Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The Badass Librarians of Timbuktu

I saw this today on the NPR Books section, and as one great admirer of librarians, I wanted to share it with you. These librarians are my kind of badass! They are providing a service to humanity.

Timbuktu’s ‘Badass Librarians’: Checking Out Books Under Al-Qaida’s Nose

 
Handout picture dated 1997 and released in 2012 by the UN shows ancient manuscripts displayed at the library in the city of Timbuktu. Al-Qaeda has destroyed ancient texts it considers idolatrous.

Handout picture dated 1997 and released in 2012 by the UN shows ancient manuscripts displayed at the library in the city of Timbuktu. Al-Qaeda has destroyed ancient texts it considers idolatrous.

Evan Schneider/AFP/Getty Images

For hundreds of years, Timbuktu has had a place in the world’s imagination. Located on the southern edge of the Sahara desert, the city flourished as a center of Islamic culture and scholarship in the 13th through 16th centuries. It was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1988, recognized for the University of Sankore, which had as many as 25,000 students who studied the Quran, as well as the historic Djingareyber and Sidi Yahia mosques.

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu
The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts

by Joshua Hammer

Timbuktu was a center of the manuscript trade, with traders bringing Islamic texts from all over the Muslim world. Despite occupations and invasions of all kinds since then, scholars managed to preserve and even restore hundreds of thousands of manuscripts dating from the 13th century.

But that changed when militant Islamists backed by al-Qaida arrived in 2012. The hardline Islamists didn’t see these texts as part of their Islamic heritage, but as idolatry, contradicting their interpretation of Islam. They set about destroying important cultural icons, including 15th-century mausoleums of Sufi Muslim saints. Librarians feared the city’s prized medieval collections of manuscripts would be next.

Librarian Abdel Kader Haidara organized and oversaw a secret plot to smuggle 350,000 medieval manuscripts out of Timbuktu. Joshua Hammer chronicled Haidara’s story in the book The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu. Hammer spoke with NPR’s Michel Martin about how a librarian became an “operator.”

 


Interview Highlights

Why these manuscripts were so important

These volumes — and we’re talking hundreds of thousands of them — at the point at which al-Qaida invaded Timbuktu, there were something like 370,000 manuscripts amassed in libraries in Timbuktu. And they portrayed Islam as practiced in this corner of the world as a blend of the secular and the religious — or they showed that the two could coexist beautifully. And they did in this city.

So it was tremendously important for Haidara and those who supported him to protect and preserve these manuscripts as evidence of both Mali’s former greatness and the tolerance that that form of Islam encouraged.

On Abdel Kader Haidara’s background

Abdel Kader Haidara was a son of a scholar and he grew up in an intellectual environment in Timbuktu. He was not a wealthy person. After his father’s death in the early 1980s he inherited the family’s centuries-old manuscript collection.

So in 1984 the head of the Ahmed Baba Institute, the government-owned library in Timbuktu, called on Haidara and said, “Hey, we’re having trouble getting off the ground, we need to find manuscripts. We know they’re out there, they’re hidden away in the desert, in river towns. Can you undertake this job of traveling around northern Mali, tracking down these manuscripts that have been lost — buried, disappeared — over generations? Gather them up, we’ll give you money. And we want this library to be splendid. We want this to be something that people from all around the world will come to visit. So go out, do your best, find books for us.”

He was reluctant at first, but the call of duty and the curator’s constant pressure prevailed. And in 1984 he began this what turned into a 12-year really amazing quest to ferret out these manuscripts all across Mali.

How Libya changed Mali

In 2011, the Arab Spring breaks out. Gadhafi’s downfall, the arsenals of Libya — in the chaos of Gadhafi’s murder and the disintegration of the Libyan state — are opened for the taking. Then you’ve got these various rebel groups in Mali. You’ve got Islamic radicals all descending on Libya — on these arsenals. Walking in, loading up their pickup trucks with heavy weaponry, driving through the dust across the desert back to Mali. And so these heavily armed rebels sweep across the desert and in three months have captured two-thirds of the country.

Why he decided to do what he did

The first thing that Abdel Kader was worried about, frankly, was looting. In the first few days after the rebels took over Timbuktu and the army and the police had fled, there was total disorder. That’s when he kind of began to scheme — “Hey, the great treasures of Timbuktu are being held in these very ostentatious libraries.” He said, “These are going to be targets.”

The looting subsided pretty quickly. But as it subsided, you had this growing radicalism, you had Islamic police roaring through the streets, stopping people, throwing them in jail, grabbing cigarettes out of their mouths, whipping them in public. He just foresaw that this was going to get worse, and that the manuscripts, which as we already said expressed values that were anathema to fundamentalist Islam — to Wahhabi Islam — were in danger. That sooner or later, these manuscripts are going to be held hostage. They’re going to become political tools, they could be destroyed in an act of vengeance, caught up in military action. We’ve got to protect them.

