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Published: January 19th 2011
We headed off to visit Djenne and Dogon Country on Boxing day with Ian, Kirsten and Ryan – keeping in the kiwi tradition of road trips on Boxing Day and all that :-) We crammed all 5 of us into our Dogon guide’s car – Sori, a Dogon, who lives in Bamako and was going to take us up to Djenne and the Dogon Country and be our local guide throughout. After trying several patterns we found that it was best to have either Martin or Ian in the middle of the backseat with either myself or Kirsten crouched between, legs over the centre console, then someone either side of us and one in the front seat. Not the most comfortable of course but not that bad either – and saved taking a whole lot of local buses or paying a whole heap for a 4WD. We headed off out of the city and travelled through various villages on pretty good roads heading North. We stopped at a market town which was quite interesting – they sold pretty much everything you could imagine!
Next stop was a local restaurant on the outskirts of Segou, where we had the local popular
dish of Riz Arachide (Rice with peanut sauce). To be honest this looked a little suspect (not to mention there was LOADS of it) so we all tried some but only Martin finished it. Ridiculously cheap though, it cost 1 GBP each for lunch and a bottle of coke. Poor Kirsten and Ryan had both been feeling not 100% before this and unfortunately this pushed them a little over the edge, none more so than poor Ryan who managed to spray the car with vomit a little while later (car didn’t stop fast enough, window didn’t go down fast enough). Poor guy, though we did find one more use for babywipes as Martin and Ian cleaned down the inside of the car (with Kirsten and Bunny – sympathetic vomiters - watching on) and at least he could laugh about it later.
On the way we managed to avoid hitting any goats, who were everywhere but seemed to at least run from the car while the sheep doggedly tried not to move and we went around them. Sori told us a story........ “Once there was a goat, a sheep and a taxi. (yes, we know what you’re thinking but keep
reading...). The goat and sheep shared the taxi ride but the goat got out earlier; when he climbed out of the car he ran off without paying. The taxi driver waved his fist but the goat high-tailed it. The sheep got out a few kilometres later but when he paid, the taxi driver refused to give him change because the goat hadn’t paid. Therefore, when you are driving down the road in Mali, the goat will always run from the taxi as quick as possible, but the sheep will stand in your way – still waiting for his change.”
On we went, heading for our first destination of Djenne. We got to the turn off and headed down to the ferry across, which was a pretty quick process and we were entertained while waiting by the sellers of various objects and souvenirs ranging in their level of cheesiness.
We arrived into Djenne after dark and set up on our first mud roof for the trip. This was pretty cool, poor Kirsten was feeling pretty ill so she hit the hay and the rest of us went on a stroll around town, eating dinner at Chez Baba because apparently
it’s the only place in town that sells beer and the boys were keen. Was a pretty cool outdoor place, and Sori brought over our guide, Yaya, who was going to show us around Djenne the next day. Yaya was a great guy – he ended up staying and chatting to us for a couple of hours while we plied him with questions about Mali and Djenne culture. He’s a super smart, friendly 24 year old student born in Djenne, with impeccable English and who speaks 6 different languages fluently and 3 others ‘some some’ he thinks (we have a feeling his ‘some’ is FAR more than any of the languages we’ve picked up in various countries around the world). Yup, we felt positively stupid! Us being just lazy English speakers and all! He also taught us to ‘Mali Mali’ with our drinks rather than Cheers. The story goes that when the Malian President went to meet the Chinese President ‘once upon a time’, the Chinese President turned to his companion with his glass and said ‘Chin Chin’ – this in French apparently means ‘China, China’ so the Malian President turned to his Vice and said ‘Mali Mali’.
it to say, we really enjoyed Djenne! Obviously the main attraction is the famous mud mosque – the largest mud building in the world – and this is a pretty incredible feat but the rest of the town has a great feel to it! Yaya lead us all over town, down the winding, twisting lanes and around the mud buildings of the town under the baking sun. Djenne is a UNESCO world heritage site, and part of their grading for this is that they cannot have any new buildings built in any other material than the traditional mud style. He taught us so much about Mali people and Djenne culture it was awesome.
We visited the Tapama Dienepo where, in the 9th century, a 15 year old virgin was sacrificed to purify the area as it was understood to be cursed. The poor girl volunteered and was then built in, alive, to a small building... pretty grim.
We went onto the roof of a house for a good view of the grand Mosque of Djenne, which is repaired and maintained once a year after the end of the wet season, with the aid of every able volunteer in
the city. They estimate over 4000 people.
We went past several Koran schools, a Koran university, and several ‘Boys houses’ which we found similar to university fraternities in the USA. Boys, once they reach the age of 15, are put in a house with their male peers until they are married – learning to be ‘men’ and the responsibilities that are expected of them. They all have slogans – like ‘Mister Bad Boys’, ‘Boston J’, and the one Yaya belongs to ‘No-Noise Boys’ because they are next to a small church. These all seem to be taken in quite good fun and they graffiti their names around the town in their ‘neighbourhoods’ which doesn’t seem to offend anyone and is the only graffiti you see.
We also visited a Women’s Co-operative where they make the traditional mud cloths the area is known for. We purchased two..... quite large ones we think we’ll use as wall hangings or something else - we’ll figure it out when we get home! ... This proved to be the start of quite a shopping trip in the Djenne and Dogon area!
Afterwards we grabbed lunch with Yaya and bought a couple of
cotton scarves we think will be good to keep sun, sand or both off in times to come. Then it was time to sadly say goodbye to Yaya, who had been fantastic!!! He truly was a fountain of knowledge and a very well educated, knowledgeable guy! We’ll try and get his contact details so if you are heading through and want them let us know (we forgot to get his email at the time)!
We wandered through the markets on our return to the auberge we were staying at. Conveniently, we’d managed to have a Monday in town and Monday is Market day in Djenne. The markets were a riot of colour and sound and really interesting to walk through. The people are very friendly and there is very little hassling to contend with. Djenne was absolutely fantastic. It’s got a great feel to it! The town was apparently deserted compared to this time in previous years because of the FCO and travel warnings currently out there in the western world. This was awesome for us, as there were not many tourists at all, but is very sad for the locals as they struggle without the same levels of
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