If you haven’t read the story of how the ancient library of Timbuktu–with manuscripts dating back to the 13th century–was saved from Islamic militants who torched the library before they fled advancing French troops, you ought to.
Their final act before leaving was to go through the exhibition room in the institute, as well as the whitewashed laboratory used to restore the age-old parchments. They grabbed the books they found and burned them.
However, they didn’t bother searching the old building, where an elderly man named Abba Alhadi has spent 40 of his 72 years on earth taking care of rare manuscripts. The illiterate old man, who walks with a cane and looks like a character from the Bible, was the perfect foil for the Islamists. They wrongly assumed that the city’s European-educated elite would be the ones trying to save the manuscripts, he said.