So that’s when Abdel Kader and a small group of his supporters, friends, relatives got together and began what ended up being a three-stage effort to protect, and essentially smuggle to safety, all of these manuscripts.

Becoming a ‘badass’

Let’s remember that Abdel Kader was more than a librarian, this guy had spent 12 years as a badass explorer, as an adventurer. He was traveling on camels across the Sahara, on riverboats, going to small villages, finding these manuscripts. So he was an operator. So when the time came, he just knew what to do.

He said, “The first thing we’re going to do is get them out of these big libraries. We’re going to take trunks, we’re going to pack them into trunks at night when the rebels are asleep. And then we’re going to move them in the dead of night by mule cart to these various houses — safe houses, scattered around the city. We’re going to stick them in there and hopefully they’ll be safe for the duration of this occupation.” Which of course, nobody knew when that was going to end.

Why it’s important

One of the things that I think is important to draw from it is to realize that there is this whole strain of Islam that is moderate, that celebrates intellectuality, that celebrates culture, that celebrates diversity, secular ideas, poetry, love, human beauty. I think that is lost in this debate that’s going on. We tend to really kind of turn against Islam because of the actions of this particularly violent group.

But I think in fact that the Islam represented by those in Timbuktu and the badass librarians is in fact more representative of what Islam is. And these people [who] were the real victims of extremism in this part of the world are fellow Muslims. They were the ones who really suffered. They were the ones who had their hands and feet chopped off, who had to live through the horror of daily occupation.

For the most part, we see this from afar, but these people are on the front lines and they are living through the horror of radicalism every day and every minute.

Where the manuscripts are now

He hopes that he’ll be able to return them to Timbuktu. They are in about a dozen climate-controlled storage rooms in Bamako, the capital of Mali. And as far as moving them back, he’s waiting. I mean, these are very hard people to root out. But Timbuktu is a ghost town — tourists aren’t going there, flights aren’t going there. It’s very sad. And I don’t know and he doesn’t know if those glory days can ever be recaptured, given the strength of the Islamists — the terrorists in that area, in that part of the world.

April 28, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Books, Bureaucracy, Character, Community, Counter-terrorism, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Customer Service, Education, ExPat Life, Faith, Free Speech, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Work Related Issues | , , | Leave a comment

“You Shall Love the Alien as Yourself”

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One of the disciplines available to those of the Episcopal faith is the reading of the Lectionary. Every day of the year are short readings from the Psalms, Old Testament, New Testament and Gospels. Every three year the cycle repeats itself. There are also additional readings on the “Saints” or remarkable people who have served God and his church.

Leviticus is not my favorite chapter, but today, I love Leviticus. As if the words were freshly spoken, I read Leviticus 19: 33-34:

33 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 34The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

There are many references to the alien in the Bible, one of the earliest being Father Abraham, who is told to leave (what is now the current Iraq) and head for Canaan. When he arrives, peacefully, the local tribes are kind to him. They are good neighbors. Later, when Moses kills an Egyptian and flees to the desert tribes, he describes himself as “a stranger in a strange land.”

It’s who we are. It’s what our book tells us. We are to welcome the stranger. We are to leave wheat in the edges of our fields (yesterday’s reading) that he might not starve. We are not to oppress the alien, nor put up walls to fence them out. We are all aliens on this earth; waiting for the glory of the heavenly kingdom where we belong.

April 28, 2016 Posted by | Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Interconnected, Lectionary Readings, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Social Issues, Work Related Issues | , , | Leave a comment

Sunset Cruise, Dolphin Cruise and Moonlight Cruise in Destin

It was our house guests’ last night in our area, and we wanted to do something special and memorable with them, so we booked on Olin Marler’s Sunset Cruise out of Destin. We found this trip several years ago, and while our guests enjoy it, we do, too!

 

It is mid-season in Destin. The Spring Break craziness has just ended, and the Summer Madness has not yet begun. A boat for forty holds ten of us tonight, plus the crew, and the crew knock themselves out to show us a good time.

 

We had a gorgeous sunset, with dolphins

SunsetDolphins

We had a whole bunch of dolphins, grown ones and little ones, and they were having a great time. They stuck around, and we watched for about half an hour, no other boats in sight.

DolphinsPlaying

As we were leaving, the full moon rose and gave us a glorious ride home:

MoonightOverDestin

We can’t promise future house guests this experience. We’ve never had it this good. Maybe our guests brought this good luck?

