National Geographic : 2011 Sep
Beating back thirsty donkeys, a Tuareg boy (le ) keeps order at a desert well. As the wet season fades, Moussa (above) faces hard months of nding enough grazing for his herds to survive until the rains return. "Water is life," he says, reciting a Tuareg proverb. "ANIMALS ARE EVERYTHING TO A TUAREG. WE DRINK THEIR MILK, WE EAT THEIR MEAT, WE USE THEIR SKIN. WHEN THE ANIMALS DIE, THE TUAREG DIES." refusing to make meaningful investments in Tuareg-dominated areas, the nomads rebelled again. Meanwhile, drug smugglers and a North African o shoot of al Qaeda established them- selves in the region, and the Niger government accused the Tuareg of being involved with them. for the night in a dune eld a few miles from the school, hiding their battered pickups under the low canopies of aca- cia trees. Several men wash their hands and faces with water from teakettles and kneel toward Mecca for evening prayers. en they gather in clusters of six or seven, each group taking shelter behind a small dune and kindling a meager re. A few of the rebels wait for full darkness to unwind their turbans. By tradition Tuareg men cover their faces, though the women do not. e layers of cloth not only protect from the harsh sun and wind but also conceal their emotions. Like mummies coming back from the dead, their animated faces emerge in the relight, revealing downy wisps of beard and boyish grins. Some of their cheeks are stained with indigo dye from their turbans, an age-old mark of the Tuareg that led early visitors to dub them the "blue men." e rebels' medic invites me to join his group. ey tease each other and light cigarettes as they boil macaroni and brew tea. Many appear barely old enough to have undergone the traditional postadolescent ceremony in which their uncles pronounce them ready for manhood and twist the rst turban around their heads.