Mali 1987

I stopped the car on the bridge; the bearded stranger was already sitting there watching, drinking from the warm bottle of Djinoo Tonic Water I had sold him just ten minutes before. We talked for a bit while we watched the preparations for the Friday prayer. I apologised again for the drink being warm but there was a power cut all over town.

Mopti’s main mosque is just off the bridge to the left. It’s impressive enough: high mud walls surrounded a very decorative building made of mud brick covered in mud plaster, with wooden beams sticking out of it at regular intervals. There were highly decorative turrets and finials on the rooftop, also mud. More impressive were the crowds. The mosque’s prayer hall and open courtyard were clearly already full but still people were streaming towards the mosque, carrying their prayer mats or rugs or animal skins, swinging their prayer-beads and dressed in their Friday finery.

Heading for prayer

Heading for prayer

With the mosque itself full, people started laying their mats down along the path shaded by the outer walls. Then they began to fill up the shade across the street under the trees. Some women were marking out a dusty space further up the street. Still people were coming along side-streets and over the bridge from the port and residential areas. The gaps between the mosque’s walls and trees, that’s the tarmac of the road, soon filled up, and then mats began to be laid back along the bridge we were on. Already I couldn’t reverse as people were standing behind me; other vehicles were similarly trapped.

The powercut meant that the megaphone system was down and the imam, the leader of the prayers, could not be heard out here. But suddenly there was a soft sound like the buzzing of an aeroplane heading towards us, as ‘Allah’ was whispered by hundreds of voices, spreading out from the mosque back along the street to those near us on the bridge - and the worshippers knelt and began to pray.