Godfried Peter Agbezudor
Mopti market description and explanation
Salt trader's market ambi
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
22 Jan 2003
- 14.5 -4.2
- 14:12 - 1:31:12
- 13.905556 -4.555
- 1:31:14 - 2:04:50
- SONY TCD-D7
- Sennheiser MKH 50
- Sennheiser MKH 30
Decoded MS Stereo
Log of DAT #:12a
Date: January 22-23, 2003
G = Godfried Peter Agbezudor
IM = Issa Mohammed
R = Roberto Cerea
WD = Wade Davis
CR = Chris Rainier
AC = Alex Chadwick
CJ = Carolyn Jensen
Leo = Leo del Aguila
0:01 Leo begins recording, same setup, MS, MKH 50, Sonosax.
1:31 AC-It's 6 o'clock in the morning, we're just leaving Timbuktu. We're going to run down a little bit of plain to take a ferry across the Niger River to get to the other side and continue our journey through Mali.
1:44-2:08 -Ambi. Driving to the ferry.
2:17-arrival at the ferry, ambi of truck motor.
2:30 -FX. Door slams
3:02 -African boy saying "cava"and other French-very cute.
4:33 CR-Well we're right out side of Timbuktu about 12 kilometers and we're down on the banks of the Niger River and there's a little ferry and we have to cross the Niger River, go to the southern side. And that sort of separates the desert from the savannah and the lower parts of Mali. And we're going to make a mad dash to make it to Mopti. And Mopti is this wonderful port where boats come from all over the Niger. And we're going to make sunset.
AC-How far is it to Mopti?
5:10 CR-Oh, in kilometers I think it's about 300 kilometers so I think it's going to be an 8 hour drive.
CR-And we have to, you know Timbuktu is still very much in the desert and we have to drive about a couple hours overland and then we pick up the main road that goes down into the lower part of Mali and then it will be a quicker drive then.
5:43-Ambi. Getting ready to go.
6:22-motor pulling the boat
6:52-8:33-still Ambi, but you can hear the water, getting ready to go gets better sounding with water, people talking, and some music in background.
8:34-FX. Cranking and boat motor.
8:52-14:12-Ambi. Hum of boat motor, water, people in background.
14:22 AC-Today's the 23rd of January. It's not quite 9 o'clock in the morning and this is our first roll of the day. This is a Radio Expeditions field recording of the market in Mopti, Mali, on the 23rd of January, 2003.
14:39-FX. Motor cycle.
14:47 AC-Three days down river from Timbuktu you get here, Mopti. It's a huge market town. Well, huge, it's 70,000 people or so, but that's big over here. It's on the Niger River. This is where the salt winds up, goes to market and then gets sold to people who will take it throughout West Africa.
15:08-15:43-Ambi. Sounds of the market.
15:44-Leo is having trouble with the left channel.
16:25-21:17-Ambi. Sounds of the market.
21:18-Leo having more audio problems.
21:35-23:21-Ambi. Sounds of market. (missing left channel)
23:22-Leo still having audio difficulties
28:17 AC-Godfried can you tell me where we are?
28:19 G-We are in the fish market of Mopti where fish is brought in by the Bozos, who are said to be the greatest fishermen along the Niger River.
More audio difficulties, audio cutting out on left channel
29:07 AC-Godfried can you tell me where we are?
G-We are in Mopti, in the fish market of Mopti, where fish is sold. Fish brought in by the Bozos, a population in Mali said to be one of the greatest fishermen along the Niger River.
29:25 AC-All these different stalls we see along here, but the fish isn't the way I'm used to seeing fish back in the United States. This is all treated fish.
G-Ya, these are fish treated in order to last. And depending on where it is going it doesn't really matter that they are going to consummate here in Mali. It is a point where fish is exported to other Savannah regions, or per se, Sahel regions where it is difficult for people to get fish. So what they do here is smoke the fish or they preserve it with salt (unintelligible) so they can keep longer and longer.
30:27 G-Fish is preserved with salt and (unintelligible) to make it keep longer and longer, but it doesn't really mean it's only going to be used and consumed here in Mali. It is also sent to other Sahelian or Savannah regions.
30:44 AC-Why is it that Mopti became the place where this market is? I mean this is the transport point for the whole region. Why is that?
30:52 G-Ya, this place is very important for the fish market because it is the place founded by the Bozos.
AC-The Bozos are a tribal people?
G-Ya, they are the fishermen and they move along the river depending on the movement of the fish. They founded this place and after a century they left again and the Filoni came to take over. But the Bozos never forgot this place.
AC-Another group the Filoni?
G-Another group. The Filoni are a herdsman who wander about below the desert with their animals. The Bozos never forget this point because they found this point where they can sell their fish and it is a place where they have a connection with the outside world. Not forgetting Timbuktu, not forgetting Gaul, but below the desert, it is a point where they can actually sent fish right out even as far as Burkina Faso. So the Bozos again finally came back and even though they were the first settlers they became the second settlers again in this region. So it is very important for the Bozos.
32:02 AC-On a walk along there are all kinds of stalls, boxes all stacked up and these great huge baskets of fish that would hold just several bushels of dried fish all kinds of fish. There's a kind of a catfish here that's together and it's smoked and not treated, except that it's smoked, and the small fish are cut open and peeled back and then salted. And then there are some eels that are salted, I think. There are lots of other things for sale here; baskets, there's rope back up the way, and I'm sure we'll find other things as we move up these stalls here.
32:54 AC-There are lots of things for sale here. There's a boy trying to sell a frozen fruit drink. There are a huge tub of baskets of fish. Some of it smoked, some of it salted. Back up the way there's a man selling this what is supposed to be the world's greatest cosmetic. It's some kind of an extract from a nut and it's solidified now, but if you take it out into anyplace warm it turns into an oil. It's supposed to be the best skin cream cosmetic base anywhere in the world and it only grows here. It's from a plant called a shea nut and it only grows in the wild here. You can't cultivate it, it just grows in the wild. We bought 1 kilogram, that is 2.2 pounds of this cream, this kind of like butter. We paid one dollar for it.
34:00-34:15-Ambi. Sounds of the market
34:17-41:30-Ambi. Market (audio problems)
41:31 AC-So much fish Godfried. Who's going to eat all this fish? So much fish, who's going to eat all this?
41:37 G-Well this fish is mostly exported. When I say exported I don't mean to Canada, to the States, whatever, but I mean exported to other neighboring countries where fish is very scarce and very difficult to find. And it is the duty of the merchants here to send this fish around the continent.
Leo suggests Alex talk about landmass and fish
42:11 AC-Mali doesn't have, Mali doesn't even have a coast. It isn't even on the ocean.
G-Ya, ya, ya, it is true that Mali is a landlocked land full of desert. But at least there is one river that cuts the country into two, if not. But then this part of the river, this part of the desert, has a lot of fish. You can talk of the capitol, which have the most of fish that is found in most rivers in Africa, but the fish that you find in Mali has a lot of taste and that is why most of the people South of the Sahara depend on the fish coming from Mali. And I'll bet you when you go to Bamako, where it is closer to the coast, the people of Bamako love to eat the fish of the Niger that is coming to here.
AC-Bamako is the capitol.
43:15 G-Bamako is the capitol of Mali. It is very close to Senegal where they can easily get fish coming from the sea, but they always prefer this fish. So that's to say fish coming from here it's very tasty, really, really tasty.
45:49-50:35-Ambi. Shipping yard.
50:44 AC-The forges are powered by bicycle wheels. There's a young boy sitting behind the blacksmith turning a little bicycle wheel that's connected to a little lower pump and then a long tube that runs down along the ground and into the coal fire. That's providing the air, the coal heats up very hot, the iron heats up and they beat it into nails.
51:16 AC-There's a man walking by me right now. He's got a sack of millet which is the grain they grow around here. He's carrying it on his shoulders. That's 220 pounds and he's not a big guy.
51:32-52:01-Ambi. Working at shipping yard.
52:02 AC-I saw men carrying sacks of millet, a hundred kilograms each. They want us to get out of their way and you can understand it. That's 220 pounds each that each man is carrying on his shoulders.
52:14-52:41-Ambi. Shipping yard work.
52:42 AC-Here he goes walking downhill with one of these hundred kilogram sacks on his shoulders. He's walking down a dirt bank wearing flip-flops. They're carrying it, there's a truck back behind us, they're carrying these sacks, oh, probably a couple hundred feet, maybe 300 feet down to a boat.
