Hay-on-Wye reminded me in some ways of Cuba in that they were both curious places that gave one the feeling of having stepped out of one world and into another that was different, quaint, exciting and new in an old fashioned kind of way.
That sense of other worldliness came home to me the strongest when I went for a walk through town one Saturday afternoon and came upon the turbaned one sitting crossed-legged on a quiet street corner.
His bright blue turban and his light blue gown contrasted quite starkly with his dark skin and he stood out all the more because black people were not a common fixture on the streets of Hay-on-Wye. Ensconced on his rug, with a coal pot beside him, the turbaned one occupied himself brewing tiny cups of tea right there on the street side.
Behind him was a table adorned with the exquisite jewellery that he had brought to sell.
By the looks of it, other town browsers were as intrigued and delighted as I was to see the turbaned one:
and they were very happy to sample his tea:
This little girl came along and enquired of the means of obtaining a cup of the tea, “Is it for money?” she asked, meaning, do I have to pay for it?
“No, no, it’s free,” the turbaned one replied; and very eagerly, the little girl stepped closer and accepted the tiny goblet that he stretched out to her.
“Thank you,” she said and raised the goblet to her lips.
The turbaned one turned to me and asked me if I wished to have a cup of tea too. Well, gentle reader, I have to confess that the idea of drinking tea from someone who was sitting and making it on the street side was not something that I would ordinarily opt to do. But hey, this was Hay-on-Wye, it was a sunny afternoon, life was glorious, and other people were drinking it. . .oh, what harm could it do-this once?
“Oh, thank you,” I said. I watched him pour it from his little teapot and I too accepted a goblet.
It was a very delicious and refreshing goblet of tea!
“What’s in it?” I asked.
“Mint and green tea,” the turbaned one replied.
“Wow,” I said. “It really is nice. I’ve never thought of combining mint and green tea before. I really must try it sometime.”
The turbaned one nodded and smiled ever so sweetly.
Dear reader, I have hence discovered that this tea is called touareg tea and it is very popular in Northern Africa. Someone should certainly try to make it a staple in the cuisine of Hay-on-Wye; it deserves a place right alongside Shepherd’s ice-cream, Hay Deli’s delights, sourdough bread, and all the other gastronomical wonders that abound in Hay!
Not long afterwards, Tam came along and took her seat beside the turbaned one.
Gentle reader, even though I spoke with Tam quite early on after my arrival in Hay-on-Wye and we had agreed to meet to discuss this fascinating relationship between Hay-on-Wye and Timbuktu, time sailed by so fast that before I knew it, my sojourn in Hay was drawing to a close and the final result was that Tam and I never got to meet to talk at all! Ah . . .
Nevertheless, in the true spirit of the written word, I turned to the internet for information and am happy to be able to impart the following details regarding Timbuktu’s twinning with Hay-on-Wye:
Hay-0n-Wye and Timbuktu were twinned in 2007 as the result of a competition to find a British twin for the African city. As we would say in Jamaica, Hay-on-Wye ‘likkle but it tallawah!’ The tiny Welsh book town beat off 52 other British towns and villages, including York and Glastonbury, to win the right to twin with the ancient city of Timbuktu, which is in Mali, on the edge of the Sahara desert.
And just why was Hay-on-Wye selected to be Timbuktu’s twin? Because both places have a shared love of the written word, no less! Timbuktu is an ancient site of Islamic scholarship, and is famous for its huge collection of medieval manuscripts, and Hay-on-Wye, as you will already know if you have been faithful in accompanying me on my journey, is famous for its books.
In the words of Anne Brichto, a Hay bookseller and head of the town’s twinning committee at that time, “Timbuktu is the oldest home of the written word in Africa; it has a large number of private and public libraries housing ancient Arabic and African manuscripts and Hay-on-Wye is the secondhand book capital of the world.”
Apart from the literature links between Hay-on-Wye and Timbuktu, their connection was perhaps inevitable for another reason: “We lie on exactly the same line of longitude,” said the then Mayor of Hay, Gareth Ratcliffe. “It was meant to be.”
No doubt, I shall visit Hay-on-Wye again after I leave. I should like to taste the touareg tea again, and talk with Tam, and even perhaps sit on the rug beside the turbaned one. Who knows, in that storybook world of Hay-on-Wye, twinned with an equally fascinating place some 2,450 miles away on a separate continent, that rug just may lift off and fly away with us to another time and another place, which I shall have to write about in a book all by itself!
My summer in Hay was filled with so many delights, and it went by so quickly that it still took me a little by surprise when I looked through my window one day and saw. . .