venerdì 23 marzo 2012

Discovering Djennè

Once returned to Bamako after the week end in Segu, we tried to understand if it was possible to reach Cote de Ivoire as planned or not. The problem was that we were really tight with time but also that CdI northern border still had/has security problems after their civil war thus we decided to stay in Mali and postpone its visit to next year. At Danaya we also had a talk with Baya Tourè, the guy working as a tourist guide, who promise a lot, seems very professional but whose contacts in Segu let us totally disappointed. Our main goal was to visit the Dogon country and its marvellous villages sited in a spectacular Cliff, but even this seemed a very difficult task because in Mali distances are huge, transport slow and unreliable and price expensive in these touristic spots. However our main problem was to return to Senegal BEFORE their elections where the old president Abdoulaye Wade was/is doing everything to be reelected despite he's 86. In fact elections are always a potential dangerous and troublesome affair in all Africa, although Senegal is probably one of the most civilized and modern African country. Finally we decided to skip Dogon villages and arrive until Djennè in order to visit its Mosque and its monday market. We left Bamako the late morning after a difficult cash withdrawal and bought a ticket until Djennè Crossroad. The trip was quite long and unconfortable as usual, but as the bus stopped in the anonimous village of Blas we realized that the ticket seller cheated us, so we had to buy a new Bus ticket to Djennè carrefour and wait in Blas more than 2 hours! The small van from Blas until Djennè was not only old, wrecked and unconfortable but also extremely slow and also stopped several times for the prayers of the driver and some passengers, as a result we crossed the river of Djennè in a complete silence and darkness. A few minutes before we had also been stopped by a small Malian police office with no electricity obliged us to stop in order to pay my 2000CFA entrance fee, the policeman also shouted to my friend Ale to show him his official guide ID, a black travelling with a toubab what else could it be??? But he stopped when he saw how many foreigner countries stamps Ale has in his passport. Again another funny situation a few minutes later when the minibus wheels slided on the muddy riverbank before getting on the barge; the barge staff shouted to Ale and impolite: "you are a guide get off and help us pushing", I offered also my help but being a toubab he said I could keep staying seated. Finally at 9pm we arrived in Djennè, starting to breath its unique magical atmosphere but also welcomed by  scores of local kids able to ask for money and presents in so many different languages that I immediately understood how touristic was Djennè.
Amadou, a local guide previously contacted, was waiting for us,  he rented us a tent on the roof of his mud and straw made house. Since Djennè has a very hot weather, it was a great and inexpensive accommodation. We had a good dinner by a Dogon Restaurant and followed him to the maze of Djennè streets had a small interesting introduction to this wonderful town where most inhabitants are quite strict muslims although the presence of so many tourists (coming not only from France but also from US, Spain and Italy)let a few small shops sell alcoholic beverages. Amadou too regretted to be an hard beer drinker and obviously his wife didn't like this side of him. He also added that there was a fall in tourists presence because of a north Mali presence of Touareg rebels, especially in Kidal and Tessalit region, leaded by Malian mercenaries escaped from Libia after Ghaddafi defeat. It seemed that Tombouctou was safe but we heard that a few weeks before  some German tourists were kidnapped and killed by rebels. We slept very well, woke up early in order to visit the mosque and the market and catch the 13:00 Bus to Bamako. Amadou was a very good guide, he explained us so many interesting topics of Djennè: The great mosque is the biggest mosque entirely built with mixture of clay, straw and water in the world and as well as the old town it's a Unesco World heritage centre, in the ancient time the bricks were built with the same mixture (that we found on the corner of the town) covered with Karitè butter that kept the rainwater away from the bicks, in the latest decades, due to Karitè palm deforestation and desertification (last year it rained very little and local agriculture soffered from it with reduced grain and cereal crops), Karitè butter became too expensive to be used for building purpose therefore all Djennè houses should be restored every year, using the same mixture, before and after the rain season. Usually women prepare that mixture a few weeks before and men provide with patch restoring. Yet in ancient times the toilets were on the ground floor therefore during the river's flooding all the excrements were also flooding on the towns streets for this reason decided to move their toilets to the second floor and it's interesting to notice that when the "tower containing the excrements is full, they break the base of the tower and put all the excrements in a pit and keep it there until it is completely dried and ready to become good, ecological fertilizer. He pointed the tiny canals on the middle of the street where the white (coming from the "showers" of the toilets)waters are collected before getting directly to the river. Again he showed us some of the many coranic school where pupils learn islamic precepts and some arabic sentences as well as a cemetery where died babies are buried. This cemetery takes place in the garden of a small old Mosque (before that the big mosque was built there were many small Mosques, one in each area of the town) and he pointed some pieces of paper or tissues, this is the way they use to mark their grave because they can not put any graveyard. This was quite strange because in Dakar and in Carabanne island I saw many gravestones on muslim cemeteries. Amadou brought us in a small compound where it happened a strange story; it seems that ib abciebt time there were many small villages beyond the river, these villages were always fighting among them so that when they decided to move together on the island asked to a sorcerer what they could do to bring good luck to this new settlement. Well he suggested to sacrifice the most beautiful, still virgin, single daughter of all the villages. Once the girl had been chosen, they built a small brick house around her and let her starve to death. Now he said you can get good luck praying inside the ruins of that house, Ale did it whereas I refused to join this sad macabre story. Then we went to terrace from where I could admire the huge marvellous Mosque because entrance is forbidden to non muslims (but if you give a money "cadeau"..)whereas Ale entered it. Finally we rushed to the local market which except a few interesting stalls (that selling Karitè butter or those selling handmade colanders and riddles) but in any case we missed the 13:00 bus to Bamako. We then headed to an open air  restaurant where I found the courage to taste some rice with a piece of fish, the meal was disappointing and I also was sorrounded by many kids-beggars (so many in Senegal too, often exploited by bad and dishonest Marabouts). After a few spoons I handed my bowl to one of those and in a fraction of a second the bowl disappeared and the kids were eating all thanking me. I really could not realize what exactly happened since the action was so fast. At 15:30 after quarrels, disagreements and bargains between the driver and some clients, packed like sardines in a can, we left the wonderful but too touristy town of Djennè.

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