April 23, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Cultural, Customer Service, Entertainment, Florida, Friends & Friendship, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Photos, Qatar, Quality of Life Issues, Wildlife | | 2 Comments

The Carolina Wrens

Several months ago, we noticed a wren flying close to our house, flying out, flying back, flying out, flying back, and she was always carrying something.

 

“I think she might be building a nest in our watering can,” I told AdventureMan. He checked the can, and sure enough, it was full of little straw and twigs and pieces of string. Her mate showed up, also bringing strings and twigs and grass clippings.

 

Weeks went by, and we enjoyed their company. We gave the plenty of space.

 

CarolinaWrenBabies

 

We had houseguests, and as we were about to leave one day,  AdventureMan spotted four tiny little wrens, trying their wings for the first time. He quickly snapped a shot with his iPhone of the two not yet flying. It is a good thing; by the next day, they were gone. We were just so thankful we got to see them, and our house guests got to see them, too!

 

What fun! We hope they will come back and nest with us again next year!

April 23, 2016 Posted by | Birds, Circle of Life and Death, Environment, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Florida, Gardens, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Qatar, Quality of Life Issues | , | Leave a comment

The Bird Man

At Kailua Beach Park, people are enjoying the last minutes of daylight before the sun sets and it’s time to get ready for the upcoming week. This has got to be one of the most laid-bak places on earth.

 

KailuaBeachPark

 

We see a man who has birds everywhere. Clearly, the birds know him, they are flocking to him. He has some kind of food for them, and they sit on his arms, they sit on his head, they love this guy!

BirdManKailuaBeach

 

The locals know him, and these little boys brought him a sick bird to take home to heal.

BirdmanGivenHurtBird

 

Back at home, the light dims and a full moon rises. Life doesn’t get any sweeter.

BeachMoon

 

Our flight back is late in the day. We spend the morning walking the beach, down to the Marine Base, past the Obama house, the waves are high and eating away at the beach. We pack, we drink more coffee. I’ve only shown you the fun day trips, but the meat of this trip, the finest part of this trip has been the conversations, the laughter, and the deepening of a life-long friendship.

FarewellKailua

 

I no longer have negative feelings about Hawaii.:-) We hit the local drugstore to pick up some great Kona coffee and bags of Japanese rice crackers in a million varieties, which we love. It’s been a great trip.

March 17, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Birds, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Living Conditions, Relationships, Travel | , | 6 Comments

Buzz’s; a Kailua Classic

Our last night in Kailua, and we are on our way to Buzz’s, a Kailua institution, where the wait staff greet our friend by her first name and show her to a table.

BuzzExterior

 

BuzzSign

 

This is our table. It is right next to the President’s table. We are sitting where the Secret Service bodyguards probably sit when Presidents dine there.

BuzzOurTable

 

PresTable

 

 

 

PresPlaque

 

We speculate what would happen if the reality-star Republican were elected, would he sit at that table or buy the restaurant and tear the plaque down? It’s a glorious night, we drink our drinks, look at the menu and we all decide, after our huge ramen lunch, we are ready for Buzz’s famous salad bar. Buzz’s is also famous for fabulous steak and even better local fish, but we just aren’t hungry enough.

 

BuzzStar

 

 

SaladBar

It’s a grand night, we visit the beach, we take a drive and we head back home, where we have the best time of all.

March 17, 2016 Posted by | Eating Out, ExPat Life, Food, Friends & Friendship, Living Conditions, Restaurant, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

What Matters in Kailua

AdventureMan and my friend left early, early in the morning to see Pearl Harbor, and come home full of their adventure, all the things they saw and did. A helicopter had gone down the day before they were scheduled to tour the site, and it wasn’t clear it would open again in time for AdventureMan to visit. There were few people, early in the morning, and they could go and see everything. They were pumped – and hungry.

We knew where we were going to eat until we got there only to discover it was closed! Next door was a noodle house, Daiichi Ramen, so we gave it a try. Wow. Totally different cuisine, delicious and filling, and as exotic as anything we have ever eaten with a full range of additions to the ramen or udon noodles. Along with each order came gyozo, like a Chinese crescent dumpling, but . . . different:-)

DaiichiRamenExt

 

UdonSoup

 

RamenWShrimp

 

Gyozo

 

Even the side of rice was delicious. We ate too much!

Rice

 

BeefRamen

March 16, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, ExPat Life, Food, Living Conditions, Restaurant, Travel | | Leave a comment

Doris Duke’s Shangri-La

Months in advance, my friend said “You’ll really want to see Shangri-La,” and I had never heard of it, but I looked online, and it looked beautiful. Doris Duke, one of the richest women ever to live, could buy anything she wanted. She had a good eye for art, good timing, and she bought much of what is in Shangri-La and her other residences at bargain prices after WWII. The value of her art holdings increased dramatically, and she ended up with an even bigger fortune than that with which she started.

