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Sahara

Day 57: Ingal

Michael Palin - SaharaOther young men sit in a line, holding up plastic-framed vanity mirrors, which no self-respecting Wodaabe youth would be seen without. Each one has a sandal on the ground in front of him, which he uses as a palette for the colours. The predominantly yellow base is powder from a stone called macara, which they find out in the bush. The black lipstick is from another mineral, called stibnite.

Those already made up are scrambling into leather leggings and exchanging their everyday sandals for elaborate, decorated versions, which they slip on lovingly. Then they tie each other's white turbans, onto which are fixed headdresses of cowrie shells, precious stones and, to cap it all, ostrich feathers.

Once this long and painstaking process is complete, they leave their temporary home and walk the mile or so to the showground. Despite the confidence of their display, they still seem pitifully self-conscious. Country cousins in the big city.

The thudding music grows louder and the red and white Coca-Cola umbrellas draw closer. Our friends sing, not very convincingly, more to keep their spirits up, as their eyes search the crowd for fellow Wodaabe, like new arrivals at an old school reunion. Suddenly I feel that our presence is superfluous. The best way we can repay their hospitality is probably to stay out of the way. It's their show now.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 57
  • Country/sea: Niger
  • Place: Ingal
  • Book page no: 168

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