53:11-53:16 Ambi. Shipping yard.
54:18 AC-This man is, this a new boat that they've just put together here. He's drawing designs on here with chalk. He will use it to paint the boat?
G-He will use it to paint the boat.
AC-What do these designs mean, do you know?
G-No, actually they don't have a real meaning it is just to decorate the boat to make it more attractive. These are the hard woods that come from the forest regions.
54:56 G-Mahogany especially. They come form Ivory Coasts, and then some parts of Ghana, they come from the rainforests.
AC-These are very, very wide boards. These come from big trees.
G-Ya, they carve them into this kind of size because they know that is what is required here. And actually if you see a lot of timber it will take about 5 people to circle around it and stretch out. So it depends on what they need it for. The lumber's also cut in that size and exported to the various parts in West Africa.
AC-Where does this millet, this grain that they're carrying, where is that from?
55:36 G-Ah, well, that's a good question. This millet actually come from the Dogons. The Dogons live about 70 kilometers south of Mopti. Even though they live in rocky areas they are believed to be one of the most industrious populations that live in these mountains. The Falis we call them, the Falis of Mali. And even thought they have very little land, sandy land, the Dogons work throughout the year trying to cultivate this land and they are said to be one of the greatest producers of millet and rice and so forth, all cereals that come from the Sahara. And they found Mopti being the best point of export and that is where they always carry their stuff, bring them up to Mopti, exchange them for the salt that is coming from Taoudenni because there is no salt whatsoever below the river, so they bring their stuff up here, exchange them for salt and fish.
56:55 AC-Alright, well we'll go over to the salt market and see what's happening there.
G-Why not, why not? We might see some Dogons up there doing their trading (laughs)
57:06-57:32-Ambi of shipping yard.
57:35-58:28-Ambi of the salt market.
58:29 AC-This is the salt market at Mopti. This is where that salt from Taoudenni goes. 14 days across the desert. A day, a couple of days from Timbuktu to get traded in to the port, three days down river from there, it ends up here, and from here the salt is broken down into smaller blocks and it just goes all over West Africa.
59:11 AC-This is the salt market at Mopti. This is where that salt from Taoudenni winds up. All that labor, all the work, all the caravans, the camels, the great camel drivers that come across the desert, this is where the salt ends. Fourteen days down from the mine, a couple of days in Timbuktu, for trading and to get to the port, three days down river to Mopti, here to this market place. And from here the salt goes all over West Africa.
59:51 AC-This is the salt market at Mopti. This is where the salt from Taoudenni goes. And from here to all of West Africa.
1:00:04-1:00:13-Ambi. Salt market
1:00:14 AC-Godfried you wanted to show us something here.
G-Ya, I wanted to show you (trails out till 1:00:24). These are the old barrels that buy, (unintelligible) two pieces for the production of mills.
1:00:28-1:01:25-Ambi. Salt market.
1:01:26-FX. Laughter of salt merchants wife? Some woman.
1:01:32 AC-This is a salt merchant carving up a salt block into smaller pieces that he can then sell. He's moving it along with his feet and sawing it away with a long bladed knife.
1:01:46-1:01:55-Ambi. Sounds of salt merchant working with the salt.
1:02:22 AC-This is just an astonishing sight. We're at the salt market in Mopti. We're right up against the river where these great long boats have brought in these salt tablets. Just hundreds and hundreds of these great slabs of salt from the mines of Taoudenni. They're going to be broken up in smaller pieces and then sold in the market here and they are going all over West Africa. But they are stacked against each other, bound up with rope, and waiting for the merchants.
1:02:56-1:03:49-Ambi. Salt market.
1:03:50 AC-I'm just trying to imagine what anyone of those salt miners that we saw in Taoudenni would say if he could be in this market in Mopti, a place that few of them would ever be in their lives, to see this huge stack what for them would be an incredible display of wealth here in the market in Mopti.
1:04:19-1:06:15-Ambi. Salt market.
1:06:24 (Godfried off mic)
AC-All this salt is his salt?
AC-Can I ask him what a kilo of salt costs here?
1:07:48 G-225, 225 safir.
AC-225 for a kilo? Boy, that's pretty cheap, that's about 30 cents. More than 35 cents for 2 pounds of salt from Taoudenni. This is from Taoudenni?
