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Day 42: Djenné

Michael Palin - SaharaAt Pigmy's house I meet his wife of eight months. She sits in a doorway of the courtyard, having her ankles hennaed for the big day tomorrow. She's placid and pretty, with an aura of quiet ease that contrasts sharply with Pigmy's restless energy. I ask how they met. Apparently, she sold milkshakes in the market and Pigmy flirted with her (as I'd seen him do with cousins and sisters of friends that he encountered earlier today). Milkshakes, however, grew into true love. His parents were not keen, because she was a country girl and he was a relatively affluent city boy. Pigmy is strong-willed and insisted on marrying her, even though the price he paid for not having a wife found for him by the family was to forfeit gifts from his parents' friends.

He speaks earnestly of her many virtues, but she says nothing, just turns her big brown eyes towards him. The woman who is preparing her feet for the henna is, by contrast, an older woman, with a canniness that reflects a much deeper knowledge of life. Occasionally she will break into Pigmy's romantic banter with muttered asides that send him into fits of laughter. He turns to me.

'She is like a griot,' he explains. 'She is free to say anything she wants.'

This sounds interesting.

'Can you ask her to tell me the real story, Pigmy?'

He translates. She replies with a wicked smile. He rocks back with laughter.

'She say, if she were English, she would tell you a lot of things, but she don't speak English.'

He throws a sidelong glance at his adoring wife.

'I think it's good she don't speak English.'
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 42
  • Country/sea: Mali
  • Place: Djenné
  • Book page no: 131

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