Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Things To Do In Mali On Mondays

So what do you do with a spare day on your hands in Mali? Luckily for me the question wasn't really in any doubt as I woke up early yesterday to catch the first bus to Djenne. During the glory days of the Malian Empire Djenne grew rich with trade and became a great centre for Islamic scholarship but declined with growing regional instability 400 years ago.

The town is built on an island within the delta region and a series of causeways and a ferry link it terra firma. Because of its relativly hard to reach location and the limited amount of space the town has retained a lot of its original mud-brick architecture. In fact the Grand Mosque is the largest mud-brick structure in the world and looms over the central square, watching everyone and making sure they behave themselves. The mosque itself is out of bounds to non-Muslims after an incident involving an Italian fashion photographer, a horde of models, some bikinis and not much else. I did, however, manage to blag my way in to have a quick look inside, and despite its huge size the mosque feels quite narrow and close on the inside because of the forest of thick pillars that hold up the roof.

Monday is a particularly interesting day to visit as it is the day of the weekly market when the usually sedate town takes a line of speed and invites everyone over for a party. The large central square is taken up by traders from all over the surrounding all sorts of goods, although foodstuffs of all varieties seem to predominate: fish, bananas, tomatoes, peppers, small local onions, peanuts, watermelons, kola nuts, oranges, carrots and goats all jostle for space. I particularly liked the fetish market where you can buy local remedies which seem to invariably consist of dried, shrunken heads of various different animals. I indicated to one of the stallholders that my voice was going (those of you who know me are probably cursing their luck that I'm losing my voice here and not while I'm with them so that they can fully take advantage of it) and what I should take for it. He scratched his wizened chin for a bit, mumbled a few words and then rummaged around his cephalic collection before presenting me with a cute lizard head. I'm not quite sure what he expected me to do with it - dunk it in my tea? wear it round my neck? or grind it up and snort it up my nose? Anyway I thanked him and moved quickly on before he actually would show me and I might regret it. I think I'll stick to cough syrup, honey and some rest.

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