Illela, a rural town about five hundred miles northwest of Niamey, sits at the mouth of the Sahara Desert in the Republic of Niger. The desert moves inexorably forward, swallowing bit by bit farmers’ fields north of town.
While living there as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I met and befriended a Tuareg family. These pastoralists had set camp west of Illela during the dry season when their camels and goats could forage freely. The dried river bed where they made their tents beneath the acacia trees became a river during the rainy season. Then the family pulled up camp and went north where their flocks would not create conflict with the sedentary farmers, the Hausa, who worked that land.
Gentle and kind, Kareema reminded me of a Madonna. She became my friend, the one to invite me to sit beside her next to the fire while the men were singing.