National Geographic : 2011 Jan
a waitress. Her jet black skin was unblemished except for delicate ritual scars near her temples, which drew attention to her large, catlike eyes. We met across from the Flame of Peace, a monument built from some 3,000 guns burned and encased in concrete. It commemorates the 1996 accord that ended the rebellion waged by Tuareg and Arabs against the government, the last time outright war visited Timbuktu. Aisha pulled ve tightly folded pieces of paper from her purse and laid them on the table next to a photograph of a Caucasian man with a toothy smile. He appeared to be in his 30s and was wearing a royal blue Arab-style robe and an indigo turban. " at is David," she said, lightly brushing a bit of sand from the photo. ey had met in December 2006, when the U.S. had sent a Special Forces team to train Malian soldiers to ght AQIM. David had seen her walking down the street and remarked to his local interpreter how beautiful she was. e interpreter arranged an introduction, and soon the rugged American soldier and the Malian beauty were meeting for picnics on the sand dunes ringing the city and driving to the Niger River to watch the hippos gather in the shallows. Tears welled in Aisha's eyes as she recounted these dates. She paused to wipe her face. "He only spoke a little French," she said, laughing at the memory of their awkward communication. Aisha's parents also came from starkly di er- ent cultures. Her mother's ancestors were Son- ghai, among the intellectuals who helped create Timbuktu's scholarly tradition. Her father, a Fulani, descended from the erce jihadis who seized power in the early 1800s and imposed sharia in Timbuktu. In Aisha's mind, her rela- tionship with David continued a long tradition of mingling cultures. Many people pass through Timbuktu, she said. "Who is to say who Allah brings together?" Two weeks a er the couple met, David asked her to come to the United States. He wanted her to bring her two-year-old son from a previous relationship and start a life together. When her family heard the news, her uncle told David that DESERT, SLOWLY SUCCUMBING TO HEAT, ROT, AND BUGS. A rare 17th-century Tuareg manuscript contains an illustration of the Prophet's sandals. Over the years many such tomes have been sold on the black market and spirited out of Mali.