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Sahara

Day 54: Near Ingal

Near Ingal, Niger 
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Talking with Céline, who has been walking and working with the group for several weeks.
Michael Palin - SaharaHis people consist of a group of families, his own and those of four or five blood relatives. Given that Doulla alone has three wives and, as he puts it, 'another on the way', as well as six children, the total adds up to that of a small village. They're on their way to Cure Salée but have decided against setting up camp too close to Ingal, as there is a rumour that the water there is tainted. Water seems to be the only thing these people fight over.

'Arabs control most of the wells,' says Doulla, 'and sometimes they don't want anyone else to have them.'

I ask him what they fight with. Knives, guns?

He smiles, indeed almost laughs out loud at the thought.

'No, no, with these,' he says, raising his fists like a boxer.

The thought of this frail ascetic figure trading blows with anyone defies the imagination.

They are trying to raise money to buy a well of their own, which, as Doulla says, would change their lives. They could leave some of their people here throughout the summer, especially the old and infirm, and the children, who remain uneducated because they're never in one place long enough.

They make camp close to a line of trees which rise above the scrubby bushes, denoting the presence of a water course. I ask Doulla how long they will stay here.

It depends on the amount of grazing land, he says.

'When there's enough, we stay for four to seven days.'

They have no huts or tents, but they do have impressively large beds, which the women raise up on four funnel-shaped supports, a foot or so off the ground. They spread them with rugs and kilims in vivid, showy colours. Sticks are cut and stuck in the ground at the corners of the bed and thin cotton cloth slung over them
to create some privacy. The sun goes down over a huddle of four-posters, making the bush look like a bedding department.

We pitch our more modest collection of lightweight, bed-less tents on a patch of bare sand nearby.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 54
  • Country/sea: Niger
  • Place: Ingal
  • Book page no: 162

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