Mali #11: Djenne and the road to Bamako

We left Essakane, a place where the world was what was only around us, a place where we disconnected from the expansive reaches of the Internet or mass telecommunications, a place of music and mind-wandering and comradeship.

We arrived back in Timbuktu for breakfast and paid a quite melacholic, but in Tuareg fashion, stoic, good-bye to Mohamed. Driving out of the city, I knew that I was leaving a place with a firm sense of identity, history, and in many instances poverty. Despite the US travel warning or probable warnings from some Tuaregs to other ones in Mali about us Others, the threats and fears of different identities interacting went unrealized at Essakane while the converse prevailed – friendly interaction and relationship-building.

More and more people within it have problems defining their own identity, of determining their own social or cultural affiliation. They feel lost, and are increasingly susceptible to the suggestions of nationalists and racists, who tell them to regard the Other as a threat, an enemy , the cause of their tiresome frustrations and fears.” -Ryszard Kapuscinski

We left through the city arch and arrived at the port. I had romanticized the whole notion of the salt caravan since learning of it and really wanted to purchase some raw salt. And then I stumbled upon loads of it at Timbuktu’s port very much to my satisfaction! We had some more tea with Moussa while waiting for our ferry and then headed across the Niger river to the other side.

Salt with a story

Salt with a story

On the road of utter desolation (no people, sandy air, gnarled trees) we continued south towards Bamako from Timbuktu port to Douentza. Randomly, farkas (donkeys) would be sitting in the road in numbers and patterns to the degree we were driving as in an obstacle course!

Donkeys like the road. Other animals run when we come.

Donkeys like the road. Other animals run when we come.

We gave a ride to a Sardinian hitchhiker who spoke French and Italian but not English. So… to communicate, Jenn and I spoke to him in Spanish, which he did speak. All in Mali. Fun permutations like this make traveling all the most entertaining.

At one point we came up behind the Bandiagara escarpment before sunset.

Approaching the Bandiagara escarpment

Approaching the Bandiagara escarpment

The view was absolutely stunning. Peul and Dogon men and women walked on the road as we passed, often with baskets atop their heads or men herding animals. Listening to Malian music only accentuated the experience as we continued driving. And I have seen immense amounts of car dust before in both Mongolia and Peru, but never have I been so caked in dust after this particular car ride! People cluttered the main highway during the night and we often had some close calls. I can imagine how dangerous the roads are for all people involved.

We stayed overnight in Sevare and headed to Djenne the next day. Djenne is essentially an island with the world’s largest mud mosque.

Mosque at Djenne

Mosque at Djenne

It was originally a 12th century building, a palace if I recall correctly. We took a tour of Djenne by foot, wandering in narrow alleys and learning about the Tukulor style, Moroccan windows, and Sudanese interior designs of building. The mud humps at the top of some homes indicated the number of children born to that particular family.

Humps represent number of children in home, style has 3 influences

Humps represent number of children in home, style has 3 influences

We learned about the bogolan style of cloth dying, famed in Djenne in particular. Leaves are boiled to make the greener hues, while tree bark is boiled for the darker colors. Not surprisingly, we made some purchases. At the bogolan demonstration we had, Jean engaged in some le cousinage which I have described in an earlier post. The Peul woman seemed entertained by it.

We crossed out of the island and stayed at a nice but not-yet finished hostel. Jess, Jenn, and I climbed onto the roof of the Moorish styled manor and watched the sunset over Djenne as we talked about the trip and life in general.

Group awaiting dinner at our hotel

Group awaiting dinner at our hotel

We ate that night and learned why our group guides along the way always ate together (meaning of different ethnic groups) and with their hands. Communal eating in Mali means “leaving differences aside at the bowl.” And they didn’t used knives and forks because one does “not use plates/utensils because the meal is about the community, not the person.” I had never heard such an explanation before, and it made my reflections on Tuaregs eating with Dogon and Bambara more meaningful.

The next day we drove to Bamako, passing calabash fields, women separating chaff from the grain with the wind, road signs about AIDS awareness, genital excision, and polio, and cars stripped to their very framework. Waste not. Back in Bamako we started the post-partum blues of an amazing trip coming to an end. First, we had a tasty dinner at Le Rabelais and stayed out late on our last night. I distinctly remember dreaming about the desert that night, the nomads protecting us.

On January 14th, the day of departure had sadly come. Mitra and I made sure to get our fill of pain au chocolate and jus du baobab. Jess’ neighbor (an iman at the small mosque there) invited us all for a tour the next day of the Koranic school and main Bamako mosque, but Mitra and I had to get to the airport so we could not go.

Jean drove us to the airport and after some complication at check-in we gave him a hearty farewell. The sun had just set as we boarded, the aircraft door separating us from the hot, dry air one last night. I had a row to myself on the flight to Nairobi so I could lay out, sad to leave Mali, but even more thankful that I had been able to go.


3 Responses to “Mali #11: Djenne and the road to Bamako”

  1. Great Mosque of Djenne Says:

    Thanks for sharing this post. Nice photo. There are different mosques in mali. Djenneis very famous place in mali. It is most visited place by the muslims. You can see the beautiful architecture in the mosque. The Great Mosque of djenne was built on an elevated platform of 62,500 square feet. To know more details refer

  2. abdel Says:


    The Hotel “Dar Salam” In Djenné is mine.
    Just to say, I’m very happy for your trip and the hotel is finish now…!!!

    Kambé !

    Abdel (from France, the reason why my bad english…)

    • Susan Kahraman Says:

      Hello Abdel – I’d like more information on your hotel, the DAR SALAM in Djenne. What are your rates please and does that include breakfast? This is for a group of manatee researchers who will be attending a manatee fieldwork class. There may be a total of 15 people. The instructor is from the USA, the rest of the group is from various West African countries. The instructor and her husband would need a double room. Since the others are all male, they could share rooms. On some days they will be doing fieldwork so would require boxed lunches. Is that possible? Also, do you have a website with photos. Thank you. Susan

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