Around Timbuktu: The Millennium Village of Toya & a Niger Fish Camp

Fishing on Niger

When I wasn't exploring Timbuktu, I would pile into a pick-up with Jess & Rog to go out to the Millennium Village of Toya. Toya is about 30 km from Timbuktu, a lot of the drive not even on "roads," but just driving wherever through the desert or along the waterways on seasonal ruts. It was amazing how much the topography changed, even by the minute. People might think of the Sahara around Timbuktu to be sand dunes, but at least near the river there were some forested areas, eucalyptus groves, flood plains of cracked mud (rice fields during rainy season), scrubby bramble, fields of what-looked like prehistoric horsetails & of course the usual assortment of goats, cattle, donkeys & camels grazing on whatever they could scrounge up, sometimes in massive herds.

Life in Toya is not easy. They receive less than 400 mm of rain a year. And it's HOT. It was 40-45°C (about 110°F) when we were there, and very dry and dusty. That's why the Tuaregs in the region wear the turbans (as did we), to keep the dust out of your hair and ears. Still, the sand manages to get into everything. And just being in such heat zapped the energy out of us, I can't imagine working or traveling in it. The Tuaregs are generally nomadic pastorals, with Toya acting as a sedentary base for "settled pastorals" in the area. Besides livestock (cattle & goats mostly), they grow rice & millet & some other crops, and fish in the nearby Niger river. While Jess & Rog were learning and advising on nutrition, I took these photos and videos.


Tuareg herder with his cattle

tuareg cattle herder


carrying a sick goat

girl carrying goat


hanging around the clinic

at the clinic


not much water left in the Niger (rainy season a few weeks away)

niger bend


the Niger (or tributary thereof) in the dry season

niger ark


iron-tainted water from the well, the one on the left has sugar in it which reacts with the iron

toya water


more posing

Toya residents


students waiting for school meal (video of school meals)

Toya girl


lanky girl


Toya students


boy in front of school

school boy

Niger Fish Camp

The second morning we went out to Toya, we stopped at a spot on an offshoot of the Niger where people had gathered to fish. Evidently people get word that there's good fishing in a certain area, and they get permission and basically set up camp along the river and have at it, an all hands on deck affair. A sort of slash and burn approach to fishing where they take all the fish they can get then move on to another spot. It was quite a spectacular gathering to come across, especially considering we were near Timbuktu, what most people think of as the "middle of nowhere".

fish camp


boy and catch


woman with bloodied hands from working the nets and handling the fish

woman fish


drying the catch

drying fish


kids keeping occupied while parents fish

kids on bank


throw net


boat boy








(c) 2009 Derek White