After a discouraging first week when we (the three star photographers) and I were able to find only one festival rehearsal, visit nomadic camps and a rather modern Tuareg wedding with electric guitar and few camels (some well dressed people though), we decided to switch our schedule and go out to the dunes for a couple of days to wait for the next Wodaabe festival to start. Every year, when I cannot go out into the the vast endless dunes of the teneré, I go as a nice substitute for a little party in the dunes of Tiguidit. Many of you have been there with me and it is always a joy to climb to the highest dune and watch the sunset. When we arrived we kept driving and driving—there were no dunes!!!!! Only pasture and a few lumps of sand. I was beyond amazed and discouraged after promising a taste of the “real” Sahara. I guess my praying so much for rain in Southern California was heard in the Sahara–too much rain brought pasture to the dunes.
The dunes of Tiguidit, only last year–this year–only pasture and a few lumps of sand.
After a sandblasted night we limped back to Agadez a day early to find that there were two big Wodaabe festivals starting so we headed out…
We arrived near Aborak in a misty sunset, to what was obviously (to me and all Wodaabe), a worso. This is a gathering of families in which they celebrate many things, but the most important of these is a humtu. This means they bring their houses, herds, families. It was enormous—thousands of animals, hundreds of people.
A Wodaabe woman when she gets pregnant with her first child goes back to live with her mother and family through delivery. During this time she can speak to or see no other males than those in her immediate family. She wears no jewelry or color in her clothes and must show reserve in all she does.
This period lasts while she is nursing her child and learning how to run a family as long as 3-4 years. When her mom feels she is ready to leave and return to her husband the family celebrates this at a Humtu. There were nine bofibe girls celebrating at the worso when we arrived.
I saw a group of men sitting under a tree and decided it was the elders who were planning the worso. This is where we needed to ask permission to be there. As I got closer I began to recognize people and then, after four years of not seeing him, I met Peroji once again: the first nomad I had ever met. Most of his family was there. Jerno the wife and mother of 7 children all of whom I knew. Suralji, who taught me Fulfulde, the language of the Wodaabe, Labul and his wife Haoua, Bimbia pamaril or little Bimbia who was named after me and now has a baby of her own. This was my African family. We all cried and laughed. I had wondered if I would ever see them again because travel is now restricted between communes because of security and their home base is now far to the south of where my Agadez security team can go. And here they were—most of them.
The photographers, who I knew were pretty discouraged at this point, began to understand that nomads have no watches, only time and that we had finally managed to join our schedule to their lack of one.
The party consists of: