January 12, 2008

Arctic similar to Sahara

An Inuit Adventure in TimbuktuMr. Uyarak said, this place is not so different from his hometown, Igloolik.

“The people are very calm, that's one thing. And the nuna, the land–the sand is shaped in the ways that snow shapes when there is a strong wind.”

The land and the way they live in it are threatened too, by climate change, by the lure of consumer culture.

And it is a desire to draw international attention to those threats that has led a group of Inuit performers to a quirky arts festival near Timbuktu in Mali.

Talking to the nomads who invited him here, Mr. Uyarak is learning about camels, and they are not that different, in many ways, from the dog teams his father used to keep. He rode one yesterday, and concluded it was a lot like being in a kayak: You can't stiffen up, but have to roll with the waves.

People here wear layers and layers of clothes, to keep cool instead of hot; they live in tents, just like the few people back home who still live out on the land. Even his language, Inuktitut, sounds a bit like the Tamashak spoken by his Tuareg hosts. Their language and traditions are both oral; like the Inuit, their written language is an innovation of recent generations. Both groups navigate by the stars.

Then there are other, darker similarities: Many young Tuareg want out of here, the same way many of Mr. Uyarak's friends want out of Igloolik. They want to live in the city and watch DVDs and listen to 50 Cent. Few have interests like his–Mr. Uyarak has sought out people in his community to teach him the old ways, including that trick of nighttime navigation. He despairs of young people who can't even speak Inuktitut. “My girlfriend wants to watch The O.C. all the time and I always tell her, there are so many things that are more important than some stupid TV show from America.”

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