Telli, Mopti, Mali
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Living on the Ledge
Centuries ago, the ancient Tellem people of Mali built their mud homes high up on a cliff ledge on the Bandiagara escarpment. When I first saw the Tellem cliff dwellings, I was at ground level looking up at them; they looked like several rows of tiny brown sandwich bags, sitting side by side, on a kitchen shelf. From the Dogon village of Telli, I followed a guide up to the ledge, clamoring up rocks and stones that were strewn about the base of the escarpment. Dozens of tiny, rectangular mud buildings were positioned all along a narrow ledge and underneath a protective cliff overhang. We entered several of the cliff dwellings, most of which were barely larger than closets in an American home. My guide used a combination of French, with a smattering of an English word or two, and sign language to explain the buildings to me. We stepped inside both private living quarters and public buildings, distinguished by markings scribed into the mud. It really was a village! Standing on the ledge, I could see the village of Telli below and, stretching beyond, the vast plains of the Seno-Gondo. I’m sure living on the ledge afforded the Tellem people protection from both the elements and their enemies. The practical side in me, though, wondered in awe as to how they actually managed to live on the ledge—having to haul up their food and water every day. It’s amazing how people survive to live!
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