Djenné 2

Currency = CFA
£1 = CFA 1000
US $1 = CFA 520
1 Euro = CFA 656
at that time

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 ?"

To 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.

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Fula girl**

The picture***

Our journey home, accompanied by crashing and grinding gears at every forced gear change, was otherwise uneventful .. until we reached Mac's Refuge. Smiling for the first time since we had met him, our driver remembered some English and demanded the rest of his money.
Giving him the minimum amount we had agreed the previous day with Amadou (which was still a large amount of money by local values and was in total, almost equivalent to a European price of hiring a car ) we patiently explained that neither his demeanour, his driving skills
(or lack thereof) nor .. unfortunately for him, the car's reliability .. had met our requirements as requested. He wasn't really impressed with this .. but neither had we been with him .. tough !

We had already decided to phone our helpful taxi friend Banya from the previous evening, to see if he could take us to some Dogon villages the next day .. thankfully, he happily agreed.

 I braved the swimming pool in Mac's Refuge that evening .. more because it was there than through necessity, as the air was cool after the day's high temperatures. Having asked me if I had enjoyed my swim, Mac's face was a picture when I teased him about the brown scum on the surface of the water. "Perhaps you should have had a shower first".. was his droll reply !!

Our fellow guests were an interesting crowd: An American of 80+ years who being guided around the region by his son and two daughters. He was rejoicing in the fact that he had been named by the locals as the oldest grandfather in all of Mali and full of energetic enthusiasm, despite suffering with a very painful knee. Luckily, amongst his other talents .. Mac is a masseur equipped with the tools of his trade .. and our host was later to be seen soothing those painful knee joints with the aid of what must have been the only hot water bottle in all of Mali !

Two young Scandinavian ladies, who had hired a pirogue for the following day, to take them on a 2 day trip from Mopti to Timbuktu ( pronounced Tombuktu in Mali and evidently THE trip
to make). Both were sleeping outside in tents on the Refuge roof .. under Lulu's protection.

A Canadian guy who was really happy at dinner. On his first holiday after working for some months in Sierra Leone with an international aid agency and just managing to afford to tour Mali by local transport. The mushrooms we ate were the first he had tasted in 8 months !

Well fed and entertained .. we retired reasonably early, in preparation for another dawn start.