How do I know? I am in the middle of my third book, reading about Doris Duke. The books are pretty bad. Each author seems to have an axe to grind, and one author took very little information and used it to speculate endlessly, full of gossip and mean-spirit. Altogether, Duke does not come off as a very kind person, but who can say which version of this very private person is the “real” Doris Duke?

To visit Shangri-La, you must go through the Honolulu Museum of Art. They have an online reservation system – the next two weeks are already fully booked. My friend booked months in advance so that we could attend. We got to the Museum, found a good parking place, entered the museum, receiving a lapel sticker and a wristband which later allowed us to visit the museum for as long as we liked.

We boarded a bus and watched a very romanticized movie about the life of Doris Duke, and then we were there! We were warned we could take no photos inside. What a pity! The interiors are magnificent, all marble, and tiles, gorgeous woodwork, and all kinds of Islamic Art that looks like it would go well in the Qatar Museum of Islamic Art. I couldn’t help but wonder if the newly rich aren’t trying to buy some of their cultural objects back?

 

 

HonoluluMuseumOfArt

 

Our guide ushered us into a beautiful entry, with meshribiyya and tiles and beautiful light fixtures inside. I wish I could show you.

EntranceShangri-La

 

About half way through the tour, we had a break on a terrace from which we had this spectacular view. I read in one of the books that Duke built this rock harbor without asking permission from the Hawaii government, just did it. It is lovely. The terrace also has gorgeous Persian tiles, the interior tiles are Persian and Iznik.

 

ShangriLaViewtoFront

 

After visiting the Damascus Room and the Syrian Room and the Mogul Room, we visited Doris Duke’s bedroom, bare but for a couple couches. Then, out to the gardens.

DDGarden

 

We were allowed to take photos in the gardens:-)

 

DDGarden2

 

This is a tree at the entry to the house; the tree sends down those shoots that form new roots and new trees. It is magnificent!

 

DDTreeEntrance

 

After our visit to Shangri-La, we returned to the Honolulu Museum of Art, and had lunch. This is the market salad with salmon – Yumm.

MarketSaladWSalmon

 

As we lunched, a character went around taking selfies. I think this is a performance artist, and I think it may have been a guy.

PerformanceArt

 

Being three very independent kind of folk, we split up to see what we wanted to see at the museum. There was a special temporary exhibit on Japanese street fashion which I found fascinating. I loved some of these street fashions, which strike me as very imaginative. When I got to the Lolita section, however, little girl dresses for grown women, I found it too creepy and strange to photograph.

JapaneseFashion

 

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There is a section on Islamic Art with beautiful tiles and examples of several genres of art objects.

IslamicTiles

 

Out on one of the patios, I found this screen which reminded me of a very modern sort of tree-of-life.

TreeOfLife

 

Altogether, a grand day. My friend was right – we really enjoyed seeing this.

March 16, 2016 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Books, Character, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Education, Entertainment, ExPat Life, Gardens, Living Conditions, Privacy, Quality of Life Issues | , , | 1 Comment

For the Letter Kills, but the Spirit Brings Life

In one of my Baptist-oriented bible study classes, one of my classmates once said “You don’t make converts by running after people and hitting them over the head with a bible!” As People of the Book, we struggle to find ways to carry the message without bludgeoning our intended recipient with it.

Have you ever been on the receiving end? I lived for so many years in the Middle East, where my truly believing Moslem friends would tell me about the Prophet Mohammed and all the good he did, and would look at me expectantly, hoping I would have that blinding flash that Paul experienced on the road to Damascus, and come over from the dark side to the one true religion. It made a believer out of me, not a Moslem, but a believer in the goodness and sincerity of all who are holy, and of the near impossibility of convincing anyone with words.

So this morning, the reading in the Lectionary from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians sings to my soul:

2 Corinthians 2:14-3:6

14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. 15For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many;* but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence.

3Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we? 2You yourselves are our letter, written on our* hearts, to be known and read by all; 3and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ towards God. 5Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, 6who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

We carry the Spirit, and our lives are the message.

March 16, 2016 Posted by | Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Interconnected, Lectionary Readings, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Spiritual | | Leave a comment

Kailua Sunrise

I used to have a spectacular view of the sun rising over the Arabian Gulf every morning. It made getting up worth while, just to see that view, different every day.

My friend has the same experience in Kailua; the joy of the glorious sunrise, different every day, and every day glorious.

 

KailuaSunrise

March 16, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, sunrise series | , | 2 Comments

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