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September 06, 1995 - Image 15

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1995-09-06

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, S

Iimbuktu I
Angeles Times
TIMBUKTU, Mali - In the loose R!
nd that is the street outside Tarif's
ar,there are more footprints of camels and 4
d donkeys than tire tracks. The rea-
n: There are more beasts of burden to st
an motor vehicles here.
As for the camels, they are avworth
ndering. They once brought the great
ding caravans across the Sahara Desert
m North Africa. Their strong backs conversa
tthisonce-prosperouscenterofleam- I was in
g and commerce well supplied with Butthe
uries from around the world. there are
But today the camels are hobbled. .away is a
ey lie, idly, on the dunes. the big, t
Timbuktu is not well supplied at all. River, or
or prosperous. West Afr
Inside Tarif's Bar, there are only three yet to lif
quor bottles left on the glass shelf-- bottom it
o of Johnnie Walker Scotch, one of the three
ampari. And they are empty. few hund
The reggae music of Bob Marley It has
wls on ascratchyloudspeaker; Christ- drive a v
as lights blink over the door, although downpou
at holiday is months away. rut that 1
Inside this tavern, the faces are long city. "Rig
d tired. and ever
It is a bad time of year in this distant to start
own-on-brown, mud-and-sand outpost Timbukt
a mystical place for many, a locale to United N
flamechildhoodimaginations,although So, Ti
can explain exactly why, especially airport a
ose who come here from afar. locally a
The principal attraction of modern per weel
imbuktu, insofar as anyone seems able hardly t"
guess, is the hard-won right to open (down fr

roads, businesses turn
nto a forgotten outpost

eptember 6, 1995 - 15A
as re
M ,' V

ight now the route is washed out
verybody is waiting for the boats
- Diawuye Guindo
Timbuktu director of UNICEF

tions henceforth with, "When
subject was supplies. Ofwhich
few in Timbuktu. Only 5 miles
a lifeline, the mighty - well,
brown and sluggish - Niger
ne of the most important in
ica. But it has not rained enough
ft the river off its oozy mud
n this inland delta passage, so
supply boats are all tied fast a
dred miles upriver.
rained, however, too much to
ehicle here. It seems the first
ur dissolves the dirt-and-sand
ets cars and trucks reach the
ght now the route is washed out
ybody is waiting for the boats
," says Diawuye Guindo,
u director of UNICEF, the
lations Children's Fund.
mbuktu is left with only its
nd its two Air Mali (known
s Air Maybe) long-haul fights
k from Bamako and Mopti,
he way for a city of 20,000
om 100,000 about 500 years

ago) to keep up its reputation.
Ah, 500 years ago, now those were
the days, when Timbuktu was a trade
center. Salt from the Sahara came south
toward West Africa. Gold made the trip
backnorth. Ivory went north, cloth came
south. Back and forth.
Here, the road linked the Arab world
and black Africa. For a time, this was
the center of learning in all the region
with 180 Koranic schools. The still-
standing Sankore Mosque was said to
be the most important center of Muslim
scholarship in the black Islamic world.
Guidebooks tell of the first report
from Timbuktu to the outside world,
two years after Columbus sailed to the
New World. Timbuktu then was part of
the powerful Songhai Empire and one
could admire its civil service, its judi-
cial system, the "great store" of doctors
and learned men "that are bountifully
maintained at the king's expense," ac-
cording to the report.
It was also the heyday of the famed
Tuareg nomads. Feared across the Sa-
hara, they preyed on camel caravans.

They still are known as the blue war-
riors of the desert, for the rich indigo
dye of their turbans and robes which
stains the skin.
Today, the Tuareg are slowing down
as nomads. There are no caravans to
tax. Some Tuaregs wander from water
pump to water pump in the desert with
their strings of camels. Others have
pitched theirlumpish skin tents more or
less permanently on empty, windblown,
mud-puddled lots here and in the sur-
rounding dunes, where they try to farm
carrots in composted sand.
Today, UNICEF runs many water
stations in the region, 11 gallons for a
penny. Solar power nourishes the pumps
that nourish the camels. There is the
usual lineup of other relief agencies to
be found in places where there is little
money and great need.
The people of Timbuktu have be-
come welfare dependent.
"One thing that's different here is that
people cannot travel the way otherpeople
do. Because of changes in the rains and
silt in the channels, it's becoming more
and more difficult for boats to get up the
river. Each year, they come later and
later. And Timbuktu suffers for lack of a
permanent road," says Moulaye Sidi
Haidara, the district representative to the
national Parliament.
"It needs a lot of assistance," he says,
earnestly. "It's quite necessary that your
big country gives us some money for a

Angeles Times
Fifty miles from the Mekong River,
man showed up in March, peddling
he American dream.
His name was Ekapop Kotalee, and
e said he was a doctor. He told people
e could find them jobs in America,
ven with scant prior work experience.
A villager in northeastern Thailand
ay make only 20,000 baht, or about
840, from his annual rice crop. In the
nited States, Kotalee said, factory em-
loyees could earn twice that in amonth.
In all, nine people amassed at least
0,000 baht, or about $420, so Kotalee
ould get them U.S. visas, plane tickets
nd jobs.
"We sort ofbelieved it was legal," said
usaba Polthep, who persuaded her 18-

profit from Thai workers' plight

year-old son, her stepson and his wife to
leave for America. "Well, semi-legal."
The scheme came to naught for rea-
sons Thai police are investigating.
Kotalee, who is not a doctor, is now
jailed in Bangkok and claims he was
organizing a group tour of France. He
may be a simple con artist, bent on
bilking gullible country folk.
On the other hand, Polthep's rela-
tives may be lucky they are still in
Thailand, worrying how to reimburse
loan sharks. One month ago, state and
local authorities raided an underground
garment factory in El Monte, Calif.,
where 72 Thais fraudulently brought
into the United States were allegedly
compelled to live and work, some re-
portedly for seven years.
Thailandboasts one ofSoutheast Asia's

most dynamic economies. But not all
Thais have benefited. Each year, about
70,000 people go through proper legal
channels to apply to work overseas.
Others, like those freed in the Cali-
fornia raid, take a different route:
through unlicensed labor recruiters, or
criminal gangs.
"The labor agent will do everything:
get passports, visas, arrange a tour to the
United States, fakethephotos," said Pairat
Pongcharoen, a spokesman for the Royal
Thai Police. "They can't say they're go-
ing to work, so they'll claim it's a tour to
Disneyland or some other place."
U.S. officials in Bangkok estimate at
least 2,000 people in Thailand attempt
to leave for America monthly. They lie
or use fraudulent papers to obtain Thai
passports and U.S. visas or buy phony

travel documents.
One American official acknowledged
most of the fraudulent immigrants suc-
This outflow has made Bangkok one
of the major transit points for foreign-
ers intending to enter the United States
Labor recruitment is a government-
licensed activity, and workers are sup-
posed to apply to the Labor Ministry
before going overseas. But Thai offi-
cials said violations occur"all the time."
The workers kept captive in El Monte
flew to the United States on genuine
passports with switched photos, a prac-
tice so common in Thailand that U.S.
officials there nicknamed the city "the
fraudulent-document capital of the

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