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Day 56: Ingal

Michael Palin - SaharaWoken early by the sound of donkeys having nightmares and cattle chomping grass inches away from my head. Used to the constant hum of city life, I find these sporadic rural noises quite disconcerting.

Never one of life's natural campers, I'm still getting used to the absence of personal space. My territory extends as far as the flap of my tent, which is about a foot away; beyond that I share Africa with everyone else. I'm pungently reminded of this when, just before dawn, easing myself out of the tent, clutching a trowel and paper for my morning toilet, I step straight onto a freshly laid cowpat.

(The trowel, by the way, is to enable me to dig my own latrine and cover it up afterwards. If I'm really serious about protecting the Sahara I should also take matches to burn the paper, for nothing much biodegrades out here.)

After everyone has eaten, the camp is dismantled and the families set out to walk the last 45 miles through the bush to Ingal. All they ask from us in return for their hospitality is medicine. Eye disease, malaria and chronic stomach pain from tainted water are endemic complaints. As we turn out our medical bags, it's sobering to realise just how much pain they must take for granted.

We squeeze Doulla and Perri and a dozen others into our filming vehicles so that they can go ahead and find accommodation. There isn't much room, so Doulla volunteers to travel on the roof rack. He seems to have all the makings of a saint, but he shrugs off any credit and reminds me that in Africa no vehicle goes anywhere until it's full, and that means on top as well. This doesn't prevent me thinking of him being flung around above me as we pitch and toss along the rutted un-made track. I comfort myself with the thought that we're reducing his journey time from two days to two hours.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 56
  • Country/sea: Niger
  • Place: Ingal
  • Book page no: 165

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