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Day 43: Djenné

Michael Palin - SaharaWomen are conspicuous by their absence. When I ask where they are Pigmy shifts a little uncomfortably.

'The women will be at the back,' he says vaguely.

The truth of which I can't check, as the back of the crowd is now so far away.

Pigmy estimates today's attendance at around 8000. All over the Arab world there will be similar gatherings, and by the end of the day several million sheep will have disappeared off the face of the earth.

The imam steps up to a microphone set up beneath the sort of garish orange umbrella you might find at a beach bar. A few feet away, tethered in the shade of a neem tree, is the beast he will soon slaughter. It paces about, bleating every now and then and eyeing the growing crowd nervously, like an actor on opening night.

At half past nine silence falls over this vast congregation and prayers begin. A light breeze stirs the young trees. The long rows of worshippers chant their prayers and kneel and rise, kneel and rise, in unison. I check my thermometer. It's 35°C/95°F in the shade.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 43
  • Country/sea: Mali
  • Place: Djenné
  • Book page no: 132

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