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Freedom returns to the storied city of Timbuktu

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By Wednesday, she had found a newly opened women’s hair salon, where she had her hair braided for the first time in months. She opened her jewelry box and put on two bright cube-shaped earrings. Her mother pulled out her eyeliner.

It was on Thursday that they rummaged through their closet and found the envelope where they had hidden their Samsung phone’s memory card.

At a glance

Rules for how women should wear the veil

Rule No. 1 » The fabric should cover the entire body.

Rule No. 2 » The fabric can’t be transparent.

Rule No. 3 » The fabric needs to be colorless.

Rule No. 8 » A woman should not perfume herself after putting on the veil.

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The Islamists had banned music of all kinds, including radios. When they realized young people were still listening to music using earphones, they began policing phones. During the final stages of the occupation, even ringtones became haram. People could not figure out how to change their cellphone settings, so for months many simply placed their phones on silent or on vibrate.

On Thursday, Hawi and her mother took out the memory card with the songs of a musician, a native of a village just 45 kilometers from the city. They went into the street, held up the tiny Samsung phone like a boombox and danced as they pumped it into the air.

Like her daughter, Hawi’s mother, Fatouma Arby, also has a scar — on her right wrist where the Islamic police lashed her after they found her standing outside her house. The Islamists had gradually expanded the public space where women were restricted from the town center, to the alleys blanketed in sand running like veins across Timbuktu, all the way to the threshold of their own homes.

They had even created a prison just for women the likes of Arby, a feisty, 40-something mother and tomboy who exulted Thursday in her release.

"It’s been a very long time since I put on makeup," she said, running her finger under her eye to show off the line of black kohl accenting it. "I’ve put it on to make myself beautiful. So that men see me, and find me beautiful."

A man she knows, a distant cousin, called out her name. She ran over to him and teasingly pulled his arm, as he pulled her back.

It was a tug-of-war between two people who for nearly a year could not so much as touch.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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