Monday, 6 May 2013

Timbuktu Trail

At first glance, Hay-on-Wye and Timbuktu don't seem to have much in common. Hay is broadly Christian, in one of the dampest parts of the world, and English speaking (not a lot of Welsh is heard round here, sadly). Timbuktu is on the edge of one of the biggest deserts in the world, is French speaking (and local African languages) and broadly Islamic.
The new Timbuktu Trail leaflet, put out by Two Towns, One World, though, emphasises the things that the two places have in common.

The trail starts in the Craft Centre, built to encourage local tourism. Timbuktu is a World Heritage Site, and used to have seven hotels and an international airport until the civil war in Mali last year.
Both Hay and Timbuktu are internationally famous for their books, so the second stop on the trail is the Cinema Bookshop, where Richard Booth launched his idea of international book towns on an unsuspecting world. Timbuktu is internationally famous as a centre of Islamic learning, and at one time had 60 private libraries in the city. Last year the Centre Ahmed Baba was burned down by rebels, but local people managed to save many of the precious manuscripts, some of them dating back to medieval times.
The next stop is the Medical Centre, and Medics4Timbuktu have a maternal health project in Timbuktu, with a clinic for ante-natal care and trained birth attendants.
The Almshouses are the next stop, built for the care of elderly women by Miss Francis Harley in 1832. In Timbuktu, sons are expected to take responsibility for their mothers, who live in the family home.
Water is the next point of connection. The Swan's Well behind the Almshouses is still used to provide fresh drinking water by some Hay residents, and Timbuktu is founded around the Well of Bouctou. "Tom" means "water well," and "Bouctou" means "belly button", and is also the name of the woman who owned the well originally - so both Hay and Timbuktu have a tradition of strong women founders, as Matilda de Breos was responsible for the building of Hay Castle.
Hay's main Christian church is St Mary's, and Timbuktu is home to three large mosques - the Great Mosque has prayer space for 2,000 people and is also a centre of learning. It was built in 1327, but has to be repaired every year, because it is made of mud. The mud construction is one of the reasons that it is a World Heritage Site.
Hay has the River Wye and the Warren, and Timbuktu has the River Niger about 15km away, which used to be the main way to get to the city - but only for half the year, as the river is too shallow for boats during the dry season.
Just across the River Wye is Hayfields Community Garden, and they have been testing out a system of drip irrigation for use in Timbuktu. Jump4Timbuktu have been working on three food security pilot schemes in Timbuktu, to help poor families there grow enough to eat in the short growing season.
St John's Chapel has had many different uses over the years, but one of them was a school - the Pennoyre School, which started in 1670 to educate the poor children of Hay. Timbuktu has the Sankore Madrasah, the university which is shared between the three great mosques, and Hay2Timbuktu supports a project to sponsor 20 girls to go to school. Because of the cost of education in Mali, boys are more likely to be given the chance to get an education than girls are.
Haymakers is a gallery of local artists and craftspeople, and also displays work by Toureg artisans from Timbuktu - mainly silver jewellery and leatherwork. It's a direct trade link between the two places.
And finally we have the Council Chambers, which also houses the offices of Two Towns, One World, and Timbuktu has La Mairie. At least, it has a Mayor, who has visited Hay. The Town Hall of Timbuktu was burned down by the rebels last year and needs to be rebuilt.

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