When Pola came to Rascal, the dog and the kitten were already waiting for her. They had their heads covered with shawls and only their eyes were visible from behind the material.
‘You look like real Tuareg people,’ said Pola and laughed.
Pola’s friends’ clothes were not accidental. Today they were going to fly to Tumbuktu, the city inhabited by the Tuareg people. What you need to know about the Tuareg people is that they live in the deserts. Many of them have no conventional houses – they are nomads. They wander around deserts on camels with their families and all their possessions. Sometimes they establish temporary settlements but after few months, they pack everything back on their camels and continue to travel. The veils they wear on their heads protect them from the sand.
‘Omar will be so proud when he sees you! If you’re ready, we can go!’ added amused Pola.
The owl took out her compass and uttered the magical incantation.
‘All that is good, all that is new, take us away, show us the truth. Take us to Tumbuktu, to the gates of the Sahara desert!’
The world whirled around them, for a moment they saw millions of stars and then, they landed on the edge of an African desert – the Sahara. The day was coming to an end and the darkness was falling around.
‘Oh, it’s so empty in here,’ meowed Tola. ‘It’s just sand, sand everywhere. We were to visit Omar, not to travel to the middle of nowhere. Are we in the right place?’ she asked hesitantly.
Within only few minutes the complete darkness fell in the desert. The three friends had never expected that night can be so dark. Looking around, they couldn’t see any light. There were no lamps, headlights or light from somebody’s house.
Finally, they heard somebody calling cheerfully in the local language.
‘Pola, Tola, Rascal!’ The voice was coming from behind the nearest dune. ‘Azul! Matta hewitt?’ Which in the Tuareg language means: Hi, how are you?
It was Omar, the camel whose figure started to appear at the top of the dune.
‘Hi, Omar!’ Pola greeted her friend. ‘I started to wonder if we’re in the right place! I thought that you invited us to your house and we landed in the middle of the desert,’ she called.
‘Ha, ha! We’re far away from the heart of the desert,’ Omar shouted back. ‘I’m sorry for being late. I went back home for a second because I arranged a surprise for you. I asked my family and neighbours to turn all the lights off. Thanks to this, we will be able to lie down on the sand and do a little stargazing. We have about five minutes before everyone turns their electric generators on.’
The animals lay down on a mat. It was then, that they saw how beautiful the night in the Sahara is. The sky was full of stars. They could see not only the Great Bear, the Little Bear, and Cassiopeia. Thousands of tiny stars were shining between constellations – this was something that could not be seen in any city.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t watch the stars forever. After 10 minutes the silence was broken by the buzz and the humming noise of the generators. After a few seconds of the loud noise, they saw a mosaic of lights appearing all around.
‘Ha, ha, told ya! Such a starry night in Timbuktu can last only for a while. When we turn on our electric generators, silence and darkness are over.’
‘Electric generators? What are they?’ asked Rascal hesitantly.
‘Eh, you’ll see it in a minute. Or rather smell it.’
The friends got up from the ground and jumped on the camel’s back, between his two humps. After a while, they were swaying back and forth, carried by Omar who headed for his home.
Omar’s dad had a small restaurant on the edge of the city. The diner was cosy, there were a few tables for guests. The delicious smell of traditional Tuareg dish was hanging in the air. Apart from it, they could smell something else. It was similar to…
‘Exhaust fumes. I can smell them. Omar, do you have a motorcycle at home with the engine running?’ asked Rascal hesitantly. ‘I can hear a humming noise and there’s this smell of exhaust fumes.’
‘Ha, ha, I told you! What you can smell now is not a motorcycle. Both the smell and the noise are coming from the electric generator I told you about.’
‘The electric generator? What is this?’ asked Rascal.
Omar raised the curtain showing them a metal object. It looked like a combustion engine. Its frame was made of metal and there were lots of pipes attached to it. It was making a loud buzzing noise, similar to a tractor.
‘You need to know that Timbuktu is located far away from big cities and we don’t have access to electricity. Everyone who wants to have it at their homes, needs to generate it themselves. In Poland, you use coal for this. Here in Mali, we don’t have coal, so we use electric generators running on petrol. When petrol or oil are burnt, electricity is generated. And thanks to the electricity, we can light our home and the restaurant.’
‘But it stinks,’ noted Tola. ‘Can’t you generate electricity in any other way?’
Omar didn’t reply because at that moment his dad came into the restaurant. He was a tall Bactrian camel.
‘Kids, it’s late, you’d better go to beds. Tomorrow the biggest market in the Sahara opens in Timbuktu. Caravans from all over the continent will come to the city. I bet you don’t want to oversleep and miss such an event.’
The friends immediately left the restaurant and went straight to their rooms. They were looking forward to the next morning.
THE NEXT MORNING
The market looked incredible. It covered a large area where merchants and traders from the whole Africa gathered to sell and buy their goods. Some people had blue shawls, others were wearing veils with different colourful patterns. Some merchants had their stalls in tents, others were standing beside round wicker huts. They put their goods on huge blankets, lying on the ground.
At one stall, they saw really strange fruits – prickly pears (the fruits of cactuses), sweet dates (from date palms) and pineapples. Other merchants offered beautiful shawls, bags and belts.
The biggest crowd gathered in front of the cheetah’s stall. The fastest animal of Africa brought some really peculiar devices.