G-translating-Yes. Yes it comes from Taoudenni.
They are having a problem with the interviewee, Godfried explains to him in French what they are doing. He doesn't want to talk so they move on.
1:11:18 AC-So you are a salt merchant?
AC-Is all this salt from Taoudenni?
G-Translates-yes it is.
AC-Why is it that the salt fro Taoudenni is so special?
1:11:45-merchant speaks French.
G-It is very special to the people because a lot of people love to use the salt in cooking.
AC-What would he pay for the father salt, the father slab of salt?
G-Here we normally pay 12,500 for a slab of salt.
AC-Does he normally pay in Timbuktu and ship it down here?
G-Sometimes I go up to Timbuktu to buy and sometimes it costs me 7500 for a slab of salt, or sometimes 8000 depending on the season, but here it's 12,000.
AC-And you sell it by the kilogram?
AC-And how much for a kilo?
G-I sell them in pieces, and a piece is a kilo and a kilo is 225 francs.
AC-225 francs. How's business?
G-Now the market has fallen.
G-Now it's not moving well because now people have left their camels to go grazing and there's not much salt coming in and the market is not going upward.
AC-Is it because of the trucks?
G-Well now a lot of people have left their animals to go grazing. Even though the people go with their trucks up to Taoudenni and bring us the salt it is nothing more than that of the camel. But then people who buy the salt from us has also decreased. They've also decreased the number. They're not selling as much as they used to.
Alex let's us know that the other voice we hear is another young man who has joined the conversation.
1:16:13 G-He's saying previously people come from all over West Africa from Mopti and take them away, but these days they come and they buy just a small quantity and they don't know why.
AC-The merchants don't know why the market the market's drying up?
G-They don't know why.
AC-Maybe this is the answer, this salt is cheaper. This salt is from America I bought, this is sea salt. It must be cheaper to get sea salt than it is to get salt from Taoudenni.
AC-What does he think. Does this taste like Taoudenni salt?
AC-Let me taste the difference.
G-It's not the same
Alex tries the salt.
1:18:06 G-This is mild. The salt that you brought, this is mild.
AC-Mild salt. The salt from Taoudenni actually tastes milder. The salt from the ocean actually is...
AC-It has a stronger, saltier taste. This is a much milder salt and I have to say it tastes better, it doesn't taste as harsh. It's soft.
AC-And this is the first time I've tasted it. All the places that we've been, Taoudenni, Timbuktu, I've never actually scraped any salt off of one of these blocks.
1:19:32-1:19:47-Alex scraping the salt and tasting it.
AC-And it does taste different. It's milder. It's much less harsh than the salt I bought at the local market near my home. It's really good salt, it's really good.
Silence on tape
1:21:30 AC-Ask his name.
G-Translates-Ibrahim, Ibrahim what? Gets the spelling of his name. Yenar.
AC-And where's he from? Mopti?
AC-You're from Timbuktu and you're down here?
G-translates-We are here to work.
1:22:13 AC-Okay. Do you think that anyone outside of West Africa knows about Taoudenni salt?
AC-Une moment, en Englaise (one moment, in English).
1:23:46 G-Yes people know about the salt even outside West Africa, and then I went on to ask him how people know about the salt in Taoudenni. Then he said in the beginning people were traveling outside Africa with camels and they were selling salt as far as outside Africa.
AC-But that doesn't happen anymore, now the salt of Taoudenni is just sold here, but it's a delicious, it's a very good salt and I think if the rest of the world knew about the salt of Taoudenni maybe the market would increase, more people would come and they could sell Taoudenni salt in France, in the United States, all over the world.
1:24:59 G-There are people coming from France even from Italy as I saw the last time they took a lot of salt from here and sent them to Italy and France.
AC-So maybe it begins.
1:25:14 I-Long time
G-It's been a long time they've been eating the salt of Taoudenni outside Africa. It's not the beginning.
They break so Leo can get some more sounds of the market.
1:25:53-1:31:12 Ambi-Sounds of the salt traders at market.
