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From Author

Karen E. Lange

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From Photographer

Sarah Leen

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Sarah Leen

image: Earth
In a City of Earth

Field Notes From Author
Karen E. Lange
The festival marking the end of Ramadan is Djénné’s biggest religious celebration. Everyone puts on new clothes, and every man and boy goes to pray. Since the mosque is too small to hold all of them, they gather in a large open space on the edge of town. I went there in a fancy West African dress, hoping to experience the event as the people of Djénné do. But when I arrived I saw thousands of men and boys who had laid down prayer mats and seated themselves in ranks on the ground. As a woman and a non-Muslim, I wondered how I could join them. Then Moctar Cissé, my guide, motioned for me to follow him to a mat.
I took my place, shoulder to shoulder with him and the other men and was relieved that no one objected. A few boys—seated behind their fathers—turned around, pointed, and smiled. Then everyone grew silent. We stood, and the Imam said, “Allah akbar!—God is most great!” “Allah akbar,” we answered. Then we bowed, kneeled, and pressed our foreheads to the ground until the dirt stuck to our skin.
Moctar’s young cousin, Mama, suddenly fell sick with malaria. She had been well enough to go to school, but a few hours later she was so weak that Moctar had to carry her draped across his arms. We drove her to the hospital, where a doctor gave her an injection. Then Moctar and the driver went to get Mama’s mother, leaving me to stay with the girl.
I sat beside her on the bare mattress where she lay tossing and tried to comfort her. “Where is my mother?” she kept asking. All I could say was, “Moctar will bring her soon. You must rest.”
Her forehead burned with fever, and she told me her head hurt. I had her lay with her head in my lap. But again and again she rose, and I supported her while she emptied her bladder or bowels into plastic bowls on the floor.
I felt so helpless and scared. I had never seen a case of malaria this bad. I held her in my arms as she moaned, wishing I could make it stop.
I had abdominal cramps throughout the first couple of weeks in Mali. I figured it was just my body adjusting to the food and the water and the heat. Then one day, while visiting a Koranic school, the chief student brought me a cup of deep purple tea. Moctar told me that people drank it every day to stay healthy and that it could cure all kinds of sicknesses. I was skeptical. But it was good, so I drank it.
The next morning I told Moctar that the tea had worked; my cramps were gone. After that, whenever I went to his parents’ house for a meal, he bought a big bag of dried green leaves and poured hot water over them to make a couple of cups of kinkeliba. I never felt sick again.

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