Agadez’s Grand Mosque

The minaret of the Grand Mosque in Agadez, Niger

Entering the minaret, you crouch on all fours to pass through a small doorway. Grains of sand stick to your hands and bare feet as you crawl up the unevenly spaced dry mud stairs. It is pitch black. As you twist your way up the tight turns, bats take flight, skimming your shoulders and the top of your head. The guano underfoot smells sharp and stings the inside of your nose. Approaching the middle of the tower, you gradually regain your full upright position. It is more spacious, and sunlight cuts through small, square windows. A few more turns and the tower narrows again, forcing you to stoop. Suddenly, a breath of sweet air causes you to lift your head again. Warm sunlight and a view of Agadez’s flat-roofed buildings stretch out below you. Beyond the mud buildings, the expanse of the desert.

The mosque’s imam says that climbing the tower represents the stages of life. In the beginning, you crawl like a baby. In the middle, you walk upright like an adult. And right before you reach the top (paradise), you stoop like an elderly person.

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