Mali: Sahel Journey
Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours


Dispatch 6 - Djenné


Bicycling on Route Nationale, MaliBetween the national highway and the Bani River and Djenne seems to be mostly a flood plain. For most of the way the road is built up on a causeway. At three place along the route the earth rises enough to forms a low lying hill. On each hill is a large village and in the center of each village is a classic Mali Sahel-style mosque. As the road gets closer to the Bani River, the surround area gets wetter and there are a couple of channels. The bird life gets richer in this area. Where the channels pass under the road there are bridges and weirs. The weirs form ponds and you can look down on them and see that they are teaming with fish.

Click to enlargeThe riverbank is another vestige of tourism culture with curio kiosks and hustlers. The guys are there to help you get across the river, arrange a guide and sell you and excursion. All of which are worthy services, it is just the manner in which it plays out - though admittedly it is much more laidback than what we encountered in Mopti. A mid the more aggressive businessmen there are also a couple of artisans practicing their craft at a leisurely pass. In time, when our group had reassembled we arranged to cross the river by canoe. There is a small motor ferry that can hold a couple of cars, but the ferrymen didn't seem to want to be bothered by a dozen bicyclists. As promised the boatmen got all of us, all of our bikes and all of our stuff in to the boat and to the other side without anyone or anything taking a swim.

Traditional upper class house in Djenne, MaliKoran school, Djenne MaliLibrary, Djenne MaliAs the sun started to loose some of its intensity about four o'clock in the afternoon we took a city tour with Amadou. Over the next couple hours, as be explored Djenne, he explained Sudanese architecture, Bambara, Bozo and Islamic cultural, the history of the area, unfamiliar items in the market, and the women's cooperative.Sheep, goats and kitchen in courtyard of a house, DjenneClick to enlarge



Grand mosque Djenne, MaliThe focal point of Djenne is it grand mosque.  The original Grand Mosque for Djenne was built on the outskirts of town.  The current Grand Mosque, in the very center of town was built in 1906.  Because the construction is clay the outer surface is refurbished every year.  The Djenne Mosque is the archetype for the "Sahel style", of which variations can be found in a 150 km radius around Djenne.

Old bricks and new bricks in the wall at Djenne Mosque, MaliThe trained eye can distinguish older bricks, which are rounder and more homogeneous, from new bricks, which are squarer and mixed with straw and other materials to make them more durable.

Unfortunately, the elegance of the mosque is detracted from by the millions of bit torn plastic littering the city and gray water runs from many house down the narrow alley-like streets of the city, but the people of Djenne have a pride, dignity, and gentleness (and are very well dressed) that seems to let them rise above the filth.

Flash backs of home (or not), a common evening activity is gathering around the televison.  It doesn't seem to matter too much what is on or what language the broadcast is in.  We were fortunate to be invited for tea at Amadou's house. He invited some of his other friends over as well. For hours we discussed things like education, courtship, parents, Islam and changes in Malian culture and attitudes. Tea was served on the roof, under the stars and involves the preparation of three shot glass size servings of tea. The first is very strong, with very little sugar. The successive rounds are increasingly weak, with increasingly more sugar. It is said that the first is to remind you of hardship and death, the second symbolizes life and the third is for love.

Addendum: The alternative route is to cross the
Bani River at Sofara and take the back roads (sand) to Djenne. Of course when the roads are too sandy the prudent choice to to hire a horse cart -- don't be mistaken, this may not be synonymous with the most comfortable choice.

The choice dinner restaurants in Djenne has improved.



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