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Published: January 19th 2012
With visas sorted we carried on up to Mali, starting with Djenne with its huge mud mosque (though non-Muslims aren’t aloud inside unless you want to be a douchebag and bribe somebody) and sand coloured town. The temperature was a welcome change- though Mali’s generally around 40/43 degrees, compared to Ghana at about 35, it loses all of Ghana’s stifling humidity that keeps you sweating even at night. Djenne’s pretty much an island town surrounded by a river on all sides that you have to cross by ferry, so there’s plenty of fish and fish markets, and we arrived on a bustling Monday market day- your standard hectic African market, all sights and sounds, colours and smells, and locals eyeing you up with lazy suspicion, which made the town come alive that much more.
Djenne was just one of the places where I’ve been re-astounded by the strength, pride and dignity of the women here, taking any and every burden, sacrifice, mistreatment and the constant inequality almost in their stride in dealing with their every day lives. Which any man, local or otherwise will admit is way harder than for the guys. As in many Muslim countries, girls here can
be promised to a suitor or married as young as twelve, and can be expected to push out as many as fourteen children (ouch). They cook, clean, take care of kids and the kids of the other wives of their husbands, and then get to go do the heavy duty work like carrying litres of water from the well, pounding grain, collecting firewood- I tried to pick up pack of sticks, and I looked pretty silly trying to heave it a few inches off the floor, they carry that stuff like twenty miles a day, half the time with a baby strapped to their backs. The women are amazing, they alone make you realise how lucky we are in the west. And it makes you freakin' proud to own a uterus, that’s for sure.
Djenne was also the place we met Grand-Pere, or GP for short, our guide through Mali and its Dogon Country, who was just awesome, and seemed to know pretty much everyone and everything in Mali, it really felt like a honour to have him with us. He spent half his time with his family in his newly adopted city of paris, and the rest of his time back on his home soil in Mali working with overlanding companies, I challenge anyone to meet GP and not love him. After a quiet night putting away a few Castle beers, we headed off to Bandiagara and the dwelling of the crazy rasta man and co- friends of Matt and GP, and spent our first night sleeping sans tents (well my tent buddy Asher and I did anyway). They put on a cool night of live music for us, where the little kids, mainly crazy Rasta’s niece put us totally to shame with their dancing- they tried to teach us, they did not succeed, white folks just ain’t got the rhythm. When I woke up on the morning of the trek, I scribbled down this little journal entry before showering and setting off...
"We decided against the tent last night, instead we slept under a mosquito net. Waking up to a disappearing moon and the soft orange light of a rising sun. While I watched the sky, five large birds flew overhead. I smiled, enjoying the cocophony of animal noises surrounding the village- roosters, dogs, chickens and donkeys welcoming the new day. I closed my eyes and dozed for a few minutes more.
Shortly, feeling more awake, I eased myself out from under the net and went to the edge of the rooftop to check out the view in the daylight.
Below me was a compound, about 15 metres square, in the far left were ten goats, still, other than their lazily chomping jaws, ignoring the chirping wee chicks flitting around their legs. In the closest corner was a square mud brick building, seemingly filled with odds and ends that may one day come in handy. Beside it was a broken wheel barrow, with more junk- empty glass coke bottles and an old motorcycle number plate. In the middle of the yard was a small straw divider, behind which a little girl of about nine sat at a stove, boiling a pot and filtering some cold water. In the other corner next to the home, two small boys were getting ready to go to school. One, the older boy, who was about seven, wore a backpack and filled a bowl with corn porridge, while quizzing his little brother on his basic maths homework, ignoring the chickens clucking around them, and their mother sweeping the yard, avoiding jerry cans and an oil can of water.
Outside the compound, three women carried heavy bowls of water on their heads, besides what in the rainy season would be a river, now just a few pools of water.
Two donkeys picked at the tufts of straw-like grass, while a pig snuffled through litter for breakfast. As I heard the shower door open and close, becoming free, a man rode past on his cart, lead by a scrawny donkey. I turned to fetch my wash bag, and went down the steep steps to slosh cold water over my hot skin. Hakuna matata. I love Africa."
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