Saturday, July 08, 2006


Djenné 1 April 2006.
I arrived last night about 11pm, after a gruelling journey in what was arguably the dirtiest bus in West Africa. This was due to a mistake early in the morning: I left the simple but impeccable auberge run by the Soeurs Blanches de Bamako at 6.30, heavily ladened with luggage, found a cab which took me to the bus terminal. I asked to be taken to the largest company, the Bani terminal, but the taxi was accosted by a posse of gesticulating young men, one of whom jumped in to the cab- before I knew it I was taken to a rival bus company and told that the first bus to leave would be the one parked in front of me; that the Bani buses wouldn’t leave for hours. And I was taken in- or perhaps overcome by the situation- overladed by luggage and uncertain of the true situation I had no choice but to trust those in whose hands I found myself.
Hence I was still sitting at the bus station at 11 o’clock, long after the comfortable, reliable Bani bus had left on its smooth passage to Mopti, and I finally found myself packed into in a filth -encrusted rust bucket with a group of other hapless travellers with whom I developed relationships of empathy born out of shared suffering during the long, hot day. Amongst them was a frightened-looking young man from the Ivory Coast on his way to see his brother in Mopti and several mothers with unusually long suffering babies. By the time I was dropped off at the crossroads to Djenné it was long after night fall. A hatch-back stood waiting to fill up with enough Djenné-bound passengers to take off for the remaining 30 km stretch. I was passenger number 5 but the required number for departure was nine. Having refreshed myself with a cup of sweetened condensed milk coffee at a little stall in the enchanted light of a couple of paraffin lamps I was excited enough about the proximity of my final destination to decide it was worth paying for the remaining 4 places: 5000CFA (ca £5) extra in order to get me and my fellow travellers there. Having packed up an assorted bunch of voluminous luggage which included a small goat and secured it on top of the hatch-back we set off into the night.
The crossing of the Bani was memorable: the river where we had boarded our pirouge on New Years Day was now reduced to a little stream which reached our calves: we were told to get out and cross by foot, while the hatchback went like hell for leather across in a big roar, the water reaching the top of the wheels. As the toubab* benefactress who stomped up the money needed to take off I was offered to stay in the car, but nothing would have enduced me to claim this privilege and I joined my fellow travellers as we waded across the sandy river bed in the warm velvety night, our feet bathed in the lovely cool water.
The air was filled with a delicious scent of some unknown vegetation as we finally arrived at Djenné and stepped out into the quiet sandy street in front of the Great Mosque, which obligingly displayed its stupendous mud mass in the most exotic manner possible, decorated by a silvery new crescent moon.
I had a beer in Baba’s court yard, unwinding while watching a football match between France and Belgium on the TV in the company of assorted locals. Posted by Picasa


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