About All Those Guns, Here’s An Idea

Last Saturday, I’d planned to spend the day cleaning the apartment while listening to TV coverage of the March to Save Lives. I hadn’t so much as picked up a dust rag before the action on the screen caught my attention and held me transfixed for the rest of the day. Also in several instances, brought me to tears. It was such an impressive display by young people — teenagers and younger — brought together from all over the country, from inner cities and affluent suburbs, and places in between, representing different races and ethnicities, all united in the common conviction that gun violence must stop. They give hope for the future.

In the days after the March, praise was effusive for the young organizers and guarded optimism expressed that at long last some changes could possibly come about. I thought about all that lethal hardware, more than enough to arm every man, woman and child in the nation, with plenty left over to inflict on other countries. What could be done with it all?

And then I remembered the Flame of Peace Monument I saw in Timbuctu. It had been erected to mark the end of the Tuareg uprising in the 1990s. The Tuareg are descendants of nomadic  Berber camel drivers and traders who once roamed the Sahara and the Sahel, that great swath of Africa between the Sahara Desert and the green and forested areas to the south. They are dark-skinned with Caucasian features and frequently dress in long robes, called boubous, and with distinctive turbans that wind around the head and include a veil, called a tagelmoust that extends to cover the rest of the face. (I assumed the head-and-face-covering was designed as protection against the swirling desert sand, but research informed me that there was much more to it. Presumably, it also accommodates the social requirement of not showing one’s face to a person of higher rank.)

In the 1970s and ’80s, extended droughts caused huge losses of livestock among the Tuaregs who felt the national government was not doing enough to help their area of Mali. Civil war was averted when the Tuaregs were given more prominence in government and civil service positions. A ceremonial burning took place of 3,000 weapons, many of which are incorporated into the peace monument.

So what about that? Let the peaceful gun owners keep their firearms (properly purchased and licensed by those of an agreed-upon age) for hunting, target shooting, trap and skeet competitions, and for  those who feel the need, protection for themselves and their families. Consign the weapons of war to the military. And all others? Follow the Tauregs’ example: Destroy them or turn them into art.

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Note: You can read about my entire trip to Timbuctu in African Tales on this website.

Africa On My Mind

The world lurches from one crisis to another. The media struggles to continue keeping us informed. And in the process, ongoing coverage of particular news stories drops from view. In my case, it’s been news about Mali and especially Timbuktu, so that is why The Guardian’s photo essay by Sean Smith and accompanying stories by Alex Duval Smith was such a welcome addition to my inbox.

When they say that travel broadens a person, I guess it means that it expands your interest and understanding of a place and its people. If you were lucky enough to actually meet people in another country, as opposed to just glimpsing them from the window of a tour bus, the experience stays with you forever. And even if you didn’t maintain contact with those people, your concern for them and hope for their well-being remains.

When rebel jihadists invaded Mali’s northern desert region and fundamentalist Islamists announced their intention to impose Sharia law, one of my first thoughts was for the cute and giggly teenage girls who walked along Timbuktu’s dusty main street with my cousin and me. What would become of them and other women and girls we met? The fact that the militants have been routed and peace somewhat restored is only partly comforting because you know it could happen all over again when the French and United Nations troops depart.

When I read about militants seizing and destroying ancient documents I thought of the earnest young man at the Ahmed Baba Center for Historical Research who described the library’s efforts to preserve brittle manuscripts written in various languages and convert their contents to digital and other formats. They were hoping to obtain a university internship in the west for an African student to learn about modern preservation techniques. How horrible it must have been for scholars to see those precious materials, to which they’d devoted their lives, being carried off. But then I read later how not just librarians but ordinary citizens of Timbuktu took it upon themselves to hide documents, even burying some in the ground during the uprising, to save them. Stories like that came afterward and were inspiring, as are The Guardian’s depictions of a people persevering against unimaginable challenges.

Returning from five weeks in three west African countries and later, from three weeks in southern Africa, I wrote stories about my experiences because that’s what writers do. But, much as it would have pleased me to see these stories in a published book, I did not feel I had the right to do so. I was not presented as a writer to the people I met and photographed. I was just “Dorothy’s cousin” who was along for the experiences. So I’m putting the stories here on this website of unpublished material, having started with Timbuktu, with more to follow. I hope you enjoy reading them and find the experience “broadening.”