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Day 33: St-Louis

St-Louis, Senegal 
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At lunch with artist Jacob Yakouba and his soap-star wife, Marie-Madeleine. Beside her is either next week's script or a BBC contract. Either way, she doesn't look happy.
Michael Palin - Sahara'I prefer to paint women, first because of my mother, who helped me to become an artist. Then, because of my wife Marie-Madeleine. When I meet her it give me strength to focus my work on women.'

He admits that painting women so explicitly in a Muslim country could be a problem, but he has an international reputation and, anyway, fanaticism doesn't exist so much in Senegal.

'In St-Louis all the big families are Catholic or Muslim. We have always lived side by side. At Christmas the Muslims celebrate with the Catholics and during Tabaski, the sheep festival, the Catholics celebrate with the Muslims.'

He completes a last, long brush-stroke, caressing the outline of neck and shoulder, and stands back, head cocked.

'Anyway, women are beautiful. I was born from a woman so I don't see why there should be any taboos.'

At that moment there is a swirl of pink at the door and the aforementioned Marie-Madeleine makes a modestly grand entrance, to see if we are ready to eat. I realise that not only is she a formidable presence, but also her formidable figure is the subject of many of the paintings.

We sit round the table and all dip in to a single dish containing a powerfully delicious concoction called domoda. Fish balls, made with green onions, parsley, garlic and spices, are served in a rich stew with sweet potatoes. When I ask how long it must have taken someone to prepare all this Jacob beams at the womenfolk.

'They did it all,' he says generously, before adding, 'in the Moulinex.'

Much laughter.

Marie-Madeleine is probably better known in Senegal than Jacob, as she appears regularly in a TV soap opera, in which she plays a tough woman refusing to be traded between husbands. All of which makes for an interesting insight into marriage â la Sénégal.

Jacob explains that Islam gives the man the right to have up to four wives, but legally, under the Family Code, he must choose monogamy or polygamy. Once chosen the option cannot be reversed.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 33
  • Country/sea: Senegal
  • Place: St-Louis
  • Book page no: 109

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