National Geographic : 2011 Jan
• Timbuktu and return alive. Yet it is a watchful city: With every passing vehicle, children halt soccer games, women pause from stoking adobe ovens, and men in the market interrupt their conversations to note who is riding by. "It is important to know who is in the city," my driver said. Tourists and salt traders mean business opportunities; strangers could mean trouble. I found Haidara, one of Timbuktu's preemi- nent historians, in the blinding mid-morning glare of his family's stone courtyard, not far from the Sankore Mosque. He wanted to show me what he said was the rst documentary evi- dence of democracy being practiced in Africa, a letter from an emissary to the sheikh of Masina. e temperature was quickly approaching 100°, and he sweated through his loose cotton robe as he moved dozens of dusty leather trunks, each containing a trove of manuscripts. He unbuckled the strap of a trunk, pried it open, and began carefully sorting the cracked leather volumes. I caught a pungent whiff of tanned Soldiers celebrate Malian independence day, September 22, but their revelry belies tensions beyond the city limits. Groups allied with al Qaeda hold hostages in the desert, crippling Timbuktu's tourism trade.