National Geographic : 2011 Jan
• were indeed broken and then rolled up the pieces in the hem of his robe. With a practiced ourish worthy of any sleight-of-hand expert, he unfurled the garment and revealed the matchstick, now unbroken. His powers, he said, had healed it. My translator excitedly tapped my knee. "You see," he said, "he is a very powerful marabout." As if on cue, applause erupted from the game show in the courtyard. The marabout retrieved a palm-size book bound with intricately tooled leather. e with- ered pages had fallen out of the spine, and he gently turned the brittle leaves one by one until he found a chart lled with strange symbols. He explained that the book contained spells for everything from cures for blindness to charms guaranteed to spark romance. He looked up from the book. "Do you need a wife?" I said that I already had one. "Do you need another?" I asked if I could examine the book, but he refused to let me touch it. Over several years his uncle had tutored him in the book's contents, gradually opening its secrets. It contained powers that, like forces of nature, had to be respected. He explained that his ancestors had brought the book with them when they ed Andalusia in the 15th century a er the Spanish defeated the Moors. ey had settled in Mauritania, and he had only recently moved from there with his family. "I heard the people of Timbuktu were not satis ed with the marabouts here," he said. I asked who his best customers were. "Women," he answered, grinning, "who want children." He produced a small calculator, punched in some numbers, and quoted a price of more than a thousand dollars for the gris-gris. "With it you can walk across the entire desert and no one will harm you," he promised. [ e Green Beret's Girlfriend ] e young woman appeared among the jaca- randa trees of the garden café wearing tight jeans and a pink T-shirt. She smiled nervously, and I understood how the Green Beret had fallen for her. Aisha (not her real name) was 23 years old, petite, with a slender gure. She worked as MANY THOUSANDS OF MANUSCRIPTS LIE BURIED IN THE Conservators at the Mamma Haidara Library, Timbuktu's largest private manuscript collection, repair pages using paper fabricated to match the originals. e texts are digitized, then sealed in acid-free boxes.