The Founder of Amman Imman: Water Is Life, Is Bringing Cultures Together Through Social Media

Words: Ariane Alzhara Kirtley

(This article is a personal essay by Ariane Alzhara Kirtley, founder of Amman Imman: Water Is Life. We encourage you to please read her story & support Amman Imman and her social media storytelling.)

My name tells my story: Ariane Alzhara Kirtley. Like Ariane in Greek mythology, I endeavor to help lead others to safety. Like Alzhara flowers, I blossomed in the wondrous Saharan wastelands. And in the footsteps of my family Kirtley — “over those hills” in Old Gaelic – I am driven by a compulsion to walk, seeking new adventures, discoveries and meaning.

At six months old, I crossed the Sahara Desert for the first time, lying in a baby basket secured to the back seat of my parents’ Land Cruiser. From those earliest moments forward, I enjoyed the most unconventional lifestyle imaginable, thanks to my parents Aubine and Michael Kirtley who were photo-journalists for National Geographic and GEO magazines at the time. My older brother Tercelin and I were “home schooled” while floating down the Niger River, trekking in African rain forests, and camping throughout the vast reaches of the Sahel. My fondest memories are of playing with my “best friend” Julia, a baby gorilla in Gambia’s Abuko Nature Reserve.


A QUEST FOR WATER: (Based on actual events in the southern Sahara) Chapter 8: Bittersweet Rejoicing (4) THE END That was as far as her thinking got that day, because her family decided to start Tabaski festivities early. Alhassan slaughtered one of the sheep to welcome the three girls home, and to celebrate the joyous gift of the crystalline water. Mouheini, Raichatou, and Takat were offered the most prized pieces of meat – the entrails. Mouheini, holding tight to Tahir, distributed her share among her six brothers and sisters. The smaller children were also given the brain, as tradition would have it. Mouheini made sure that Tahir had plenty of water to drink. While she sat eating her meat, she did not commit senti. Yet her mind did wander to a paradise where liquid silver flowed, and to a trail lost in the desert, where a captivating, luminous soul was heading on his trek homeward. She prayed Allah for his safety. THE END Photo: Mouheini with her brother, Tahir, and little sister Halima. #niger #africa #ig_world_colors #story #travelafrique #people_infinity #earthportraits #ig_africa #unlimitedafrica #loves_africa #shotsofafrica #peopleofafrica #turklikeben_people #colors_of_day2 #travelphotography #humanity_shots_ #african_portraits #ig_photostars #loves_people #lamedumonde #children #beautiful #globe_people #cute #humanity_shots #turkobjektif_people #beauty #enjoylife #beautifulchildren

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Soon after graduating from Yale University with a B.A. in Anthropology and a Master’s in International Public Health, I returned to the Sahara in 2005 as a Fulbright scholar. I spent several months living alongside Tuareg and Fulani herders in Niger’s Azawak Valley. There I witnessed children dying from dehydration: young boys and girls who walked up to 30 kilometers a day in searing 45° heat — not for pleasure, but out of desperation to find water. In 2006 I founded the international NGO Amman Imman: Water is Life, to address the needs of minorities in Africa, beginning with constructing deep borehole wells in the Azawak.


A QUEST FOR WATER: (Based on actual events in the southern Sahara) Chapter 5: WELCOMED LIKE PRINCESSES (7) Finally, the trio lay their weary heads to rest; Mouheini slept in the middle, ever-protective of her little cousins. She lay awake looking at the stars, pondering many things. She could not help but think of her imminent wedding with Abdoul. She knew she had no right to question her parent’s choice, but why must she marry Abdoul? Why? In the middle of the night, Takat woke up screaming from a nightmare about the face of the boy who had died in the well. Mouheini held her tight, caressed her hair, and sang her back to sleep. Photo: Beautiful little Mouheini. #niger #africa #ig_world_colors #worldofportraits #travelafrique #people_infinity #earthportraits #ig_africa #unlimitedafrica #loves_africa #shotsofafrica #peopleofafrica #turklikeben_people #colors_of_day2 #travelphotography #humanity_shots_ #african_portraits #ig_photostars #loves_people #lamedumonde #realpeople #child #globe_people #water #humanity_shots #turkobjektif_people #story #girl #storytelling #beautiful

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I am also the mother of three children: Fassely, Soriya, and Indima. Similarly to how my parents raised me, we have made the world their classroom, while we travel the globe as a family. Their most important lessons are learned, for instance, by carving soapstone with our Tuareg friends in Niger, while gathering paioux nut in the forests of the Central African Republic with the BaAka pygmies, or while riding through the streets of Niamey on our donkey, Zorro, and conversing with passers-by and neighborhood friends.


BORN TO TRAGEDY: Fati carrying Indima on her back. Some of you may have already read the first post I wrote about Fati, but I felt it worth publishing again.  She is the purest example of strength and ability to love, forgive, and be joyful. I met Fati when she was only 16. Her daughter Mariama, only a few months old at the time, was her second child.  She had lost her first during childbirth.  A year later, she fell pregnant with Moussa.  When Denis and I learned that Fati was regularly beaten by her husband, we fought to help her obtain a divorce.  Her ex husband’s family took Moussa and Mariama away, rarely allowing Fati to see her children.  Soon thereafter, Fati’s family married her to a wealthy old man. With him, she bore Raichatou.  He divorced Fati on the day of their daughter’s baptism.  When Raichatou was old enough, he took her away.  Once again, Fati was left alone in sorrow. One evening, soon after Mariama turned eight years old, Fati received a call from her former husband.  Mariama was convulsing from high fevers.  She arrived too late, and found Mariama lying still in bed, never to awake.  Two years later, I received a call at 9PM from Fati.  Moussa, who had just turned eight, was convulsing from fever.  Worn out from the day, and not completely understanding Fati’s broken French, I said I would visit Moussa the next day.  Ever the soft-spoken, Fati did not insist.  When we arrived the following morning, Moussa was limp, seemingly lifeless.  We rushed him to a clinic in Niamey.  A few hours later, Moussa died in Fati’s arms. At the tender age of 24, Fati had lost three children, and was not allowed to see her fourth.  And yet, she never stopped smiling, and her faith in God never wavered.  Today, Fati is remarried to a man that loves her.  They have two sons. #humanity_shots #turkobjecktif_kids #turkobjecktif_love #turkobjektif_people #kidsofinstagram #love #firststeps #childofig #adventureparenting #familyadventures #umh_kids #people_infinity #earthportraits #ig_africa #gift #loves_africa #shotsofafrica #welltraveledkids #turklikeben_kids #baartarinha #wildandfreechildren #humanity_shots_ #african_portraits #ig_photostars #runwildmychild

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Along with being a humanitarian and mother, I am also a photographer and short story writer. I use my stories and photos to share the beauty and incredible social wealth, as well as the challenges of the children and people I meet during my travels. In fact, I began using social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram last spring to, through my photos and stories, help build bridges between worlds that would otherwise never have the chance to meet. I also wanted to tell the fascinating stories of the people I work with thanks to Amman Imman, and those of my children and their friends across the world. By raising awareness and telling the stories of the voiceless, I aim to, in my small way, help spread compassion, love and hope.

Follow Kirtley’s social media storytelling here.