Djenne, Mali, November 18 - 20, 2007

Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
Trip End Jan 05, 2008

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Djenne is a small city surrounded by marshes and rice paddies on the banks of the Bani River, one of the Niger's tributaries.  The city's buildings are built almost entirely of mud brick making it a rather architecturally homogenous and atmospheric place.  The city, though, is most famous for its Great Mosque, allegedly the world's largest mud brick structure. 
Djenne's other big attraction is its colorful Monday market, which dictated the timing of our visit to the town and that of virtually every other tourist in Mali.  We stayed at another two-story doughnut shaped hotel with a large interior courtyard named Le Campement, one that seemed to be Djenne's main travelers' center with its outdoor restaurant, bars, and souvenir shops across the parking lot from the hotel building.  Being such a busy night in Djenne, there were no rooms available so we again placed our tents on the roof, as we had also done in Savare and Timbuktu.  Only this time as we were out for the evening our private roof space was invaded by dozens of large orange tents of another tour group, mostly middle-aged Germans who had no notion of keeping their voices down as they got up at the crack of dawn to photograph the sunrise over town.  I got a good laugh as I heard the always gracious Robin yell out, "Shut the hell up, you f**king Germans!" 
Peoples' behavior on the day we drove from Bandiagara to Djenne would suggest the Dogon country trek placed a lot of stress on people in the group, since there seemed to be more blowups between people than at any other time in the trip.  It was my cook group's turn to make lunch, dinner, and then breakfast the next morning.  Still recovering from a sinus infection that had me feeling ill and kept me from sleeping for several nights, my heart was not in for making meals this time around, neither in shopping for food at the street market in Sevare nor for preparing a cole slaw, tuna salad, and watermelon for lunch at a brutally hot spot in the Sahel.  Richard insisted on staying within our recommended budget, so we didn't bother with the unappetizing looking meat in the market and settled on a vegetarian dinner of penne with ratatouille sauce and a sweet and spicy pumpkin puree.  However, after we arrived in Djenne and I saw we were staying at a place with a nice restaurant, I threw a small fit at Dave for making us waste an evening cooking a camp meal when we were in a town with restaurant food available.  Richard joined me in my objections. 
Once dinner was ready, though, the assertive vegetarian in the group, a young woman from New York City named Stacey, complained that there were no beans with the meal because "vegetarians need protein too!"  Richard refused on the grounds that no one else was getting any protein source this night either, so there should be no special treatment.  In other camp chaos that night, Francis got into his second shouting match of the day, this time with his tent mate Ed as they were setting up for the night over Ed taking up to much space.  The earlier one was with Chris at breakfast over flapping one's dishes dry rather than leaving them on the rack to dry.  All told, enough tempers flared within a short time that Dave gave us all a pre-dinner lecture on getting along together and being nice to each other. 
After dinner several of us wandered over to an outdoor cafe near the Great Mosque to watch a drumming performance and have a few beers.  I spent most of the evening chatting with Richard until quite late, relieved to get away from the pressure cooker environment of the truck and tour group. 
I spent most of our full day in Djenne wandering around the Monday market and taking care of a few errands like money exchange and Internet.  I skipped camp meals once my group's responsibilities were over and went off on my own in search of food that would be typical of the region yet also appetizing.  I have to say that, although Mali is an interesting country, I found its food to be some of the least inspiring of any country I've been to.  For lunch I tried some "Tian-Tian de Djenne" from the menu.  "Sounds good," I thought, "must be a regional specialty."  I suppose it was, but it turned out to be a scrawny, nearly fleshless little pigeon with a side of rice and some brown onion sauce (Riz Sauce) on top.  Oh well, so much for African food as an alternative to camp meals! 
The substantial waits we had for the ferries across the Bani River to and from Djenne were almost as fascinating as the Monday market itself, with many traditionally dressed people from various tribes standing around - Fulani women with tattooed lips, Touareg men with blue robes and huge turbans, Fulani men with wide conical "coolie" hats.  I could easily have spent much of the day watching and taking pictures.
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