Amadou Cisse had been working for several months on opening his new venture, a restaurant in Djenne, one of Mali’s most famous places after Timbuktu. A Unesco World Heritage site, it is the oldest known city in sub-Saharan Africa, and the magnificent Great Mosque of Djenne is the largest mud brick structure in the world.
Since Cisse was 13 years old he has worked in the tourist trade, an accident of circumstance that became a way of life. He comes from a poor family and was living with his grandmother as a boy. A good student and fine linguist, on his way home from school one day he passed through the market and overheard an Italian lady trying to bargain. The man at the bazaar and the tourist couldn’t understand each other, but Cisse could. He intervened. As a thank you she paid Cisse what he considered was a small fortune, enough to buy a coca cola. Years later when Michael Palin did his series 80 Days Around the World, Pygmme, as Cisse has been called ever since, was his Mali guide.
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Originally published at On Line Opinion the 10th of July, 2012.