Pic’n’Post n° 17: What is the picture of?


What is the picture of?

Two guesses last week, and for the first time, two winners. Rosa (who doesn’t blog, so no link to give you) said Afghanistan or somewhere close, and Thumbup at Live Love Laugh lived up to the name of her blog with the brilliant answer “on a bridge” 🙂 So both get winner’s badges, but Thumbup’s answer leads me to add another rule: The answer must include a geographical place name. (No getting away with that anymore, I’m afraid!) 


The actual spot was the Hunza area of Northern Pakistan, specifically Gilgit, a small town on the Karakoram Highway. This was a road we travelled a few years back, and we would have liked to fly from Gilgit to Islamabad, but the weather prevented planes taking off so we had to take an overnight bus, stopping for breakfast in Abbattobad, where at the same moment, unknown to us (and presumably to everyone else on the bus) Bin Laden was tucking into breakfast too. Though the region is beautiful, Gilgit itself is not the prettiest of towns, and the total absence of women in the streets makes it unnaturally glum. But there’s a fascinating library with documents from the 19th Century chronicling some of the British attempts to control the area and spread further north to counter Russia’s expansionist dream of reaching India. A rivalry which lasted many decades and became known as the Great Game – a game which, with different actors, unfortunately continues to this day.

Congratulations, Rosa!


Congratulations, Thumbup!


This week it’s back to What? at the top of this page. Happy guessing!

Connivance of the Cadis


Le turban et la Capote (The Turban and the Condom), by Nassur Attoumani & Luke Razaka

One consequence of the départementalisation of Mayotte in 2011 is that the laws of the République Française must now apply. This has led to a decline in the influence of the cadis, the Muslim dignitaries previously in charge of the island’s moral and legal affairs. Among the customs the Republic disapproves of is polygamy, especially when the wives can be as young as thirteen. The cadis, though, have no problem with this – it’s been part of cadial law, approved, and to a large extent practised, by the cadis themselves for centuries. Before we start feeling sorry for them, though, it should be noted that the practise is still going strong. The cadis have simply learnt to pretend that it’s not.

The Pig’s Head Brainwave


It’s generally admitted that if you live in a glass house, it’s not a good idea to throw stones. By the same token, if you live in a Muslim country, it’s not very wise to throw pigs’ heads. Especially into a mosque. Yet that is precisely what a gendarme’s girlfriend did on New Year’s Eve, 2013, with the help of another woman and the gendarme himself, who drove them there. The initial idea, suggested at a party attended by a score or so of military personnel and police, was to throw trotters into the neighbour’s garden. That being ridiculously tame, though, someone had the brainwave of the mosque. Everyone, of course, was drunk, but when it came to trial, that was hardly a mitigating circumstance: the two women, convicted of ‘psychological violence’, were sentenced to three months in prison, while the gendarme received a six-month suspended sentence. The defence lawyer appealed on the grounds that what they committed wasn’t psychological violence but blasphemy, which, conveniently, isn’t a punishable offence.

Mayotte is the setting for Perfume Island, the sequel to One Green Bottle. I’m not using this story in the novel, but there are others like it. When it comes to creating fiction, the gendarmes and their capers provide an excellent source of inspiration.

Le salouva vous va bien


Mayotte is 95% Muslim, but there’s one thing to be said for women’s fashion here – it’s far from drab. Though some of the younger women wear the standard western jeans and tee-shirt, most still go for the salouva, the traditional, brightly coloured costume which may or may not be worn with a headscarf, or kishali. This gives rise to a certain confusion in schools, where under French law, ‘ostentatious religious symbols’ are forbidden. These include the Muslim headscarf, which in its dull, dark, austere version is banned, but worn as a bright, colourful kishali is tolerated. The reasoning seems to be that colours = moderate, dull = extreme. There may well be an element of truth in that – the minority of extremists who every so often feel they have to kill other people don’t seem to think that life is much to be enjoyed. Given the choice, I certainly prefer a religion that glows. But as making colours a criterion in the statute book might prove tricky, the confusion is likely to continue.

In the meantime, Mayotte celebrated its tradition recently with a salouva competition.

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Contestants await to parade in their salouva

If you feel like scrolling through the 160 photos, you can vote here for your favourite: