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Sahara

Day 64: The Ténéré Desert

The Ténéré Desert, Niger 
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Crossing the Ténéré. Though I rode the camel every now and then, I always felt safer on the ground.
Michael Palin - SaharaTwenty minutes later, the roundel of bread is exhumed, and, after the charcoal and sand have been dusted off, it's passed down the line. It's not quite what I expected, being much harder, stickier and sweeter than bread.

'Galette,' explains Omar, helpfully.

Izambar, who is keen to teach me Tamahaq, the language of the Touareg, points to it.

'Tagella,' he says.

'Tagella,' I say, exactly as he's said it, only this time everyone falls about.

'Tagella,' he repeats.

'Tagel-la,' I reply, this time with extra care. Everyone falls about again.

This pantomime goes on until we're all laughing hysterically. Clearly my pronunciation does not mean bread. It probably means the private parts of a goat, or personal attributes of my mother, but whatever it is, it proves that there's nothing like a bit of incomprehension to bring people together.

I am honoured to be the first to taste the mutton stew. The meat is a little tired, but it had been walking in the sun for four days. Thankfully, the Touareg do not insist on my rolling the food up into a ball with two fingers of my right hand before popping it into my mouth. Out here in the desert they know how to live. I'm handed a wooden spoon, one of four that we share between us.

Izambar teaches me 'isan', meaning meat, and 'izot', which I think means 'this is very good', but induces more mirth when I say it.

There is some laughter too when I take off my turban, or tagelmoust in Tamahaq.

'You have a blue head,' says Omar, and I laugh indulgently. It's not until someone holds up a mirror that I realise I do indeed have a blue head, a stripe of indigo following a perspiration line right across my forehead.
The Ténéré Desert, Niger 
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Outside my portable home. The camel team slept in the open.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 64
  • Country/sea: Niger
  • Place:
  • Book page no: 182

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