The Grand Hotel at Niamey was grander than the Grand Hotel at Bamako, but it was a letdown to leave the desert, to which we were getting adjusted. Suddenly we were back in the world of white tablecloths, cavernous lobbies, carpeted halls, swimming pools and tours around the city. Pat Grandy, the computer programmer, went to dinner with George wearing a long black dress with a plunging neckline. Evelyn Stein went to a beauty parlor. I went to the supermarket, which is where I met Oo Marou Maraa Madou, who helped me select shampoo to replace the bottle I forgot in Dakar. The crew, which stayed at a less grand hotel a few blocks away, turned up two days later and we were off again. On the road to Agadez there were milestones with nothing written on them. A small village named Koria had only two grass huts and three cows, but there were larger, more prosperous villages with names like Dogondoutchi, Birni-Nkoni and Touha. Sometimes the villagers were friendly, saying "�a va?" and asking for cadeaux. In more remote areas, children scattered like leaves at our approach. The temperature at Agadez was 104� in the shade, except there was no shade.
We left Agadez for a two-day trip into the nearby A�r Mountains, great slag heaps and bare, stony ridges dividing wadis filled with deep, soft sand. Mike thought we might see an addax in the erg. I thought I saw an ostrich in the distance and made such a clamor that Robin went sloughing through a wadi after it and almost got stuck, but it turned out to be a rock.
Robin has banned me from his Land Rover for two days, I recorded in my journal. Fortunately, he relented once we reached our campsite at Timia, and that evening we set off to find an African village, guided only by the sound of muffled tom-toms. Robin led the way through a grove of date palms, scrub and rock, but a camel thorn caught my sweater and by the time I disentangled myself, we were separated. He thought, of course, that I was right behind him; there is something about the silence of the desert that discourages conversation. I continued on alone, encouraged as the drumbeat grew louder. Then I was there, at the edge of a campsite. A group of natives walked toward me and, without a sound, formed a circle around me. The men, their faces painted, white streaks against the black, held spears. We stared at each other. No one made a move.
"�a va?" I quavered, finally. The tallest of the tribe stepped forward with a great deal of dignity, took me by the hand and led me to where Robin stood near a leaping fire around which the villagers danced. Brian was there, too, in his burnous, dancing like a banshee.
The next afternoon as we approached Aoudras, Wellard warned us that we would be camping that night in "tall Tuareg" country, inhabited by a fierce, unpredictable tribe. He pointed to hills in the distance, pink in the setting sun. "That is where they live," he said. As darkness fell and the crew set up tables for our evening meal, brush fires began to spring up on the perimeter of our campsite. "Don't try to be friendly if they approach us, and don't pick a sleeping site too far from the Land Rovers," he cautioned. Anna Antopol covered her blonde hair with a wide-brimmed hat. Pam was visibly apprehensive.
As we sat down to eat, a drumbeat broke the silence, and a grunt came from behind one of the Land Rovers. "Stay seated," said Dr. Wellard quietly. The drumbeat grew louder, and then a figure at least nine feet tall emerged, still grunting. The top of the apparition, which was covered with a white sheet, rocked and swayed, then Brian lost his balance and toppled from Robin's shoulders. As we watched, still somewhat baffled, Mike appeared, pounding a bongo drum. Chris went off to put out the fires, and Wellard grinned. The crew laughed uproariously, pleased with what turned out to be their annual put-on.
Lots of wadis, but still no addax in the erg, I noted, when we got back to Agadez. Mike went off to fetch Aroutic El Rossi, the Tuareg guide who would see us across the terrible Tenere desert. Rossi was done up to his eyeballs in the dark blue burnous and cheche of his tribe. He was a rich man, said Mike, owning three wives and 700 camels. Once a khabeer, or leader of a camel caravan, Rossi had also been the chief guide for the French army's camel corps when they were still in the area. The Tuareg consider themselves "lords of the desert," still keep slaves to do manual labor, prefer tents to houses and are contemptuous of direct dealing in commerce. "It is a dying race," said Wellard, "but they are going out with style." No one knew where Rossi had acquired his Italian-sounding name. Amiable and bright, he looked like a plump Flip Wilson. Rossi complained to Mike of an affliction of the eyes, and Dr. John diagnosed it as conjunctivitis. Burmeister threw up his hands.
"First we get George, who is never quite sure where the desert begins; now we've got a Targui to guide us across the Tenere, but he happens to be suffering from an acute case of blindness."
"I've got him on antibiotics," said Dr. John.
That evening Mike gave us a rundown on the trip, which was expected to take four days. "Use a minimum of water. There is only one well between Agadez and Bilma, our next oasis, a distance of 450 miles, and there is a dead animal at the bottom of it."