Children of Africa

Nubian boy smiles

Ghirmele, Upper Egypt, November 1998. Nubian boy, enfant nubien au fin fond du pays.

In this boy’s hamlet on the Nile’s West bank, everybody is Nubian, “Indi Nubia,” they made my companion repeat endlessly while sipping tea in a large, walled courtyard, under the moonlight, high above the Nile. The upstream felucca ride to the captain’s home had been tedious, as we were battling a flagging wind, which forced us to tack widely, covering the last three kilometers in five hours. It eventually subsided entirely and we continued on foot through the fields.Close to midnight, we proceeded to a marriage ceremony of which we mainly remember a man armed with a long stick running after the uninvited guests, and kids dancing to the wild tunes of a 5-man orchestra.


El Berbara, Adrar Plateau, Mauritania, December 2006. Petite habitante d’un hameau perdu que j’ai aidée à ramener un seau de 10 litres d’eau de la source qui se situe au fond d’un canyon.

Nomads had recently settled by an oasis, problem is the latter was in a canyon 100 meters down, and to fetch water you had to follow a steep path. This little girl looked a bit bewildered when I took charge of the 10-liter bucket she was hauling up. They had everything in that desolate, rocky place, tents, gardens, goats, a school, a small house to shelter the very few visitors who chose to stay, they even had dignity, not a small feat in the face of tourism. A woman had been pestering us with truly junk, we kept moving away and she kept begging us, mind you, she was not the first one, a whole female pack had surrounded us as soon as we arrived, they had been stirred by, and rehearsed on, a tourist caravan whose tail we briefly saw. But this hawker was persistent, at the end, her daughter pulled her away, most likely telling her not to lower herself so much. I really felt bad, tried to find her the next morning, went throughout the whole settlement, but in what tent did mother and daughter live? I explained it to the hamlet chief, Mohammed Wilhamed, a retired army captain, “Don’t worry, he said, it doesn’t matter, they’ll survive”. I felt it did matter, I wanted her to understand both our reaction and the reality of tourism, the real culprits, I still think about it. That young woman was one of two proud Mauritanians we met.


Djamilah, Algeria, February 2007. Frère et soeur berbères dans ce petit village de montagne se situant sur le site de l’ancienne cosmopolite ville romaine de Cuicul non loin de la Méditerranée.

Berber brother and sister in a little mountain village on the site of ancient, cosmopolitan Roman Cuicul. Well, the whole of North Africa is Berber land, most likely a name deriving from barbaros, non-Greek in ancient times. They probably made the word out of bar-bar, a speech difficult to grasp. Greeks are notorious for having difficulty with foreign sounds, all Albanians and Bulgarians working here are affixed a Greek name, our friend Veladin whose daughter wedding we attended just before coming here, is called Vangelis, and Iouchov who replastered our building, is Ilias. After the Persian wars, barbaros came also to mean brutal and rude, just like Punic (the Phoenician colonies of North Africa, especially nearby Carthage) means treacherous and perfidious, adjectives applied by the Romans to the Carthaginians who attacked them.