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Day 42: Djenné

Michael Palin - SaharaThe mud walls are renewed every year in one great communal enterprise. Women carry the water to mix the mortar, which the men then carry and apply to the walls, using the projecting beams like scaffolding. During the work, anyone who needs refreshment is invited in and given tea by the old ladies of the town, but anyone seen to be avoiding work is hooted at by the women.

Pigmy waxes lyrical about the hundred pillars inside and the hundred windows in the roof, but when I ask if I can go and see them he is apologetic. Apparently, some Americans recently used the interior for a fashion shoot and so offended local sensibilities that non-Muslims are no longer allowed in.

We walk back together to Pigmy's house, through quieter streets, where all the houses seem miniatures of the mosque, walls modelled with plaster laid over mud brick, one organic outer-skin, buttressed and rounded off. Outside one house, a group of children are mixing fresh mortar with their feet, imitating the tradition of the barey, the master masons of Djenné. The mortar looks grey and lifeless until it dries on the walls and soaks up the sunlight and turns a soft brown. At sunrise and sunset it is golden.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 42
  • Country/sea: Mali
  • Place: Djenné
  • Book page no: 131

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