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Day 56: Ingal

Ingal, Niger 
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Mingling with the crowd at Cure Salée.
Michael Palin - SaharaThere is relief all round when Ingal's soaring communications mast looms up on the horizon, and a few minutes later we bounce out of the bush and along increasingly busy streets until we emerge onto a huge open area.

At first I can hardly believe my eyes. In the middle of deeply impoverished rural Africa there is a neon-lit showground, screeching distorted announcements, a car park full of gleaming Mercedes, a double-decker tourist bus, women dressed to the nines in sequinned finery, racing camels showing their paces, Touareg chieftains trailing entourages, police and soldiers mingling with ticket-sellers and sharp-eyed boys pushing Coca-Cola sales carts through the crowd. The air is thick with dust and the reek of fuel from humming generators.

'CURE SALEE 2001,' announces a billboard. 'Our Three Themes - SIDA (AIDS), PALU (Malaria), Polio.' It seems much more than a gathering of nomads - a combination of county show and trade fair, school sports day and political rally, Royal Tournament and Boy Scout Jamboree.

The wind tugs at the white, green and orange horizontals of the national flag, unfurled above a group of government-sponsored stalls offering family planning and veterinary advice. The crowd passes them by, intent on celebration rather than self-improvement. Walking through the throng, their ostrich feather headdresses rising above the crowd, are groups of young Wodaabe men, made up like models on a catwalk, preening and effeminate, white rings around their eyes, blackened lips, slashes of yellow across foreheads and down noses, off to dance their own grimacing, eye-rolling Gerewol, dressed like girls to attract the girls.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 56
  • Country/sea: Niger
  • Place: Ingal
  • Book page no: 166

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