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The Ball at the mud mosque in Djenne

Arrival in Djenné

We arrive in Djenné as the sun is going down, after a gruelling 14 hour bus ride from Bamako.

The ferry across to DjennéThe Ball arrives in Djenné… The ferry crossing.

Djenné is basically an island surrounded by the Bani river, a tributary of the Niger. To access Djenné, one needs to take a short ferrry ride across the Bani and then a meadering dirt-road into town. The town is a wonderfully close-knit collection of fantasy mud buildings. The central element in this deeply religious muslim community is the world’s largest mud building — the Grand Mosquée. As the sun rapidly and vertically descends, we enter town through a tiny windy road and the side streets look perfect for a pied-piper style kickabout. We are beaming. What potential! Tomorrow awaits.

Our Dutch bus pulls up in the main square, immediately in front of the Grand Mosquée. We have been dreaming about visiting this place for years. Yet just a few days ago it was looking like we wouldn’t have the opportunity after all. Special Olympics, overwhelmed with enthusiasm for The Ball’s arrival, had planned a schedule so full of events that we were going to have to skip it. Christian put his foot down: “You guys are going to Djenné. If you don’t go it’s like visiting Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower. Or going to London and not watching a Hammers game.” How dare we not visit Djenné!

Phil fixes a net for The Ball to Andrew's backpackPhil fixes a net for The Ball to Andrew’s backpack

We clamber out of the bus and are immediately surrounded by a swarm of people. Some want to sell us food, others are tour guides for Djenné and the Dogon Country trying to hook us, others are hungry children begging for money. The scene is a familiar one, but what follows is not. The Ball is in its net on Andrew’s back. It is the net that Phil carried The Ball in in 2002 and modified in Bamako to fit Andrew’s backpack. Andrew decides to take The Ball out and pass it to some of the kids. This has been the usual case in Mali.

But this time there is a misunderstanding. The kids assume that The Ball is a gift. In no time, about thirty of them are fighting tooth and nail for it. A dust cloud envelops us all. The locals are watching on with interest. It is getting nasty. There are pushes here and even punches there. Andrew, realising his error, goes in after The Ball. And eventually recovers it. But no without a fight…

The Ball is almost lost at the mosqueThe Ball held high in the air after a football riot in front of the mosque.

We soon discover that the children here are actually used to being gifted balls by foreigners. It seems that many of the tourist guidebooks recommend giving a football to a child. Mali, like the rest of Africa, is football mad, but these kids are too poor to buy their own footballs. We decide that, in future, before The Ball is unveiled, we must first attempt to explain what The Ball is all about.

The Ball gets a cleanCleaning The Ball

Long journeys, desert dust and open sewers have left The Ball feeling and smelling terrible. It is now dirty — very dirty — and it gets a thorough clean in Djenné. It scrubs up well after its recent ordeals.

Written by on Thursday, March 25th, 2010

3 comments on this post

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Ball, said: Arrival in Djenné: We arrive in Djenné as the sun is going down, after a gruelling 14 hour bus ride from Bamako. … […]

  2. Mali’s mud mosque architecture is directly related to local domestic architecture. Materials are selected both for their economy and their appropriateness for the remarkably hot climate.

    • Yea Parag, everywhere you look round here mud and wooden beams make houses and grain stores (these are raised off the ground on wooden stilts). Every semi dry pond bottom becomes a mud brick factory and all straightish timbers are carefully harvested.
      Sleeping on mud roofs comes highly recommended and meets my keen expectations for coolness. And to get up there… simply a notched tree trunk with a ‘Y’ shaped top, leaning like a steep ladder. Simple and Classic.

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The Ball 2018 left England on 25th March 2018 and travelled to the World Cup in Russia.

The Ball 2014 kicked off from England on 9th Jan 2014 and headed to the World Cup in Brazil.

The Ball 2010 left England on 24th Jan 2010 headed to the Opening Ceremony in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Ball 2006 travelled from London to the Opening Ceremony in Munich, Germany.

The Ball 2002 was carried 7000 miles across Europe and Asia to the World Cup finals in Korea & Japan.