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Timbuktu 1

Najati Al-Bukhari

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

1) There in that isolated part of the Ottoman Empire, just on the Eastern Bank of the Holy River Jordan, up above Sacred Valley, and on the East part of the green plateau of this Bank and at the end of the first half of the nineteenth century, the hero of this story, the farmer of the quarter, was a well established person in this part of the of the vast Ottoman Empire.

At the beginning of this story, the farmer was almost thirty years old. Of course, he will accompany us for more years in his life, perhaps till he would become more than fifty years old or more than that. The farmer of the quarter was thirty years old at the beginning of this story of Timbuktu.

The farmer was of a rather tall stature and of a strong and healthy body. He looked slim and had a rather slender figure and on the whole he was considered handsome, charming, attractive, pleasing and a delightful person. All his acquaintances and friends wished to see him and to talk to him as much as possible. All people found delight and satisfaction in talking and in listening to him.

Taking into consideration the remoteness of the place in which he was living from the cultural, intellectual and business centers of that time, like Damascus, Jerusalem, Cairo and above all the City of Beirut, and of the absence of any educational opportunities offered in the place of his residence, it was not expected that the farmer should have been more or less literate. In spite of all of these limitations the hero of the story of Timbuktu was somewhat literate.

For some years in his early childhood he frequented and in a systematic way the local mosque school. Many children of his age went to the mosque school with the farmer in his childhood. The mosque school left a lot of happy memories in the spirit of the farmer. He learnt there, in the mosque school, with the other small children, reading and writing his mother tongue, Arabic. There was no scope in this isolated part of the Ottoman Empire to teach the basics of the Turkish language.

The farmer, as a child, learnt by heart some parts of the Holy Book, the Quran. In his adolescence and adulthood he developed his reading and writing skills and abilities by personal efforts. Most important of all, the farmer did not hesitate at all to acquire simple arithmetic and calculating skills which he was in need of in the management and administration of his farm. These calculating skills were also needed to manage his commercial activities. The farmer was considered by his friends and colleagues in the quarter and in the community as a highly educated and literate person.

The father and the ancestors of the farmer and all the members of his family, and since many generations back, were farmers and owned vast and cultivable land in all the quarters of the community. This well known family provided all the inhabitants of the community with their food and nutrition requirements in general. Yet and since a long time the family of the farmer had the tradition of exporting the surplus of the cereals, vegetables and fruits production to other parts of the Ottoman Empire. The farm, that happened to be in the heart of the plateau of the Sacred Valley, together with the other farms of the plateau and the valley, have been supplying the various parts of the Empire with the agricultural products of the farms.

Actually, and in the deep history of the community of the plateau, there have been several other big families that were farmers, big farmers, who provided the local markets as well as the markets of the neighboring parts of the Ottoman Empire with the surplus agricultural products much needed in most parts of the Empire in Asia and Africa. In fact, all the members of the local community were engaged in agricultural activities. Of course, few members of the community started to be engaged in business and commercial activities. Some of them who were with some education were employed as members of the local civil service system. It should not be forgotten that some of the young people were engaged and on a regular basis in the army of the Empire or in the local gendarmerie.

However, and in spite of the fact that other sectors of the local economy and administrative set-up were practically in their first phases of modern development, the agricultural and sometimes live-stock activities represented the main source of income and living for the whole local community.

Lately, the community has undergone during the previous several decades certain structural, social and economic changes. A lot of people, who were engaged and for many generations, in agricultural activities have become artisans and some others gradually have become civil servants. Many persons, who were engaged in agricultural activities, have become artisans and civil servants and have shifted their economic endeavors to the commercial and the industrial sectors.

Because of these structural economic and social changes in the community and with the passing of time, only one farmer survived in the quarter. The farmer, the hero of this story remained faithful to agriculture. With his effort and determination he established himself as the uncrowned king of this economic activity. He monopolized all agricultural production, and he was wise enough to make use of this privileged economic position for the welfare of all the community as well as for the benefit of his family.

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2) As it was the tradition in the community all men, after a certain age, had moustaches of various sizes and lengths decorating their face. So this was the case of the farmer of the quarter. His face was decorated by a pleasant and a gracious black moustache.

The farmer was known and identified by his impressive long moustache. Nobody among the men of his age in the community had a moustache longer and more imposing and commanding than the moustache of the farmer.

The farmer gave a lot of time and attention in the morning to his impressive and black moustache. He knew that his moustache was the symbol of his strength and his power and authority. Naturally, this belief and conviction applied equally to all other men in the quarter and the community in general.

