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Day 43: Djenné

Michael Palin - SaharaNothing, I'm told, is wasted. The head will be boiled for soup, which Pigmy raves about, and the testicles will be distributed to the young boys of the neighbourhood.

'It helps to make them clever,' explains Pigmy. A theory which, if proven, could change school dinner menus forever.

The festive meal, to which I'm invited, is a considerable anticlimax. It's cooked beautifully but consumed rapidly and in silence, apart from a few laughs when I commit the dreadful faux pas of using my left, or washing, hand to scoop up the food. We squat or sit cross-legged round one large dish, men separate from the women, who eat in the corner where they cook. Family and friends arrive and dig in, as if they've been on hunger strike. I could do with a much more leisurely, discursive pace, if only because I still have great trouble rolling rice into balls with three fingers of one hand, then dipping this into the fresh bubbling stew without scalding myself.

I find my gaze straying over to the women. Pigmy's mother, dressed in vibrant red like a pillar box, chews away on a huge bone whilst his wife, a freshly hennaed vision in lilac gown and hat, munches contentedly, and doesn't catch my eye.

Then all at once it's over, and the traditional three glasses of powerful mint tea are prepared.

'Always drink after the meal, not before. It is too strong for the taste,' counsels Pigmy.

Then fond farewells. They seem genuinely sorry to see us go, but I can't help feeling there'll be much more fun when the camera's gone.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 43
  • Country/sea: Mali
  • Place: Djenné
  • Book page no: 134

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