Mali & Niger 2006 > Desert Eclipse Expedition > The Places >
Dirkou and Bilma and Back Again

Dirkou makes Juarez look like Paris. It was the first town we'd seen in awhile. It was a major point for people from Central America West Africa to get onto trucks for the long drive through Mexico Libya in hopes of eventually making their way to fortunes in the United States Europe.

Bilma, a few dozen km south, still makes salt, and was in a perfect position to see the eclipse.
The trucks in Dirkou are the modern equivalent of slave ships. Clearly the close-packers manage this crew.
Residents of Dirkou sitting around the bar where we waited while the trucks refueled.
Our tour, re-encountering civilization.
There was the worst rock band in the world at the bar, but the tourists danced anyway.
A pharmacy strapped to a chair, carried by head. This is not an uncommon way of distributing drugs.
Pharmaceuticals that the Chinese sell to the West African community. First World Problems make it to the Third World...
More fabric.
Copyright violations inside the bar.
The ceiling at the house in Dirkou where we had lunch, made of cardboard. This house was of some relative of one of the tour people, and was apparently one of the places in the desert where fuel had been stored. Maybe if I were adhering to such construction codes my kitchen would be done, too.

I had been worried, off and on throughout the trip, of various scenarios of Betrayal by the Invisible Hand. What would happen, for example, if a Japanese tour agency showed up willing to pay five times the market price for diesel fuel, and Souleymane found his supplies sold out from under him? But in retrospect, it is apparent that the honor of the Tuaregs runs considerably deeper than that. They have to live with each other for the next several centuries.
This little kid had his photo taken by everyone repeatedly. He also got hold of a camera and shot some film on his own.
A sheep is bought at the house where we ate lunch for the following night's pre-eclipse celebration (there won't be time for a post-eclipse one). The effect is that the sheep missed the eclipse; which she would have regarded as a bad omen anyway.
Bilma has actual salt mines. Salt is fabricated into ingots shaped like enormous golf tees. They feel like concrete and weigh about 50 kilos.

There was some little guy running around asking for money for us to take pictures. It wasn't clear if he was connected to any formal organization. I brushed him away.
Salt evaporation ponds.
Demonstrating that you can scoop salt from the red water.
A cast that salt is poured into to make the ingot.
I like the saltcicles.
We visited a small hospital in Bilma, and several of the campers, including especially a doctor, donated extra drugs to it. One of the campers set up a website to make donations. This was connected somehow to a climb he was making of a mountain in the Caucasus. I've never quite understood how the various exertions relate to charity — the AIDS walk, the breast cancer bike rides, pushups for palsy, situps for sclerosis, exhaling for eczema, typing for carpal tunnel syndrome, pie eating for early adult onset diabetes, what's the connection then? But their pharmacy had fewer drugs than our bathroom. More pictures of the hospital...
Another eclipse glasses feeding frenzy, after someone from the town explained to the crowd how to use them.
The inevitable native lady peering out of a doorway shot. I wonder who holds the copyright on this composition?
Just like in America.

The quality of exchange was hurting a bit out at the end of Niger. The children of Fachi, where we stopped the day after the eclipse for water, clutched pieces of paper with Filemaker printouts describing Messier objects, clearly given to them as souvenirs by astronomers. Gavin made a video on his cell phone of the children there fighting over a t-shirt. In the other minimal direction, Ellen bought a rock, a plain ordinary rock, from a tiny child in Fachi, just to reward the behavior of offering something in return for the cadeau that is begged.
Halfway back to Agadez from Ténéré, there was a celebrated isolated tree called L'Arbre du Ténéré. It was killed in a car crash and its remains are now in a museum in Niamey. This is a monument put up in its place. The guidebooks go on about how there isn't another tree for a hundred and fifty miles; this isn't so, there are scattered trees abutting the southern part of the Aïr massif, but they are quickly being cut down for firewood.
An abandoned village outside of Agadez.
On to The Camping Trip

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