There is a true story from
Timbuktu about an old man who spent his life guiding camel trains, laden with salt, across
hundreds of miles of desert. As he got older he began to lose his eyesight. Although he
grew blind, he carried on doing his job. The young men with him on the journeys used to
test him, and ask him where they were. Stopping, he would pick up a handful of sand, and
sniff it: he always knew where they were from the sands smell.
The salt trade is a way of life in Timbuktu.
"The salt trade remains very important for all of
us in Timbuktu. I would say about a third of the population of Timbuktu depends on it. The
salt is carried on camels from Taoudenni [in the far north of Mali] to Timbuktu, a journey
of about 700 miles. In a salt train, each camel carries four slabs of salt, each weighing
about 25 kilos. Each piece would fetch about 5000 CFAs in Timbuktu, and 5,500 CFAs in
Mopti, depending on the quality. Before leaving, each trader marks each slab of salt with
his family symbol."
Salt trader, Timbuktu
where does the salt come from?
get to the salt you have first to dig to remove
the soil and once about half a metre of soil has
been removed you might reach the first layer of
salt. This is not very good quality because there
are lots of stones in it, but it's still useable.
Then, if you dig down about two metres, you reach
the second quality salt which is almost as good
as the best quality but it still contains a bit
of sand. Then, after another two metres you begin
to reach the best quality salt. The salt is deposited
in layers and the layers can extend for 5-10 metres
and they are up to 10 centimetres thick. We remove
the two layers together and employ other people
to split the pieces to separate the first and second
quality layers, and then to cut the slabs to the
Ahmed Ould Faly, salt trader