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Day 59: Agadez to Tabelot

Tabelot, Niger 
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Camel driven irrigation system at the oasis of Tabelot.
Michael Palin - SaharaAround four the wind begins to drop, and I'm taken to meet Omar, who will be leading the camel train to Bilma. He is a Touareg, around forty years old. Square and almost stocky, he has a wide, friendly face, deep black skin and a thin black beard. He smiles readily, with a shy lowering of the head as he does so.

He's proud of his village and takes us a mile or so away to see the oasis on which Tabelot's survival depends. The water table is close to the surface here and two or three wells feed prolific fields of onions, carrots, maize, millet, and orchards of orange, lemon, fig and pomegranate. In a shady clearing a young boy leads a docile white camel up and down a 30-foot pathway. The camel is harnessed to a rope, which is wound round a wooden pulley and drops down into a 50-foot well, from which it draws water in a glistening black goatskin bag. A funnel attached to the bag flops out like a great tongue, regurgitating the water down a wooden pipe into an elaborate system of mud-walled channels and conduits that carries it eventually into the fields. Every few trips the boy rewards the camel with a mouthful of maize leaves, which it despatches noisily, like a paper-shredder.

As we walk back past freshly tilled onion fields, it's easy to forget we're anywhere near the Sahara. Doves are cooing, streams are gurgling and a balmy and benevolent humidity seems to seep up through the ground.

Omar insists I try dates straight from the tree, which is not as easy as it sounds, for he has to find someone more athletically built than himself to shin up and get them. They appear to grow in white plastic bags. I'm reassured that this is not another GM food trial but a precaution to stop the birds getting at them. And there are birds everywhere: large black birds with white caps, small, noisy, bouncy wagtails, red-dusted firefinches darting in and out of the trees. We move on, munching the dates, which are disappointingly leathery, passing red peppers spread out to dry in groves of grapefruit, grenadine and mango.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 59
  • Country/sea: Niger
  • Place: Tabelot
  • Book page no: 171

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