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Day 48: On the Niger

Michael Palin - SaharaShe thinks the image of the marginalised, oppressed African woman is wrong.

'They're very strong, very proud of who they are.'

Then how does she account for the continuing practice of female circumcision?

'What is sexual pleasure here and in Europe is quite different. We have a tendency of thinking that sexual pleasure is impossible for a woman that has been circumcised. I don't share that opinion.'

The waves are hitting hard now, rocking the boat and slapping at the hull as they ripple beneath us.

Kristin is adamant that Western solutions cannot be applied to African relationships. 'What men find attractive in Africa doesn't necessarily correspond to what is attracting a man in Europe. You know, in Europe a woman should be skinny, but here a woman should be fat. And the women are very concerned how to be attractive and how to attract a man...'

At this vital moment we're suddenly thrown forward. With a shuddering rumble the Pagou Manpagu lurches to a halt. We've run aground. Kristin seems unperturbed.

'Isn't it serious?'

She shakes her head. 'I travel the river a lot.'

At that moment the pilot grabs his pole and leaps into the river, which seems a suicidal thing to do, until I see him stride off into the middle of the Niger with the water barely above his knees. He's joined by others, until the whole river is full of men walking about. After much discussion they assemble at the back and push, but to no avail. The Pagou Manpagu is stuck fast.

As darkness falls we're all taken off in a small boat and put ashore on a wide sandy beach not far from the town of Konna. Kristin has had enough by now and decides to carry on by road. The rest of us make camp as best we can and settle down to another night under the stars. The good news is that we don't have to sleep on board the Pagou Manpagu. The bad news is that after this positively Homeric journey we have advanced precisely thirty-four and a half miles towards Timbuktu.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 48
  • Country/sea: Mali
  • Place: Konna
  • Book page no: 151

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