk waiting, I say “es salaam aleykum? to virtually everyone who passes by and chat with whomever seems interested or interesting. Most of the conversations are in halting French or minimalist Hassinaya/Arabic about where I am from, where I am going, and what is my name. I tried to telephone the Peace Corps volunteers here that the Ayoun volunteers had mentioned, but it was impossible to find a phone, and I didn’t have a Mauritanian “puce? or SIM card for my travel cellphone.

Written on November 18, 2007, Hotel de l’Amitié, Oualata, Mauritania

Oualata, Mauritania

The truck ride from Nema to Oualata was the most trying ride I’ve ever had, and I’ve been in some pretty horrible rides. I tried to reserve a place in the cab, but the truck owner said he wouldn’t be able to tell me if that was possible until 3pm. I had arrived at the “garage? around 11:30am. When some other passengers came along and he no doubt sold the cab seats to them, he glanced at me smiling. Somehow I knew he hated my guts, although I had never done anything to him. The problem continued with the owner of the truck not ensuring the truck bed was clean. Some animal, probably a goat, had pissed on the fiber netting and the driver hadn’t washed the netting or the truck bed since. The owner managed to pack my bag where the pissy portion of the netting was. When I protested, he face broke into a wide smile. I sarcastically laughed back and him and he back at me. I handed him 1000 ougiya and told him that’s all the seat he gave me was worth. He looked worried for a second, then greedily demanded the other 1000 ougiya for the price of the ride. My plan, after being relegated to the truck bed, was to position my bag so I could rest my back in relative comfort against it while riding. That plan was foiled because I couldn’t stand to sit down in the pissy netting. I was already immersed in the stink of it within five minutes after getting on the truck. The terrain was at times comparable to some of the worst bumpy and sandy desert roads I encountered in out-back Sudan. But what made the ride absolutely miserable was the way the truck owner packed myself and the other passengers in the bed of the truck along with a continually protesting goat and all our baggage. While some passengers admittedly rode in relative comfort up front, that is, squished in the seats of the large cab of the truck, the rest of us squatted, perched, and squirmed as the truck bumped and swerved for hours. At the last moment on the way out of town, I saw a toubab, a white woman, wandering the streets of Nema who I would coincidentally meet again later on. The route to Oualata seemed never to end, winding and twisting, at times backtracking for the correct route. Once we spotted a town and my spirits lifted only to have my hopes crushed by finding out it was another town and we still had a long ride to come. Every cloud has its silver lining and this trip was no exception. The sunset was exquisite. When we stopped for evening prayers, one fellow taught me how to put on a turban properly and we reshuffled ourselves in the truck bed. For about twenty minutes, I was actually comfortable — that is, until we picked up another passenger along the way, a handsome young fellow with deep brown doe eyes, startled by my appearance, but sitting basically in my lap with my legs spread wide and squished down below everyone else’s body parts. By the time we arrived in Oualata, I worried my legs and neck had received serious damage. After proceeding under a crazy welcoming town arch, the truck stopped at a police outpost. I tried explaining the name of the hotel where I wanted to go, but no one understood until I tried saying the name of the hotel’s owner and suddenly they figured out where I wanted to go. The “streets? were dark except for electric street lamps located at seemingly random spots around the town. The police officer took my passport to a little mud-brick building where he slept, ate, and conducted his duties. He insisted on copying my name and passport number, although he couldn’t spell in English or French. Eventually, he wrote my name in Arabic, even though I offered to write it several times myself for him. Meanwhile the passengers on the truck were getting restless and, preparing to abandon me there, the driver brought my bags to me. I groaned and the police officer said it was OK to leave, so I started dragging my bags back to the truck just as it was preparing to go. I yelled “Merde? (“Shit?) loudly. The truck waited for me to get my bags back on board, then started to leave without me having a chance to crawl back on so I had to thwack the side of the truck until the driver stopped, then clambered on board completely and utterly exhausted and nearly hysterical with stress. The driver dropped everyone else but me off first, and I even helped him unload several heavy sacks of grains and vegetables. Finally, the truck arrived at the hotel and Mr. Ahmed Moulay came out front to greet me. My final moment of high stress ended when he answered that there was indeed room at the inn, so I grabbed my large bag and he my small one, waved a quick goodbye to the driver, and entered the hotel compound.