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Sahara

Day 59: Agadez to Tabelot

Tabelot, Niger 
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Tabelot. At home with Omar (centre), his four wives and some of their fifteen children.
Michael Palin - SaharaWe end up at Omar's house back in the village. He lives in a modest collection of straw huts and stone and mud buildings with his four wives and fifteen children, ranging in age from one month to eighteen years. I ask him if he's rich.

'No,' he replies gracefully, 'but in terms of children, yes.'

When I enquire if there are problems with such a large family, he nods. Shortage of food, medicine, clothing. Wouldn't it be better to have fewer of them, I ask, impertinently.

He shrugs, head on one side. No, he says, with a coy half-smile, he likes a lot of children.

And the wives, do they get on well?

Before he can reply there is a loud guffaw from the youngest and prettiest of them. Judging by the blank looks of the others, she is the only one who understands French.

Omar, who doesn't look like a ladies' man, smiles bashfully and mutters something about 'jalousie'.

Tonight we are entertained, as is the custom when strangers arrive, by an evening of dancing. In the moonlight, the young women sit together beneath a tree, singing and chanting, while the men form a line opposite them and either singly or in pairs approach the women to dazzle them with their dancing. The beat gradually increases, the movements become wild and flamboyant and inventive, the foot-stomping harder and faster, as each man tries to outdo the other, dancing themselves to the point of hysteria, arms and legs flying, robes stuck to their backs with sweat. The women remain sitting, chanting repetitively and gradually becoming obscured by the cloud of dust raised by their suitors. My eyes sting and a dry, rasping cough catches in my throat, but it's impossible not to be drawn in.

To grunts of approval I'm led forward hand in hand with the man who is going to introduce me to the dance. He watches apprehensively as I improvise a routine that owes less to classical dancing and more to the Ministry Of Silly Walks. Not only am I asked to reprise it, but later I'm paid a high compliment by my sponsor.

'All the forty-year-old women say they have never seen a non-Touareg dance so well.'
Tabelot, Niger 
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Red peppers drying in the sun, some of the bounty from this Garden of Eden in the middle of the desert.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 59
  • Country/sea: Niger
  • Place: Tabelot
  • Book page no: 172

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