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Very wise braids

"One step in front of the other, repeat, once again the march begins... Go ahead!" Follow in the footsteps..."

Footprints in the sand stretch and uncoil, twist, twist and turn, pull and break in dotted lines.

An insect passed by, a snake here, and the thread of a now dry stream.

And over there, the great caravan parades animals and men in a row, weaving links between the wells, between people.

Traces are repeated, they form patterns that recognize each other, distinguish themselves, teach each other. They create meshes, trellises, weavings, they wind like the whistling rope around the wooden pulley at the well, like the leather cord around the waist of men, which holds the pants. They follow the codes of filiation and the aesthetic codes on the hair mats of the Tuaregs, in the game of the imzad, this monochord violin.

In the Desert, we braid, weave, we spin, we renew the dialogue, we tighten the ties or we pull on the rope, we hang, we moor the luggage, we hang from the branch or around the neck, we roll, we unroll, we rewind, we maintain, we domesticate, we master. We master the art of the link to make all the strings sing.

If there is one art common to all Saharan nomads, it is that of esparto. There are many kinds of links, each with a function, a name, a method of manufacture, a material.

Very often, it is women who shape them. This activity occupies such an important place in the nomadic life that it is not the specialty of the few: all are aware of it. On the ground, in teams, they braid the fibers into strips about ten centimeters wide which they roll up for several meters; later, these assembled strips will be used to make roof or bed mats. There are a multitude of different mats, useful for different purposes.

It was in the village of Azel, not far from Agadez in Niger that I went one day to have a small collection of baskets. The women are left alone during the day because the men are in town to sell the vegetables that grow in the gardens.

The women meet in a small straw hut to organize themselves. They will plant the palm trees around the gardens so that "the desert does not advance too far towards the oasis". They will dry the palms, sometimes they will color them, then, finally, they will weave them to make baskets and all small light nomadic furniture.

Each woman writes her name with a Bic pen on a small piece of cardboard and attaches it to the basket she has made. The baskets of the group are all grouped under an awning. The chef comes to count them and counts how many baskets each has made.

She makes sticks with the same Bic pen on a school notebook next to each first name when she reads the labels:

Mariama did 3 large shopping bags, Halima 5 small decorative baskets, Guicha made 5 chaplains, market bags, Mario 10 small multicolored baskets

Each woman receives her money but a percentage of the order is set aside for health insurance. In case one of them or a child is sick.

I like the calm of this village, the serenity of these women, their humor, their know-how, their ethics.

The baskets are carried in large bags of rice in the back of the pickup. We pack them, we stack them so that they take up as little space as possible. We shake them, the desert sand is everywhere, sometimes a small jerboa has come to nibble it so we push it away.

The car leaves in a cloud of yellow dust, the baskets will leave Nigerien soil in just over 1000 km...

The engine noise goes away too. The calm of the oasis returns. And the women continue in a circle to weave...

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