At the appointed hour we found our driver .. evidently suffering with a thumping headache .. fast asleep in our newly repaired car. The clutch was working again, although the gear selector
was a little out of line. So, with many harsh crunches from the gearbox, we drove out of town and back towards the ferry .. passing under the arch
at the entrance to Djenné that we had missed on our way in, through being squashed up five abreast in our temporary transport.
The queue was a lot longer than before .. mostly comprising homeward-bound
traders with their horse-drawn carts. The horses* were unhitched and swum across the shortest part of the river channel
by young men riding them or hanging onto their necks. Whilst the shafts of the carts were pointed skywards to allow a close a fit on the ferry, there was precious little room for us. Studying all the different people on
the ferry as it chugged across the water, I saw a beautiful young Fula girl**
standing behind one of the carts, shyly looking down at her feet.
Factfile 26 : Having seen the superb pictures of ceremonies and traditionally dressed Africans in Angela Fisher's books, I fully appreciate
just how long it must have taken to gain her subjects' confidence, their permission to be able to take the photograph and the efforts needed to organise and stage a professional photographic shoot. Usually, I
never have that amount of time and try to take general, non-staged .. but hopefully informative .. pictures of local people going about their normal duties in their natural locations. Sometimes I find that a staged
picture, after going through the rigmarole of asking the subject's permission, working out a price and then attempting to get them to look happy .. not stern and sad as befits the African tradition .. produces a totally
artificial study. Africans have such super smiles to share, but to get them on camera can be an exhausting task, if they are given time to compose themselves !
Advertising posters for the Dogon Area ..
showing a similarly dressed young lady .. are a common sight all over Mali, but this young girl was the first and only time we saw anyone dressed in such a lovely display of the Fula tradition. I sneaked a picture from
where I was standing .. much to the annoyance of a very large gentleman standing near her .. and put my camera away quickly ! The ferry docked and everybody rushed off .. but after some thought,
I just had to find
her again and risk asking permission from her family for a better photograph. Seeing a flash of her brightly coloured head dress, I approached the cart that she and her family were getting into .. nervously noticing
that the large gentleman with the threatening look was amongst them ! To the group of her stern-faced and fierce-looking male relatives ..
I made an impassioned and truthful plea .. a little nervously in French .. saying:
"Oh please, please, please Messieurs .. she is so beautiful .. may I take her picture ?"
my relief, their faces broke into broad smiles and .. proudly agreeing with my opinion of her beauty .. promptly hustled this painfully shy beauty back down off the cart, for me to take her
picture***. Demure and unsmiling in the picture .. in the typical African way
.. the moment was just not right to ask her for another one, as she beamed with excitement on seeing herself in the viewer. Laughing and giggling with the favour I had bestowed upon her, when I knew that really it was an honour they had granted me, she joined her family in the cart. Without any forced encouragement to their horse .. they joined another three horse-drawn carts, racing up and disappearing over the embankment, like a scene from a Roman chariot race.
With the light fading into dusk, their colourful scarves and head-dresses flowing behind them and their horses galloping at breakneck speed .. it was a sight that brought goose bumps
to my skin and one I shall never forget. Sadly, I was too much in awe to think to photograph it.
A little while later we passed them .. trotting down the road in line astern .. all waving to us and
calling out their farewells, a poignant and gentle scene. Lovely people in the heart of Africa !
I am very fortunate to have travelled to many parts of the word and have seen some truly awesome sights .. but
without doubt, Djenné is the most beautiful town I have ever visited.