The moustache was really the symbol of power and virility. Every adult in this community believed with insistence and conviction that his moustache was as important as any other organ in his body. Everybody in the community was under the impression that his moustache was the source of his dignity and his importance and position in his society.

3) The nose of the farmer, which was a little bit carved and somewhat bent, looked more or less big, of a huge size. The nose of the farmer attracted always the attention of any passer-by or anybody standing in front of him.

In fact, this nose looked to be the important part of the face which gave the farmer the main distinctive quality and characteristic of his personality in general. The farmer was aware of the abnormal size of his nose and he has long ago adapted himself to the important fact of having a big nose.

The farmer had brown eyes with thick black eye-brows. His eye-lashes gave the impression that there were some traces of kohl powder on his eyes that had been used days ago for some medical reasons. On the whole, the eyes of the farmer gave the feeling that those were the charming eyes of a man with strong personality.

The farmer, as his face demonstrated, shaved daily and never tried to grow a beard as very few men of his age in the community did at that time. Then, there was only one barber in the quarter. Sometimes, the farmer went to his barber for a shave or to have a haircut and to listen to the rumors and gossips told by the barber.

When the farmer smiled, opened his mouth or talked to somebody, his white shining teeth, the upper and the lower jaws would show off brilliantly. It looked as if all his teeth were in a good condition and well taken care of. Certainly, he started to brush his teeth from an early age. It is certain also that his mother taught her children how to take care of their teeth.

Last Wish
Above artwork is by the author's son Nawaf Al-Bukhari... See more!
© 1980-2017 by Nawaf Al Bukhari, Amman-JORDAN and Dubai-UAE

At the same time, most families of all classes did not have good dental care habits. Very few families have introduced the brush and tooth-paste in the house. At that time grown up persons had the tradition of using the Miswak for cleaning and brushing the teeth regularly. A miswak is a small piece of wood rich of fibers. It was wildly used in the ancient times in the various parts of the Middle East.

4) The farmer, like all the grown up men of the quarter put on constantly a white colored shirt. Of course, there was no need for a neck-tie. The modern western costume men's dress composed of a jacket and a trouser requires the use of a neck-tie. This modern dress was not yet introduced in the community in the areas surrounding the Sacred Valley. Very few men had the courage of putting on this costume. Those were mostly employees and civil servants in the public administrative departments.

Town at Dawn
Above artwork is by the author's son Nawaf Al-Bukhari... See more!
© 1980-2017 by Nawaf Al Bukhari, Amman-JORDAN and Dubai-UAE

The white shirt of the farmer of the quarter was not buttoned near the neck. One or two buttons were left free to the extent that part of the hairy sun burnt chest of the farmer was visible to all. It was easy to anybody to see that the farmer was a hairy man. In winter time and in cold days of the other seasons the white shirt of the farmer was all buttoned. The farmer in those cold days had on him a woolen coat.

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The farmer put on his head all the time, with the exception when he went to bed a type of a head cover, a nice looking white cap which was beautifully and skillfully embroidered with threads of one to two colors. As part of the local tradition, the farmer changed this white cap every day.

Every cap which he put on his head daily had a different type of design of the embroidery decorating the cap. Sometimes, when coming back home, the farmer would ask his maid to provide him with a cap, a new one, to be used inside the house till the morning of the next day. The farmer, while in bed and before starting his sleep used to take off the cap from his head.

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Equally, the farmer had the habit and the practice to put around the neck and on the two shoulders a kind of a scarf used by the men of the community which was usually heavily decorated with black and silver and illuminating threads.

The farmer was identified from a distance, long or short, by this white decorated cap put on his head. It was the cap, crowning his head like a glowing diadem, which indicated his presence in a certain place or amongst a group of people.

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The position of the cap on the head of the farmer gave enough indication and clues as to his temperament, his mood and his disposition. If his cap was seen in its normal position, centered on the top of the head, then he would be expected to be in a good humor and disposition. If the cap was found a little bit inclined backward then that would mean that the farmer was in a bad temper. On the other hand, if the cap was inclined forward covering part of his forehead then he would be expected to be in a highly excited and perhaps joyful disposition.

Underneath the cap was hidden part of his semi-curly and well combed black hair. Naturally the hair was all black and it seemed he had to wait for few more years to have the grey-white hair to cover part of his head.

The hair was not cut short, on the contrary, by the standards of the time in which the farmer was living, his hair could be considered as a little bit longer than usual. The hair of the farmer was constantly shining. It was reported that he used a kind of olive oil in the treatment and making up his hair.

