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Tragedy in Timbuktu

Our hearts go out to everyone affected by the recent abductions and murder in Timbuktu. If you’re not familiar with the story, last Friday several heavily armed Malians abducted two Dutch and a South African tourist in Timbuktu. They murdered a German member of the group when he resisted the kidnapping. It’s thought but not confirmed that the kidnappers are part of the Al Qaeda affiliate in North/West Africa, Al Qaeda in the Magreb.

What really brought this event home for us, besides the fact that the incident occurred in a town that Casey and I spent a month in and ultimately left because of security concerns, is that early reports indicate that this all happened at one of our favorite hotel/cafe spots in Timbuktu. When we were living there I painted a portrait of our friend Malik (see below) who was a waiter there. He was probably the funniest guy we met in Timbuktu and he played a role in several chapters of the book. (See pages 436-7 and 446-447.) Over the years we’ve lost contact with him and can only hope he is well. Luckily, none of the reports suggest any Malians were hurt in all this.

(I tried really hard to nail his skeptical look that informed much of his humor.)

Beyond, of course, the loss of lives, the tragedy here is that this has such a ripple effect for so many people throughout Mali. Specifically our friends in Timbuktu and in the country’s tourist industry.

We hope as soon as possible Mali will once again be a safe place to travel. We made so many amazing friendships living there for ten months and hope more people can have that opportunity as well.

UPDATE: 11/30/11
On 11/30/11 we heard from Miranda Dodd, owner of the Sahara Passion Hotel in Timbuktu that the incident took place at Camping La Paix, not the hotel/cafe where Malik works (or worked). Miranda also told us that no one, besides the German murdered and others kidnapped, were hurt in the incident so he should be fine.

UPDATE: 12/14/11
We just wrote a straight news piece for the newspaper Global Post about the reaction of folks in Timbuktu to all this. You can read that here.