This is in part due to its relative inaccessibility – it’s land-locked and largely Saharan – but it’s also Niger’s past as part of French West Africa that sees it suffer from an appalling lack of works in English. With The Nomad’s Path, Alistair Carr deserves credit for doing his bit to correct the general state of Anglophone ignorance.
Carr’s work is an accessible and readable account of his trek in a corner of this out-of-the-way country. Walking with a pair of local, French-speaking Tubu guides and a camel apiece, he crosses the Manga region. The arc of their three-week trip takes them from Nguigmi, near the border with Chad, via the southern reaches of the Termit Mountains, to journey’s end at Birnin Kazowe, about 80 kilometres east of Zinder.
Wilfred Thesiger came to mind while reading this book as he advised me on my own camel-powered expedition in the Libyan Desert. When Carr mentions the need to buy ‘a tyre repair kit for my inflatable mattress’, I was transported to the final page of Eric Newby’s A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, where he recalls Thesiger seeing him and his companion inflating their air mattresses. Thesiger splutters, ‘God, you must be a couple of pansies.’ But then Thesiger was one of a kind.
Apart from the journey itself, The Nomad’s Path has some interesting historical diversions, not least a brief account of the the late-17th-century adventures of Pieter Farde, a Franciscan brother from Ghent. This book is worth reading just to learn about Farde, but the tale of Carr’s own journey, too, will please anyone who loves deserts.
THE NOMAD’S PATH: Travels in the Sahel by Alistair Carr, IB Tauris, £18.99