Friday, December 21, 2007

Tabaski in Djenne

It is always rough travelling through new countries. It becomes especially rough when the countries throw holidays at you too. At the end of every Hajj (that's the month for the official pilgrimage season to Mecca for Muslims) there is a festival. It celebrates the day that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to God. Here the festival is called Tabaski (dad thinks it's great, but I hope he realizes it's not a spicy food) and although the important day is a single day, pretty much everywhere in the Muslim world takes 3 days to celebrate. Usually the transport during festivals shuts down or becomes totally swamped, prices go up and accommodation becomes harder to find. In this case the former is very true.
We didn't want to get stuck in Bamako so we head north to Djenne. Talk about an ordeal though because there was total mayhem at the bus station. I'm told it wasn't the normal mayhem but retardedly busy instead as everyone was off to their villages to visit family for the holiday as is the custom. There are numerous bus companies in Mali and many have their own station but all are fairly close together and we got to the first one at 6:30am trying to find a ride. All the buses were sold out so on we went to the next, and the next, and the next..... Imagine the main station, which at best is a large lot with a number of buses and minibuses haphazardly parked in front on a number of little tin shacks with destinations and prices on them, completely packed with people sitting and waiting for a ride to anywhere. We were followed by 5 touts that were trying to funnel us into particular shops and the men there would promise you the last seats on a bus leaving momentarily. It was impossible (and foolish) to believe anyone and I got sick of pretending to try to find a way out of there when we opted to go back to one of the other bus companies and wait for their 2pm bus. At least they had buses that we could see and a decent waiting area because it was a long wait from 9am until 3pm when it finally left.
It took us 1/2 hour to go one block down the road because of the chaos at a single intersection. We were lucky enough to be stuck near the front and could watch with amazement at 3 police officers attempted to direct traffic while yelling and screaming at drivers going every direction imaginable. They have no natural sense of direction I guess. The ride was a good 9 hours with the strangest part being all the other buses passing us completely covered with goats on their roofs (more on that later). We got dumped off at the junction to Djenne from the main road (buses don't go there) just before 1am so ended up setting up our tents right there beside the police check post. Why not? The following morning we waited for 4 hours before transport filled up to take us the 30km into town.
Djenne is a UNESCO town, due to it's mud-brick mosque, the largest mud-brick building in the world. It's pretty crazy looking but the entire town is made of mud-brick too, often of 2 or 3 stories, and on an island in a small river. It's not a very big town but very touristy and we were very quickly mobbed by all the little kids and potential guides wanting "gifts" and/or "money". Kind of annoying but we got settled in without too many problems. It's always nice to see a more traditional village style and the ladies washing their laundry and dishes in the river together. Lots of goats and donkeys, a handful of other foreigners but generally not crowded and plenty to see.
The following day was the first and main day of Tabaski. On Tabaski everyone sacrifices a goat and it would be very bad for your social standing to not be able to do so, so of course that means that the price of a goat skyrockets and there are goats EVERYWHERE leading up to it. In Djenne, all the people celebrate by wearing their best clothes, making some bonus morning prayer together and then slaughtering the goats at home. The blood literally runs down the little gutters in the middle of the streets, but the people look amazing in their highly varied and colourful clothing. It was nice because we could wander around without too much hassle because even the touts took the day off. We've just wandered and looked at the people and costumes mostly. The kids are numerous and although they initially come up to you asking for stuff, if you sit and chat with them for a minute they'll end up letting you take some pictures. They don't really care about the money, they just are told that's what to say, and they just want the attention. They have a thing about asking for your plastic water bottles (which they must reuse) and I had a good time last night doing mock battle with half a dozen of the wee beasties in the dusty main square in front of the mosque. It was pretty funny with me beating all these kids with my water bottle with all of us doing mock ninja/fencing stances and a bunch of other locals watching and laughing. Sometimes I find weird ways to amuse myself :)
We are a little stuck here as all the transport has stopped for the festival but we are trying to get out of here soon and make our way north to Timbuktu next.


At 9:49 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Ammon,

When I was a kid my Mom used to threated to package me and send me to Timbuktu, at least yours is taking you there,but watch she doesn't dump you off there... lol.
I'm on call for the whole Christmas thing so doesn't feel much like christmas this year, especially qwithout mom, but we've had snow and the lights are up around the city. Are there christmasy things there, or is the predominance of Islam pretty much damped the whole thing?
I wanted to wish you all the best of Christmases, and Happy and Healthy New Year. Speaking of which how is the geriatric shoulder doing? I mean where you are approaching 70 you don't heal well..... I do hope it is getting better. I still think inversion might help if it is not a direct injury to the elbow.

Well, thank you for wroting still, and take care of yourself Ammon.

Love and Bear Hugs To All
THe Bear

PS Hey could you send me a postcard from Timbuktu? That would be hysterical.

At 6:27 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas Watkins,

Best wishes, and may your lives dwell in pure amazement throughout your journeys.


i'll toss toss some snowballs for you guys.

take care


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