Ali Tedgar reads volume two of the Thousand and One Nights during his siesta whilst lying on a mat in the shade of his curious round house that was inspired by the Dogon architecture of Mali. After his siesta Ali makes his way to his garden, situated alongside a wadi fifteen or so miles from Tamanrasset. A haven of freshness, it is populated with grapes, apricots, dates and mint.
Ali became a gardener the day his mother said to him: "He who waits for water from the sky dies of thirst". "That was in 1974, and I dug my first well the very next day", remembers this man who only wears his chÃ¨che - headscarf - only when he goes into the town or when he is having his photo taken. Not very often, in other words.
Floods from the wadi have carried off half of his garden and two wells. The last well plummets to a depth of exactly 55 feet. Ali is certain: "When you dig with a spade", he confides, "your arms never forget the last few inches".
"It's like a game; sometimes you win, sometimes you loose" Mohamed Amarassa, Idelès
Without Mohamed's Amarassa's gardens Idelès, five hours along a track from Tamanrasset, would be nothing more than a heap of stones at an altitude of nearly 6,000 feet on the edge of the Hoggar. In this village of 900 inhabitants, the gardens are short-lived because when the wadi floods it carries off the wells, locusts lay waste to the plantations and the ants devour the shoots.
The only sure area of greenery is the palm grove planted by Mohamed's ancestors. To feed the fifteen members of his family, Mohamed has two gardens: from the first, in the palm grove, he reaps dates, figs and Muscat grapes that he sells at "Tam". The trees here are high, the freshness welcome, the birds and butterflies plentiful.
Mohamed has just finished creating the second garden. The sun beats down here, the earth is unyielding, the harvests still mean. This 55 year-old Touareg keeps watch over his scrap of land, fenced in by dried out palm leaves, as though it was his child. "A garden in the desert", he says, "it's like a game: sometimes you win, sometimes you lose".
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The above articles first appeared under the title Le Grand Sud: Les Jardiniers du Desert by Michele Aulagnon-Ponsonnet in the French magazine GEO, issue 332. We are grateful to Culturissima for the translations.