01 December 2010 by Chris Marais

From South Africa to Timbuktu - With Love…

Six days after moving to the Karoo from Jo’burg with a wife, three cats, 350 boxes of mainly books and two broken bottles of whisky, I get an assignment to fly north to Timbuktu.

I’m still dealing with the culture shock of all these wide spaces, strangers in bakkies waving at me, no rush hour or movie houses and a sudden social life that leaves about one day in the week to chill out and watch trashy TV.

Now I’m flying to Timbuktu, via OR Tambo, Charles de Gaulle and Bamako Airport in Mali. OK then. On the first flight, I’m sitting next to a soon-to-retire AIDs counsellor who’s emigrating to Perth. And where are you going, she asks.

“Timbuktu,” I reply. And suddenly there’s a chill in Economy Class. The lady thinks I’m mocking her, for some reason.

Two million weird moments later, colleagues Geoff Dalglish, Andy Davis and I are in Timbuktu visiting the South Africa - Mali Scrolls Project at the Ahmed Baba Institute. Then we have to photograph a brand new BMW X5 in less than an hour.

We spot a couple of Tuareg guides in beautiful turbans and offer them instant modelling fees. Right. They direct us through the rush of a thousand camels to various billboards where the word ‘Tombouctou’ appears.

Flying back, I shake my head at the motley collection of mud buildings down below. Was that Timbuktu? Really?

“So where you been?” my Cradock friends want to know.

“Timbuktu.” Again, that sudden chill…

  • For more on the SA - Mali Scrolls Project, go to link

Category: Culture & History

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