Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Road Babe Dispatch From Larabanga Mosque

My decision to go to Larabanga was based almost entirely on the need to contradict disbelief. When I heard about the 8th century mud mosque, I asked a question that any logical person would. How is that possible? I even looked at photos, but this wasn’t sufficient. I refused to believe that a mud structure could survive that long.

Larabanga is smaller than any dot on the map I’ve ever seen. Northern Ghana with its relentlessly dry and dusty weather begged the question of how it was possible to even make mud. I arrived at the end of the dry season, knowing rains were just around the corner, despite the fact I couldn’t yet taste any moisture in the air.

When I stepped off the crowded bus, I was quickly swooped up by some playing children who led me to their home, actually a community house with an open fire pit in the center for cooking. I got to know them and their family before posing the question I had come to ask. Who would take me to see the mosque and explain how it had been preserved for centuries?

This conservative Muslim community is wary of women, especially ones who want to get close to the mosque. I knew I had my work cut out for me. When I did get around to asking, the first comment out of the older boy’s mouth was, “No women allowed.”

“I don’t want to go inside,” I assured him. “I just want to see it.”

My answer seemed to satisfy him, so he led me and my friends to see the inexplicable construction. As we got closer, it became obvious to me that the protruding poles weren’t just ornamental. They functioned like a trellis for climbing the structure without damaging it. The young guy gestured while explaining how fresh mud was spread from the top down every year. I couldn’t help but wonder if the mosque could even be considered the same one after so much time renewing it and transforming it with new layers of mud. Surely, all of the original structure had long ago fallen down as dirt and been swept out.

I noticed a tiny door on the side that looked like only a child could fit through. My walking over to it clearly made the guy nervous. “No women allowed,” he called after me. About that time, I realized it was the front door, the only door, and anyone who entered would appropriately have to do so on their knees.

Mittie Babette Roger is from Louisiana but lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. She received an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Naropa University and authored the book It's Better to Visit the Shaman Without Questions to Ask. She travels the world volunteering to help disadvantaged children and promoting Blue Iguana Tequila to empower serious drinkers.


  1. I think I've heard of this place once, but for the life of me I can't recall where... thanks for posting about it!