Tuesday, 5 March 2013

New Year in an Old Town, Part III

Djenne feels like the ancient world. Gusts of wind whip up the dust as donkeys pull carts of firewood along the streets. Mobs of children covered head to toe in dust carry buckets in which to put their begged food. The buildings are almost entirely mud built. Only the mopeds zipping around give the game away.

In the oldest part of town, narrow alleys wind in and out between the two storey houses. I wandered through and saw gutters holding pools of foul-smelling muck, children playing, women sweeping and girls pounding millet.

Some of the houses contain workshops where bogolan cloth is made. Using mud and leaves, patterns are painted onto strips of cotton cloth. These are sewn together and used for blankets, table cloths and clothing. The designs are usually symmetrical patterns in black and shades of brown. The workshops have walls covered in bogolan, and piles and piles of it cover the floor.

Djenne is famous for its Great Mosque. The largest mud built construction in the world, its formidable profile looms over the centre of the town. Tourists aren’t allowed inside, but the outside view is majestic enough. It is dotted with struts made of bundles of palm sticks which protrude to the outside. It has three main towers and many many pinnacles. The mud walls are a metre thick, and the main prayer hall is twenty six by fifty metres in size. There is also an interior courtyard of a similar size, and other galleries, including one for use only by women.

After every rainy season the there is a festival in which the whole town helps to repair the mosque. It needs to be coated with a new layer of mud. The new plaster is mixed in pits and the dusty boys jump in to play, which stirs it up, then it is carried to the mosque and men swarm over the building, standing on the sticks poking out of it, to cover the mosque with its new coat.  

In front of the mosque is the large open space which holds the bustling Monday market, and at other times you can see tourists – cameras held high – sauntering back and forth gawking at the mosque, while locals criss-cross the square on bicycles or mopeds.

Gangs of those same dusty boys careen about harassing herds of ambling goats, chasing each other or making inquiries of the tourists. ‘Mister, give me a gift’ they say in French. Maybe they’ll demand money, a hundred Euro ought to do it. If this fails they still like to know your name, where you’re from and any other important facts that spring to mind. Trying to be helpful they adopt the pompous air of a tour guide and point to the mosque, whose giant frame blocks the horizon, and say this is the Great Mosque of Djenne. Oh really? Thank you very much.

Antonio, Alicia and I went to a small hotel for a quiet drink. There were only tourists there as the locals are Muslim and do not drink. When we returned to our hotel I saw that Betty had come to my rescue. She must have noticed my discomfort and asked the staff for an extra mattress which was placed on the floor for me to sleep on. I saw that Antonio felt rebuffed, but pretended not to notice.  


The Great Mosque

Dusty boys take a break


  1. these photos are great Steve! and of course, the story too (up to your usual standard). However, I'm extremely disappointed that you were so cruel to Antonio - this is not like you at all and quite out of character. I do hope in the next instalment you do sleep with him after all.

    1. haha, well unfortunately that's the last we're going to hear from Antonio and Co, so I'll have to leave the rest up to your imagination. :)

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