The farmer had on the average a hair cut every five weeks. He went to the barber's shop early in the morning. He preferred to have his haircuts on Thursdays. The barber was perpetually excited when he saw the farmer coming to his shop. For the farmer it was a golden opportunity to hear all the news, all the events and all the rumors circulating in those days in the community. For the barber, the visit of the farmer to his shop was considered as a very important event because the farmer paid the barber a lot of money as a reward for his artistic services.

It should be noted that few of the men in the community put the white cap on the head. The majority of men and all grown up boys had to put on their heads a kind of a shawl of square form which becomes of a triangular shape when put on the head. A thick black cord of two layers was put on the head covered by the shawl. The two layers black cord looked on the head of men like a diadem or a crown.

There came a time when few men in the community, especially those employed as civil servants in the Government Departments or in the local authority's establishments, had the courage to put on their heads the red colored fez. The fez was a high-topped red cap with a black tassel fixed on its back and was only used in the urban areas of the community during the mid nineteenth century of the Ottoman Empire epoch.

The farmer dressed also a type of a baggy and puffed out pants or trousers. These baggy pants were only of black color. These pants were also used in some parts of other quarters of the community. However, as a common tradition, it was normal to see the majority of men dressed up in white color and embroidered robes. The cloth used in making these men's robes had black color stripes, streaks. Around the waist of the men wearing the robe could be seem a broad size cloth used as a belt. Yet it should be pointed out that this white robe having black stripes, called 'Qumbaz' was more used by men living in the villages, rural areas and the desert. It was not commonly used in cities, towns and urban areas.

It should be pointed out again and again, that at that time, at the middle of the nineteenth century and in the epoch of the Ottoman rule and when the events of this story took place, very few men were dressed in the modern western costume, the coat, the jacket, and the trouser. This western man's dress remained for a long time as a part of the system of cultural taboo. It remained so for a long time. When the events of this story took place, the Western man's dress remained to be a taboo.

If it happened that somebody put on this western dress, the jacket and the trouser, he would be the target of mockery and ridicule of the inhabitants of all the quarters of the community. All people would call this person as a rebellious and eccentric.

5) The farmer of the quarter was brought up in a house and within a family where religious beliefs, traditions, precepts and rituals were respected and obeyed. Very old members of the family prayed the five prayers of the day. Otherwise, all others were not at all regularly practicing the daily religious rituals.

The farmer prayed, when he was living in his father's house, from time to time either in company with his father or other adults of the house or all alone.

He was accustomed, as a tradition, to go to the mosque every Friday to pray in group and with others the Friday noon prayer. He rarely missed this weekly Friday prayer when he was living with his family in the house of the father. This weekly prayer gave him the opportunity of seeing most of the men of the quarter and of the community in general.

The farmer was a regular observer of all the religious instructions concerning fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. He had the habit of fasting the whole month of Ramadan starting from the age of twelve years. Before that the farmer fasted few days of the month and sometimes part of the day. The farmer enjoyed the reading of parts of the Quran during the days of Ramadan. The father of the farmer encouraged him to read the Quran after the end of the day's fast.

The two religious annual feasts, at the end of fasting of Ramadan and that of the sacrifice and the pilgrimage to the Holy City of Mecca, were strictly observed by the young farmer. While he was a child and a young boy he enjoyed the celebrations of these two feasts and festivities. While a child, he enjoyed the new clothes offered to him by his father and his mother. He also enjoyed playing with the other small children of the quarter.

In these days, most of the young children of the quarter, boys and girls, went to the mosque school which put stress on the learning by heart some of the Quran, the Holy Book. In the mosque school children learnt the first basic principles of the skills of reading and writing.

A public primary school only for boys was started at the time when the major events of this story took place. Of course, and later on, and in the forthcoming epochs, schools at all levels multiplied in the quarter in particular and in the community in general.

In terms of behavior, conduct and modes of daily living for women and girls, it was the authority of the father and the big brother that determined the mode of behavior and the daily conduct of women and girls.

It was not in fact what religion ordered, dictated and commanded but rather what the father wanted and what the inherited traditions dictated that determined the mode of living of women and girls.

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In most cases, the father's interpretation and understanding of religion was a real misinterpretation of religion. Women and girls suffered as a result of this misinterpretation of the real spirit of religion.

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Timbuktu 1

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© 1980-2017 by Najati Al Bukhari, Mont de Marsan, France

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