AHOUDAN, MY TOUAREG FATHER: Ahoudan is someone that if you continue to follow me, you will learn to know him well. Ahoudan knew my parents before my birth, and helped raise me when I was growing up in Niger. He was my parent’s guide when they worked as photojournalists for National Geographic and other magazines.
I grew up, among other places, in his village of Tabelotte, and travelled with him into the desert and mountains of Niger’s northern region. My brother and I grew up with his children as our siblings. In fact, his eldest daughter is my namesake. Her name, Alzhara, which is the name of a rare desert flower, is my middle name.
Today, Ahoudan remains my mentor and friend, and my greatest source of ancestral Touareg knowledge. He has become a surrogate grandfather to my children, and has, among other things, spent days teaching my sons the art of stone carving. In fact, Ahoudan is one of the Air’s most renowned artisans, or Inadans.
His stone carvings and traditional embroideries have won prizes, and even recognition by various Nigerien presidents. He also makes jewelry from silver and other metals, as easily as he crafts intricate leather pouches. He knows everything about the history of the Agadez region, from the first Touareg of the Sahara, to Niger’s prehistory. He knows all the medicinal plants of the region, as well the lore.
Quite simply put, Ahoudan is a walking encyclopedia, a devout friend and father, the best storyteller I have ever met, and a magnificent person through and through.
Photo: Ahoudan at the Oasis of Timia.