We arrived in Djenné around 8. Djenné is, in a way an island, and we had to cross a ferry to get there. As with Pays Dogon, our cars were mobbed by street vendors trying to sell various necklaces, bracelets, and souvenirs. By the time we got to Djenné, however it was getting dark, so we gratefully retreated to our rooms in our hotel. The rooms were all very nice, and after we were happily settled we went downstairs for dinner. I was starving and loved our meal. We also got papaya for dessert, a fruit that I’m quickly falling in love with. They also offered tea and coffee to us, so I helped myself to some of the lovely peppermint tea they were brewing.
After dinner a few of us asked permission to leave the hotel and buy some phone credit. Once we’d left, however, we didn’t want to immediately return, and ended up wandering around a bit. As we meandered through the streets we came to a large clearing and discovered we were right in front of the mosque. Djenné’s mosque is fabulous – the city’s main tourist attraction. It was originally built in the 13th century (making it one of the oldest mosques in Mali), but it was expanded/reconstructed in 1907. It is the largest adobe structure in the world, and has to be re-mudded every year before the rainy season so that it doesn’t fall apart. The sun does a number on it through the year as well – by the time they re-mud it, it’s usually covered in cracks. The entire town helps rebuild their mosque, spending a couple days mixing and placing the adobe. Seeing this mosque that night – under the stars was incredible. Djenné has been named a world heritage site, so most of the other buildings are adobe as well, and the city’s modernization is pretty limited (obviously causing some big problems), so the stars were really clear and the city streets were very quiet. I’ve seen a lot of religious buildings in my time, but this one was incredibly moving. Beautiful, ancient, and powerful. I couldn’t get enough of it. The fact too, that the entire city’s hands go into it, gave it another special dimension. It was incredible to sit on its steps, touch its walls, look up at the tiny ostrich eggs placed on its minarets against the sky. I loved it, and didn’t want to leave. Even though we can’t enter it, it was still wonderful to see it. And, honestly; I’m not sure I’d want to enter it. I loved seeing it, forming my relationship with it outside its walls, and I like the fact that the interior is reserved for the faithful. I think that makes it all the more special.
After we left the mosque, we met and spoke for a few minutes with a one of the residents. His name was Ousmane, and he had just been at the festival as well. Apparently he is the balaphone player for Baba Sissoko, one of the bigger acts at the festival. He was very kind, and before we knew it, we were whisked off to his house to have a couple rounds of tea. His “house” was tiny, just two rooms, but he made us tea, introduced us to his mother, gave us some peanuts, and every comfort we could wish for. He was so kind, and so attentive, all of us were very touched. Moreover, he said he’d be in Bamako soon, and that we could go watch him rehearse with other musicians. So that’s something to look forward to.
The next morning we made our rounds to the most important sites of Djenné. I am so grateful now for our night excursion, as it allowed us to see Djenné more than we would have otherwise. We basically zipped into the museum, the library, the cultural center, and stopped by the mosque for a photo before we had to hurry back into the cars and head to Burkina Faso. For me, someone who usually spends time in the places I visit, this quick touristy way of seeing the city was frustrating. I wanted to spend more time, talk to more people, and was pretty cranky when we got back in the cars. But it wore off, and before I knew it, we were across the ferry and on our way.