Crimson unfurls in the sky like a great silk banner and a jewelled sun plunges into the earth. In a few minutes, the adhaan will fill the sweet African air, echoing beautifully over the town from the minaret. The call to prayer washes tranquillity over Mali, soothing and powerful, in lilting Arabic.

My mother calls me, ‘Ajar Amadi! Ajar, come to lead the prayer.’ Tears spring to my eyes as I bend before God, reciting ancient words with my Malian brothers and sisters. Poetry is beloved to us and there is no poetry greater than God’s words, which also possess a certain mathematical perfection.

After the prayer, our community gathers to listen to the jali, or the storyteller. He performs our histories, tales and songs from memory and weaves vivid pictures with his words which make our hearts crave more. Today, he strikes fear and fascination into our souls, speaking of men with spectre-white skin, wielding weapons which burst into flame. These barbarians, these ivory demons, are said to snatch men away from their homes and return with their prisoners to their strange lands where no free and civilised man has set foot in.

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