Monday, September 14, 2009

The Mosque That Gets a Facelift

     Mali is home to the oldest and largest mud structure in the world, the Mosque at D’jenne. We were lucky to be there on market day, when the vibrant primary colors of fruit, vegetable, and clothing against the backdrop of the huge tawny colored Mosque shows D’jenne at her best.

     As you might imagine, a mud building needs a lot of maintenance. But no governmental office based in Bamako is going to come to D’jenne to maintain a building regularly, even if it is a world heritage site. In Mali villagers take matters into their own hands and the people of D’jenne turn building maintenance into a festival. Each year groups from D’jenne and surrounding villages come together to resurface the entire Mosque. For several days heavy buckets of wet mud are carried from the river to the Mosque where the mud is mixed with straw. Then boys and men hang from timber scaffold to slather the entire Mosque in a new coat of fresh clay. It turns into a friendly competitive rivalry between villages to see who can supply, and apply, the most mud.

     We were part of just a handful of travelers in D’jenne so we were prime targets for the hat, blanket and trinket sellers who, laden with dozens of conical hats and colorful blankets perched on their heads or draped over their arms, roamed the marketplace. One such seller spotted us on our first day and seemed to find us wherever we were- in the market, in a restaurant, near the mosque or outside our guesthouse each morning. He spoke no English and we didn’t know but one word that he understood, “no.” He tried to communicate with us in French, German, Russian, and a few other languages I couldn’t identify. One of his blankets was particularly beautiful. Scott and I both liked it but it was far too large for us to carry in our backpacks so we said, “No, thank you.” But the blanket seller was persistent. We knew enough French to understand that it was a special “wedding” blanket. Such a blanket would be given to a Malian couple at their wedding ceremony.
     “Tres chic. Beautiful,” I said while insisting that regrettably, we could not carry it. Yet our twosome became a threesome as the seller followed us everywhere over the next few days.
     On our last day in D’jenne the blanket seller waited predictably by our guesthouse gate. “No, no, no,” we said firmly while showing him how small our backpacks were.
     Never underestimate the power of a blanket seller in D’jenne. The blanket looks lovely on our bed at home in California.

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