of brutal conflict followed, with civilian massacres and targeted killingsof foreigners and journalists. The positive spirit of country-building thatI had witnessed in the 1970s evaporated. I wondered if this upheaval hadreached the Tassili and Sarmi.
Since I had only memories, not photos, I searched the Internet forimages of the Tassili and its cave paintings. I came across a descriptionby a British ethnologist of a trip to the Tassili he had taken in the early2000s. He found many of the paintings vandalized and others cut outand removed from their caves. Protecting this World Heritage site hasbeen difficult for the resource-strapped Algerian government duringcivil war and economic crisis.
I thought I might have found traces of Sarmi when I viewed an onlinephoto essay of the same trek route I had taken, posted by a Dutch economist named Charles. He had made his visit just the year before mine, in1972, and included a narrative description of each stop. To my surprise,he mentioned the name of his guide—Sermi.
I sent Charles a message, inquiring about his guide and whether hehad photos of him. He replied immediately, attaching a beautiful black-and-white photo of a man in a white cheche. His body seemed bulkierthan Sarmi’s, and he appeared older, but it was hard to determine hisage since his cheche obscured most of his face. Charles mentioned thathis guide didn’t speak any French. Sarmi had spoken enough French tocommunicate with me just fine, so it was very unlikely that our guideswere the same person.
Yet it was a comfort to me that Charles had made such a fine portraitof his guide. I could find no other traces of Sarmi.
Melinda Smith has lived and worked in Asia, Africa, the MiddleEast, and the Pacific on programs for the UN to protect children’s rights in conflict and disaster zones. She has also mediated contentious land disputes in the rural Southwest and wrotean essay on her experiences for an anthology published by Sage.She lives near the Rio Grande in Albuquerque and is an activistfor climate action and Middle East peace and justice.