of a wetter time. These were unexpected survivors of thousands of yearsof arid wind and desperate deforestation by pastoralists in search of fuelfor cooking and warmth. Infrequent spring and autumn rains continued to give new life to these ghosts of another era.
Just before sunset we made camp at Tamrit, in the shelter of an erodedsandstone cliff face. The extremes of temperature between day and nightin the Sahara were so great that the cold that surrounded us after sunsetwas always a shock. As Kader prepared a dinner of vegetable stew, wegathered around the fire for warmth. For the first time, Kande joined usand started quietly singing songs in Hausa as he prepared his own meal.
Since I had suggested that Sarmi learn to read and write French, Imade a deal with him that I would learn Tamasheq if he would becomeliterate in French. So in the light of the campfire, Sarmi began to teachme. He decided to start by introducing me to the writing system, calledTifinagh. The origins are unclear, but some theories identify its sourceas written Punic or Phoenician systems.
In my notebook, Sarmi began drawing the characters, which I askedhim to record, one on each line, so I could make notes next to them.Soon the page had a list: a cross, an M turned sideways, three sides of arectangle, a circle with a dot inside, a capital I, a square with a verticalline in the middle, a square with a dot, an upside-down Y, and othercharacters that defied easy description. We then went through each letter, which all represented consonants. I pronounced each one after him,and I asked him to give me words using the letters, which he wrote inTifinagh and I translated into English. I asked him to use the letters inwords naming objects in our immediate surroundings—man, donkey,woman, rock, moon, bread. At my request, he conjugated some familiarverbs, which I transcribed in my notebook. He seemed to tire of the demands of the tutorial, so we stopped for the night.
After a cold, restless night, I awoke to Sarmi’s instructions to quicklydrink my tea so we could reach the jewel of the open-air art gallery,Tan Zoumiatek, where some of the most important paintings were located. We walked together over hard sand littered with rocks for aboutan hour, until we came upon an area surrounded by tall, eroded rockformations. We entered the sheltered interior to find paintings of incomparable beauty, diverse styles, and puzzling symbolism. We saw lyricaldancing women with jewels and elaborate hairdos and herds of mouflon,wild sheep with massive curled horns, etched in deep red. The most inscrutable images were blobs of what looked like jellyfish or ectoplasm,