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Day 43: Djenné

Michael Palin - SaharaTrickles of blood, running out of waste pipes and into the open drains that run down the centre of the streets, indicate that for some houses, the sacrifices have already begun. At Pigmy's house, grand by Djenné standards, with upstairs rooms for relatives, we are welcomed by his father, who sits in half-darkness by the door, greeting everyone with a handshake and a broad smile. Through in the courtyard, Pigmy's wife, together with his mother and aunts, all gorgeously attired, sit on upturned plastic buckets, slicing vegetables.

They remain profoundly unimpressed, as a knife is put into Pigmy's quivering hand and he and the £37.50 sheep make their fateful tryst in a corner of the yard. Pigmy, not yet an expert, is, thankfully, assisted by a butcher, who instructs him in the art of swift throat-cutting. The deed is done in accordance with the ancient law, and the sheep is lifted over a drain. The blood pumps from its neck and runs away beneath the wall and into the street.

Pigmy looks much relieved as the knife is taken from him. It's carefully washed by the butchers, who immediately set to work skinning the carcass. With temperatures in Djenné creeping up to 40°C/104°F, their speed and skill is, as they say, of the essence.

Should you ever have to do this at home, here's a hot tip from the professionals. Slit the skin around one leg, then blow through the incision until the skin inflates and breaks clear of the flesh beneath. It takes time and considerable lung-power, but if all goes well the hide should slip off like a banana skin.

Half an hour later the sheep is reduced to the sort of anonymous chunks we Westerners are more comfortable with and Pigmy's majestic mother is dropping them one by one into the pot. All that remains of yesterday's purchase is the head and a pile of feet stacked neatly in one corner of the yard.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 43
  • Country/sea: Mali
  • Place: Djenné
  • Book page no: 134

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