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Day 58: Agadez

Michael Palin - SaharaI'm standing on the small roof terrace of the Pensione Tellit in Agadez. A hot and hazy sunset is over and night is wrapping itself around the mud-brown walls of this old trading town. Orange lights mark out the network of narrow streets that connect a spread of rounded walls and flat, rectangular roofs. There's only one tall building in town and that's the minaret of the Grande Mosquée, a pyramid of mud, stones and projecting wood beams which rises high above the surrounding town. Anywhere else in the world it might barely be noticed, but this one is the tallest building for a thousand miles and, along with the mosques at Djenné and Timbuktu, it has almost mythic status in Islamic Sahara. I'm staring at it now, as my wife, on the other end of a satellite phone, is describing the almost unbelievable destruction of two other iconic towers, 6000 miles away, in New York.

The news that greeted us all on our arrival at this modest comfortable little whitewashed hotel seems incomprehensibly unreal, but friends and family, contacted by satellite phone, confirm that the attacks not only happened but were seen to happen and are being replayed constantly to those who might have missed them.

They appear to have taken place right across the northeastern United States. The President is in hiding and the country has virtually shut down. Though nobody has claimed responsibility, the finger of blame is being pointed at Arab terrorists and reprisals are said to be imminent.

We eat later, under the stars, beneath a sky which, even out here, seems less friendly than it did last night. All of us are shell-shocked, turning over what we have heard, flailing around for explanations, repeating the facts and trying to fit them into theories, wondering what on earth might happen next.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 58
  • Country/sea: Niger
  • Place: Agadez
  • Book page no: 169

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