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Mali – Been There

Walking through the Bible

Photo by Jochem Wijnands

Mali – Been There Walking through the Bible

I turn off into the narrow old streets of Djenné and I am at once hit by a familiar sensation. I feel as if I am walking through an illustrated children’s Bible.

Sophie Sarin
Sophie Sarin

Everything reminds me of a picture book of the Holy Land that I loved as a child: little shepherd boys are guiding their flocks of sheep to the outskirts of town for pasture; the notables of Djenné, elegant in their long, embroidered bou-bous and prayer caps, sit on their animal skins, spread out on the tintin, the raised mud platforms outside their traditional two-storey Djenné houses.

They chat endlessly, drinking Malian sweet tea from small glasses and fingering their prayerbeads while watching the passers-by with inscrutable expressions. The confusing system of alleyways that crisscross the old neighborhoods of Yobokaina, Sankore, Konofia and Dioboro are teeming with life. Donkeys bray. Women are returning from the market with the day’s purchases in baskets on their heads.

I hear the clink-clink from metal-beating as I wave to Amadou in his blacksmith’s forge, where an apprentice’s bellows are feeding the fire. Next door to the smithy is the house of Amadou’s wife, Baji, the potter who made all the ceramic washbasins in the hotel I own.

“I ni tile Baji?” I call to her (literally: you and the midday - i.e. “How are you this fine noon, Baji?”). “Sophie. Toro si te. A ni fama. (I am well Sophie. It has been a long time),” she replies.

The potters are always women in Djenné and in Songhay culture. And the potters are always married to the blacksmiths.

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19-djenne-timothy-allen-073

Djenné has been a trading center since at least 250BCE and its Monday Market sees people from all of Mali's ethnic groups meet. The common language of the market is Bambara, with only 30 percent speaking French, the official language. Photo by Timothy Allen

Timothy Allen

Timothy Allen

Canon EOS 5D-II

Aperture
ƒ/2.8
Exposure
1/1000
ISO
640
Focal
200 mm

Djenné has been a trading center since at least 250BCE and its Monday Market sees people from all of Mali's ethnic groups meet. The common language of the market is Bambara, with only 30 percent speaking French, the official language.

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