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Day 46: Tirelli

Tirelli, Mali 
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The hottest meal of my life. Temperatures of 55ºC/131ºF roast my head, whilst my fingers are scalded by a red-hot mixture of millet and baobab sauce. The tasselled hats are typically Dogon; the straw and leather wide-brim, worn by the headman, is Fulani.
Michael Palin - SaharaBecause the shadow cast by the midday sun is so deep, and because my dinner with Dogolu is to be filmed, J-P asks if the meal can be served on the sunny side of the courtyard. The headman looks at us pityingly, and I soon know why.

What follows is the hottest, and one of the least comfortable, sequences I've ever filmed. John Pritchard clocks the temperature in the unshaded overhead sun at 55°C/131°F. Dogolu has managed to coerce an assortment of male relatives to crouch round the communal bowl with me. Fortunately, there's only one course. It's a millet porridge, in the centre of which is a bright green sauce made from the baobab leaf, and, mixed in with this, a mutton, aubergine and onion stew. They urge me to eat but every time I pick up a glob of the millet paste it is so hot that I have to release it almost immediately. Desperate not to offend my hosts' hospitality, I try transferring smaller amounts, but it's still an ordeal. Passing the food from fingers to lips to tongue to throat is like walking over hot coals.

Amadou grins broadly at my discomfort and points out that among the Dogon the ability to eat hot food is a sign of manly prowess. Giggles from the circle around the pot. I laugh too, slightly hysterically.

Later, at siesta, my dreams are a heady mix of fire and flame and vaguely erotic termite mounds.

In late afternoon, when the day is beginning to cool from its earlier rock-cracking heat, the men of Tirelli assemble on the only flat area in the village for a ceremonial dance that is to herald a week of funeral celebrations. Amadou says that celebrations on this scale only follow animist funerals. Animism, which attributes a living soul to all natural objects - trees, boulders, clouds, thunderstorms - remains the religion of the vast majority of Dogon.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 46
  • Country/sea: Mali
  • Place: Tirelli
  • Book page no: 144

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