1:32:24 CR-We've just arrived in Djenne and we crossed over a ferry to a little island where Djenne is located and we're on top of a roof over-looking the world's largest adobe mosque and the call to pray will happen in a few minutes and people from all over the small town of Djenne will flood towards the mosque. And they're also preparing for prayer tomorrow. Tomorrow is the holy day so we'll come back in the morning and literally see hundreds of people flooding into this amazing, amazing adobe mosque.
1:33:07 AC-Um, we're sitting here and the sun is about to set and we've scouted out a great location that is on someone's rooftop. We've just crawled through this amazing adobe house up through a small staircase, sitting on top, waiting for the perfect light to get the perfect shot of this building.
1:34:17 AC-Well, there's a sign in French down there by the entrance to the mosque. It says Tres Entredez Non Muslims, non-Muslims do not enter here.
1:35:16 CR-So I've been here when all the men are lined up on this incredible wall here and they just sit the whole day by relaxing and then probably in a few minutes when there's a call to prayer they'll get up, wander around the main entrance and then head on into the mosque.
Leo-As photographers what are you guys looking for?
1:35:49 CR-Well, for me, whenever I arrive in an area, and especially an area as beautiful as Djenne and then you sit here in front of this mosque that is exciting as Notre Dame or anything church that we've created here in the west, we're sitting in front of this incredible building, but I'm waiting for the magic light and it's only when the light starts to really start unfolding in it's magic way will I really begin to photograph. So often during the middle of the day I'm scouting out a location. So we've scouted out a location, I'm sitting here on top of the building and now it's time to wait for the magic light. And it's the combination of the light and what we're looking at that will combine to make, hopefully, a memorable, beautiful, iconic image of this place.
1:36:53 WD-Chris is really too modest because he's right in saying that light is essential because after all photography mean to write with light, but with Chris's photography he goes to some impossibly deep metaphorical level. So when he gets to places like Djenne and looks at this mosque and thinks of the ancient tradition of Islam it's astonishing to me to see how he evokes that entire richness of tradition in a single image. It's extraordinary. That's what makes him one of the great photographers today.
LEO-Wade could you attempt to describe what we're looking at?
1:37:36 WD-Well this was a mosque that apparently was only built in the middle of the 20th century. The original mosque, I believe, was torn down, was it not, by a very sincere devotee of Islam. And this mosque itself was built during colonial times in part, according to our contacts through the good will actually of colonial authorities and in particular one French official, was it not, who directed funds into this position. But that's the story. But what's most impressive that on our journey to Timbuktu, in every little community, whether it's a Bambada community, or a Filani community, or a Tomashek community, we've been seeing these wonderful little mosques that emerge like anthills out of the ground. Like all adobe architecture there's not a single right angle in the construction. You have this amazing feeling of rounded Earth and mounds coming out of the ground with these little, kind of, almost spires that point to the heavens. And it's amazing to arrive here in Djenne and be in the presence and be in, you know, be in the presence of one of the biggest adobe structures in the world, which is one of those mosques sort of expanded to the scale of a cathedral. That's seems to me to be the most astonishing thing. And of course, to see the technology of the construction is itself, even if the building was only put up in the early part of the 20th century, the construction is ancient. It's exactly from it's external appearance at least, it appears to be very much in style as it is in Timbuktu the Sangori mosque which we know dates to what is it the 13th century, the 14th century? The same thing at any rate. So you see the same style and technique has been used in the construction of all the mosques for a very long time.
1:40:02 CR-And if you can imagine this mosque, as we sit in front of it, it's riddled with these horizontal posts, these posts that come out that make it look so beautiful. And then once a year, after the rains have come, the whole community comes out and re-plasters the whole structure and how they do that with adobe, and how they do that is they lay planks and they crawl up on the planks and re-plaster it with mud and it becomes a very important ritual here in Djenne.
WD-We're starting to get the sun now
1:41:32 AC-Chris let me ask you something. Do you think it's going to be possible to turn Wade into a good photographer?
CR-He's already a very good photographer (they both laugh). We've had actually long, wonderful conversations in the car between seeing with words and seeing with light and I think Wade is an amazing photographer. And if he shifts his energy totally to photography I think he would become one of the great photographers because he has a very poetic way of looking at the world and for me photography is all about poetry. The poetry of light, the poetry of vision.
WD-But tell about how you, you described in the car how you actually pre-imagine a scene and what a great photograph means to you.
