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Sahara

Day 54: Near Ingal

Near Ingal, Niger 
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The beam from our filming lamp reveals that the air is alive, and not just with the sound of music.
Michael Palin - SaharaNight falls. As we sit down to a bowl of soup and a plate of something and rice, the sound of celebrations carries across from the Wodaabe camp, and soon Doulla emerges from the gloom, along with Perri, the head of the well-buying association who, at all times of day or night, wears a huge pair of Austrian dark glasses.

Doulla invites me to join their dance. It is the Wodaabe way of welcoming us into their group. I'm pretty exhausted, and was looking forward to climbing into my tent and crashing out, but to refuse would clearly be a serious breach of etiquette.

I'm led into the centre of a circle of Wodaabe men, clapping and chanting responses and moving round in a slow, rhythmic shuffle. Then the circle closes in, moving tight around me. I can smell sweat and the sweet earth smell of their clothes, but the smiles and the sound of the voices are reassuring. It may look like a war dance, but it's more like a ritual embrace, a binding together against a hostile world. Not for the first time, I sense that the Wodaabe are decent, tolerant people, inclined to peacefulness and probably easily exploited.

Doulla translates their song for me:

'Oh lovely girl with eyes like gazelle,
White teeth and face like the moon,
Which shines like the sun,
You are as beautiful as milk.'

They're not the only ones out dancing tonight. Nigel has rigged up a powerful lamp to shoot the sequence and in its beam is a huge swarm of insects, turning, twisting, cavorting and careering around each other. Decide against sleeping under the stars.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 54
  • Country/sea: Niger
  • Place: Ingal
  • Book page no: 163

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