Djenné – Get Off My Mosque!

Entirely isolated on a small island, in the middle of nowhere in Central Mali, lies the old kingdom of Djenné. Auburn, slightly Moorish-inspired houses line the labyrinthine lanes, and streams of sewage run unabashedly between the buildings. It’s a hot, steamy, and stinky place, with its fair share of wannabe guides tugging on your sleeves, yearning for any dollars you may have to spare.

In the center of town, the grand mosque towers; fabulous in its height and size. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the pride of Mali. Mud-covered spires adorn the facade, with angry sticks of wood embedded in the walls, like thorns of a cactus. This house of worship resembles a fairytale castle of an evil queen. And it slyly beckons you: come closer, have a look, adore me!

But as we were climbing the stairs to admire the marvel a little closer, a shunned guide blocked our way. “You can not go in!” he screamed in our faces. “Go away!”

We stared at him, surprised. We weren’t even close to the entrance. We were still outside, standing on the stairs below the landing of the main building. “Look!” He pointed at a sign below the stairs saying “Entry Prohibited to Non-Muslims.” Fair enough. Understandable. But we were still outside the mosque.

“No! Go away! You cannot stand on the stairs. You are not allowed here. You have to go away or I will hit you. You are not Muslims! You must go away now! Go away! You are not allowed here! You have to leave now.” And so on and on and on.

But we refused to leave. We were not inside the mosque. We were outside, and we just wanted to take a couple of pictures of the only reason anyone ever comes to Djenné – to see the mosque.

After nearly getting into a fist fight, and also a screaming match with a passing old man, we decided to walk away. They could stick their mosque up their derrière, as far as we were concerned.

Instead, we joined three French guys in search of a different kind of culture. And found a decrepit local bar in the backyard of someone’s house, that had cheap beer and a fabulous toilet with neither sewerage nor a roof, but a lovely view of the Bani River.

Early the next morning, before getting on the bus back, we sneaked a last look at the mosque (from the outside!).

It is a beautiful structure, after all.


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