1:42:23 CR-For me, when I come to an area, we all have romantic notions of how an area will be. The Sahara desert, Djenne mosque. So you have in your minds eye what is often called in photography a pre-visualization, sort of a concept of what you want. And when I go through an area there's pre-visualizing it and then adapting to the reality of the situation. But wherever I go, whether it's to take a portrait of somebody, or to take a picture as the sun has now come out of this mosque, I have in my mind's eye an image that I want to complete. And I want to try and work with the shades for me black and white very often, and shades of gray, black, and white to create an iconic image so when someone looks at that image you have the same feeling, hopefully, that I have sitting here in front of the mosque. So you'll look at that image and it'll vibrate deep in your belly and it'll sort of go beyond the two-dimensional level and moves into the realm of the spirit. And for me that's when an image is successful, when it takes the reader beyond yes here's a picture of a beautiful building and it goes into places beyond words and describes a place of the spirit, a place of the heart, a place of the power of an amazing religion that could create something like this.
1:45:28-FX. Taking pictures.
1:45:49 CR-I think the also the other interesting thing about a wonderful trip like this is trying to draw a thread. We've gone to the salt mine, worked our way down through the harsh Sahara desert, now we've gone to Timbuktu, we've worked our way through the Savannah and the Niger Delta, Djenne and then we'll head on to the Dogon. And as a visual storyteller putting together a project like the ethnosphere I'm always trying to keep in mind how can I tell a story visually. Writers have an obligation to say it in words and wonderful sentences. Photographers have an obligation to say it with the magic of light. And really for me I'm always trying to go deeper and take that image which can sum up a whole expression of what a culture is like, sum up a whole expression of what a religion is like, or a moment when you turn the corner and you look at a building like this or you arrive into the middle of the Sahara desert or we stand before the Dogon (brief audio blink here) as they do their dances. How in a still image that doesn't move, doesn't have words, can I express the macro with a simple image that is of one small event? That's the beauty of photography cause it can really speak in metaphors like that when it's a successful image.
1:48:03-1:48:12-FX. Taking pictures.
1:48:34 CR-So what I want to do here in a few minutes is go to the roof of another building, get a different angle and then in the morning we're going to get a roof on the other side because we're facing the light or facing the side of the building that has the sunset now of course in the morning we're going to want to be on the other side. We're going to scout out a location and then in the morning we're going to take our friend Issa and get a wonderful photograph of him praying with the Djenne mosque behind him and then we're going to talk to him about Islam.
1:49:45-1:52:09-Ambi. In front of the mosque.
1:52:11-FX. Ferocious children.
1:52:33-Ambi. They are looking for a new location. Taking pictures.
1:57:28 R-So they put the mud on the walls (unintelligible conversation).
1:58:12 CR-I've always dreamed of having this portable cherry picker that you could just float in on a trailer. This is where I'd want one. I'd want to be 50 feet in the air where we were about 30 feet towards where we were looking down. That'd be the right shot.
AC-And why would that be the right shot?
1:58:36 CR-Over there we had some telephone wires in the way, some lights, the tree was kind of a little bit off. Here we've got a beautiful shot, but there's another tree. And the hardest thing to do is walk away from the image that's almost perfect and yet you can't quite get it because telephone wires are in the way, or a tree. It would be wonderful to float up in a little hovercraft and get this perfect, perfect image. But then that's the moment to rethink it, you're pre-visualization, but in a different way. You say well maybe I can get the same feeling, but in a different way. Maybe I can move over here or use a different lens, but I'm not in this exact same position.
AC-Tell me what is the feeling?
1:59:22 CR-It's the feeling when you look at an image and it goes just beyond that straight objective documentation and it becomes an emotional, visceral response that you can feel in your belly and it becomes something like a fine wine or a fine cheese you go back to again and again and you sort of peel the layers away and all great art in a way is like that. You're drawn and you go again and again and it has a mystery to it, you don't know why. And that's for me, the ultimate is to try and take an image where people live with that image for a long period of time and it becomes a friend and it teaches them layer after layer, year after year.
2:01:07 R-They are coming, people are coming for the prayer.
2:01:10 CR-So they'll start coming. So we'll sit and wait, we've got another twenty minutes. The sun is gonna pop out from that cloud.
They discuss where to shoot.