‘All that I have here are devices that generate power from the three elements – the hot sun, the wind, and the water. Yes, you won’t need any batteries! You can forget your electric generators. My devices work on water, wind or the Sun!’
‘The sun or the wind can power these devices?’ people were asking.
‘Yes. Look, I have a calculator here. You can use it as long, as the sun shines. You don’t need a battery which runs out quickly. And this thing here,’ he said, pointing at a small black board. ‘Is a phone charger. Travelling through the desert, you can stick it to your backpack. As long as the sun shines, you can charge your phones. Here, I have a socket. You can easily stick it to a window and plug the power cord of your vacuum cleaner to it. It will run on the solar energy.’
‘Wow!’ gasped the crowd.
‘What is this thing that looks like a transparent roof tile?’ asked Omar’s dad.
‘Oh, it’s a special roof tile which converts the sunlight into electricity. When you cover the roof with these tiles, you will be able to use solar energy in your house. You won’t have to use electric generators any more.’
The cheetah realised that many animals were looking at the tiles, so he continued.
‘The solar energy is a clean energy, its use does not produce fumes or smog. This means no more ugly and unhealthy fumes!’
Everyone was excited with what the cheetah said. Everyone except one person. Omar’s neighbour, Fahim, who was also there listening to the cheetah. He was selling electric generators and didn’t like the idea of switching from generators to the solar energy. He came closer to the cheetah and seemingly accidentally stepped his hoof right next to the roof tiles. Bam! Sand and dust covered the transparent solar panels.
‘These tiles are not worth buying. Any sandstorm could cover them with sand and dust,’ called Fahim. ‘In the Sahara the speed of wind can be really high. We all wear veils covering our faces so that the sand won’t get into our eyes. Such solar collectors will be useless,’ he added.
‘Yeah, he’s right! The wind is too strong! Look how dusty these files already are!’ Animals started to nod their heads.
The cheetah quickly figured out why Fahim reacted this way. Luckily, he was prepared for such cases. He turned around and took out two big airscrews from his bag.
‘First, the solar collectors I showed you are installed at a particular angle, not horizontally. Most dust and sand will slide from them right after a sandstorm. Cleaning the roof with a brush from time to time is enough for these panels to work properly. By the way, thank you for reminding me about sandstorms and strong winds. I have a small wind turbine which can be easily fixed next to your houses, restaurants, or even tents. The wind turbine converts the power of wind into electricity. You need to have a little more space for it than for the roof tiles, but it’s still much healthier than burning coal or oil.’
During the next hour Omar’s dad and other merchants were asking questions about the roof solar collectors and the way of cleaning them. The cheetah explained why using the solar energy or the power of wind is so healthy. When the presentation was over, Omar’s dad left the market with bags filled with transparent tiles.
Tola, Pola and Rascal spent the whole next day placing the collectors on the roof.
‘Pass me a tile, please! And a hammer! Watch out, there’s a cable! You’re doing good, just place these tile evenly!’ The animals were calling to each other. Omar’s dad asked the three friends to walk around the city the following day and invite everyone to the first turning on of the lights powered by the solar energy.
Pola, Tola and Rascal really liked this idea. They were walking along the streets with Omar and invited everyone they met on their way to come to the restaurant this night.
‘Tonight you’ll see our restaurant in a completely new light. From this time on, it will be called The 3 Elements. We will serve Tuareg delicacies!’ Tola and Rascal were calling.
They invited more than 50 people. The second half of the day, they spent on decorating the restaurant. Pretty lanterns and round energy-saving bulbs were hanging inside.
When the evening came, everyone was looking forward to turning the lights on.
Omar’s neighbour – Fahim – opened his restaurant earlier. He had hidden his generator so as not to put off tourists.
‘Come to my restaurant! I bet these solar collectors don’t work. It would be unpleasant to eat in a dark restaurant.’
Tourists didn’t pay attention to his calling. Eco restaurant was a novelty in Timbuktu. Everyone was waiting for turning on the lights. Finally, when the darkness fell in the streets, Omar’s dad went in front of the restaurant where the crowd had gathered.
‘I’m glad you came here tonight. Please, count down with me.’
‘3, 2, 1, lights on!’ cried the crowd. Omar pulled the lever to turn on the lights but… nothing happened.
‘Oooh!’ cried people, disappointed.
‘I knew it!’ said Fahim. ‘Sun collectors in the Sahara just do not work. Come to me for dinner, I won’t let you starve!’
Tola, Pola and Rascal quickly turned on their flashlights and started to search for the cause of the failure. They had checked everything! They laid all the cables correctly and cleaned the tiles, there was no sandstorm in either. They should have accumulated lots of energy. So why was there no electricity? They were looking for any defects in the installation. The guests were waiting for quite a long time and some of them finally started to leave. Most of them were heading towards Fahim’s restaurant. Fahim invited everyone, not even trying to hide his satisfaction.
When Omar’s dad was certain that the cheetah had tricked him and solar energy does not exist, Tola suddenly cried from the rooftop.
‘I got it! One cable here is not plugged! That’s why it isn’t working!’
The owl plugged the cable in the right place and the bright light flooded the restaurant.
As you can probably guess, everyone went back to The 3 Elements restaurant. The food was delicious and nothing was buzzing from behind a curtain, polluting the air. After two days, Fahim realised that he didn’t have to worry about losing his job. Instead of electric generators, he could now sell sun collectors and wind turbines. Timbuktu started to be recognised as the city of the clean energy and the fresh air!