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Day 54: Near Ingal

Near Ingal, Niger 
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Wodaabe on the move. As they spend only six or seven days at each site, everything must be portable. Triangular supports for the bed hang off the side of the donkey.
Michael Palin - SaharaThey carry their goods on donkeys or on their backs. Most of them are barefoot or wearing flip-flop sandals. Their legs and feet must be immune to the sharp burrs that lurk in the tussocky grass, attaching themselves to skin and clothing, stabbing and pricking and defying all but the most delicate attempts to remove them.

Mothers carry the smallest children on their backs, but any child above the age of six or seven is at work, leading a donkey, carrying a lamb or keeping an eye on the sheep and goats. The older boys and the men are preoccupied with the cattle, the wealth of these families and virtually their only tradeable asset. Survival of the cattle is the reason they have made this long march and, now, when their beasts are fattening and their assets are so close to being realised, their protection has never been as important.

There are anxious faces. The group is heading towards a creek, where there is water and a place to spend the night, but as soon as the cattle smell the water they stampede forward and have to be restrained with shouts and sticks.

The donkeys have little option but to trudge doggedly through the bush, weighed down as they are with baskets, blankets, bed-rolls, braziers, babies, cooking pots and goatskin water bags.

Standing out from the tall, dark Africans is a short, ruddy European. Her name is Céline, and she's from Montauban in southwest France. For the last few weeks she's been travelling with the Wodaabe. Doulla Makao, her friend, is one of the leaders of this group. He's tall and slim and looks inconsolably sad, though I sense that much of this is down to sheer physical exhaustion. His manner is gentle and unhurried. He speaks English and French and has travelled to Europe. He seems an unlikely figure to be tramping across the bush, but when I suggest this he doesn't seem to understand what I mean. These are his people, where else would he be?
Near Ingal, Niger 
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At camp. The bed, a Wodaabe status symbol, is the first thing to be set up.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 54
  • Country/sea: Niger
  • Place: Ingal
  • Book page no: 161

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