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Sahara

Day 36: Dakar to Bamako

Kidira, Senegal 
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At Kidira station on the border between Senegal and Mali. To the left of my green train is the Bamako-Dakar express going the other way. It consists of the smarter silver stock of Senegalese Railways.
Michael Palin - Sahara'Is it changing? I mean all this being taught to be submissive.'

She spreads her hands helplessly.

'This is something crazy. I'm not going to be submissive to my husband, you know. Maybe to respect my husband, but he's going to respect me too.'

As for female circumcision, she thinks it will begin to die out. The National Assembly in Senegal has brought in a law against it, but the women who were practising it, the ones who held the secrets, are having to be given financial incentives to end their vested interest in this particular ritual.

Dhadi is a Muslim, but stoutly against the prevailing custom of polygamy.

'First of all, I'm jealous. I don't want to share my husband. And then second,' she wags her finger to formidable effect, 'in every polygamist house there is trouble. Because co-wives, you know, are jealous. Sometimes one of the wives will go to the marabout...'

'The marabout?'

'Well, he's the kind of priest...he's a seer. He can see into the future and also he can, you know, make some juju. And for example, if one of the kids fails his exam, she says to the marabout, "It's my co-wife. She's a witch. That's why my kid can't succeed."'

She doesn't hold out much hope that polygamy will go the way of circumcision. She reckons only 3 or 4 per cent of Senegalese feel as she does.

'These are hard times. I believe it will change, but it will be hard, very hard.'

It's not just what she says but how she says it that makes Dhadi exceptional. Or maybe not. Maybe African women are by nature more direct, more open, more honest and considerably less submissive than their menfolk expect them to be.

Night falls and we are still some way short of the Malian border. To the bar, where three or four customers are gathered in the gloom, drinking Cokes from the bottle. I'm the only one ordering beer, until the crew finish filming of course. The barman is a big man with a tartan cap and shades. A radio is crackling out. Highlights of a football game. Last night Senegal were playing a vital World Cup qualifying match with Morocco. I ask the result. It was a draw. Senegal are through to the finals.

Chicken for supper. It's fine, but the bench I sit on collapses.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 36
  • Country/sea: Senegal
  • Place: Dakar
  • Book page no: 118

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