Work, Play and General Musings


(Saturday 3rd March)

Bonjour from a hot and sweaty Bamako!

It’s growing hotter here each day now, and next week the first high of 40°C is expected. This week has passed really quickly and the clock definitely feels like it’s ticking now. We have lots to do and only 5 weeks left, and when you disregard the final de-brief week, it leaves just 4.

In preparation for my complex needs workshop, I’ve written a document entitled ‘Supporting Children with Complex Needs in School’ which is packed with information and strategies on providing for children with complex disability needs, such as being deaf and blind or having severe learning disabilities. The hope is that it will be useful to the teaching staff at the special schools here that support such students, but will also help government ministers, public sector staff and mainstream school teachers to understand that all children with disabilities can and should have access to education, in-line with the Millennium Development Goal for universal primary education. The booklet currently stands at 40 pages and has now been handed over to Fran to incorporate her knowledge too. We will use this to create our presentation next week. We have a date for the event, and now need to create a guest-list and hand-deliver invitations.

The English lessons at UMAV have now finished and all children had a test at the teacher’s request- I believe they performed quite well!

Teaching English at UMAV

The first of the arts and craft sessions has taken place at Amaldeme, and the children and volunteers created a wonderful ‘Bienvenue á L’Amaldeme’ sign for the front entrance. On Friday, whilst most of my colleagues were at Amaldeme crafting, Fran, JJ and I went to FEMAPH, laptops in hand, ready to start a database project. Being computer-literate, FEMAPH wants us to help set-up a database containing information on all of the disability organisations in Mali. On arrival, to my horror, what followed was a 3 HOUR, VERBAL presentation, complete with diagrams, abbreviations and jargon, on the THEORY of databases, using a diary as an example throughout. It was also in FRENCH. Whilst my colleague’s translations meant I understood the French, I did not understand the ICT guy’s theory at all, it was mind-numbing stuff, and I wondered if we actually needed this information to work on the database (and if so, I would be no good at all on the project since j’ai ne pas compris! I expressed my concerns for myself and the rest of the non-Francophone team, and we decided that we would look carefully at the project and see what is needed and what we can offer. FEMAPH also wanted us to contribute 3 days a week to the project, which is a large amount of time. I think it would be best to leave the data-base creation to Mr ICT and for us to work on inputting the data, which we are all happy to do. Fran and I bought delicious Hippodrome ice-cream following the session as a reward for our endurance!

Whilst at FEMAPH, we heard a daunting story. A gentleman casually mentioned that he missed the wedding we’d attended when we first arrived in Mali because he’d had trouble at home when a thief broke into their house. Fran asked if everything was resolved, to which the man casually explained that the thief was now dead as the community tied him up and burned him. Earlier in our trip, René had explained that people view the police here as ineffective and so communities take it upon themselves to punish criminals. He said it was commonplace to burn thieves. He gave an example of a time he tried to stop this from happening when a thief stole a bike, but the crowds were too large and he was forced to leave the scene. I thought perhaps this was a rare happening, but given the story told at FEMAPH it seems it is indeed common that if caught, thieves are burnt to death by crowds of people. René explained that the police cannot prosecute in these cases as it is impossible to find out who was responsible for the execution.

We had a stressful period mid-week when we found out we were way over-budget with the projects since ideas had expanded and costs rose. We had to sit down and take a serious look at budgets. Unfortunately, the playground and garden plans were consuming most of our funds. We started with a total budget for all of the projects over 3 months of £1000. We raised a further £500 for the playground and garden. This isn’t very much in the grand scheme of things, and with only £830 allocated to UMAV (a split of the total budget plus the fundraising, to be used for all the UMAV projects) and a potential bill of £1300 for the playground and garden, we’ve had to get rid of the garden and change some of the playground equipment. We decided that the other projects were cheap to run and meaningful, and the playground and garden were already over-budget, so with the playground being more sustainable we cut the garden. We do hope however that we can find the funds to re-instate the garden on a smaller scale. If you’d like to, you can donate online at We have had a couple of newspaper articles published this week: Megan in her local paper, and the group in The Observer on Saturday.

A little section about our work in The Observer, 03 March 2012

We’ve had several social activities this week, as always. On Tuesday night we ate at a delicious Ethiopian restaurant, which was quite expensive but very classy! On Thursday we visited Adama and Mohammed Dolo’s house (IS staff) for drinks. They live in a large house on the other side of town, and we sat outside in the spacious garden listening to music and chatting under the mango trees. On Friday evening we drove up to Point G, a mountainous viewpoint over Bamako, to watch the sunset, but the dust/smog above the city prevented the picturesque African sunset from taking place. It was very peaceful at Point G, although standing atop the hill, we could hear the sounds of Bamako bouncing across the valley- beeping horns, the sound of wood pummeling, clashing noises (one of which keeps me up at night but I don’t know what it is), shouting voices and music. On Friday night we all napped til 11pm-ish then headed out to Byblos and Ibiza nightclubs at The Hippodrome. We spent Saturday (today) by the huge pool at a local hotel complex, and tomorrow we are travelling to a place called Bamcoumana to go island hopping by boat on the Niger.

Sharing pictures with Dolo.

The view of Bamako from Point G. Bamako is 95 square miles in size... it's huge! It's the fastest growing city in Africa, 6th fastest in the world. The River Niger runs through the city.

I’m starting to worry that the unique sights and sounds of Mali are becoming so typical to me that I’ll forget to document them and then I’ll forget the little things that make Bamako what it is. I think I’ll create a little list of general musings:

• Toilets here don’t contain toilet roll. Instead there is a little plastic kettle which is filled with water and used to clean ones-self. Our houses, bars and restaurants have western flushing toilets, but most other places, e.g. schools, homes, have squatting toilets.

The toilet teapot. No matter where you go, they all have the same multi-coloured plastic design!

• People don’t smile on photos. Having looked at many photos of people pulling serious faces: wedding pics, graduation, and even a group of 3 year-olds at a children’s party, we realized people don’t smile for the camera. They also pull very serious faces when video cameras are around (which we noticed at the wedding). One time, when we were being filmed for Malian TV at the ambulance ceremony, Rachel was laughing and joking when a camera appeared. Much to our amusement, she stopped in her tracks and pulled THE MOST serious face. The camera filmed her for about a minute whilst the camera-man laughed- she knows how it works in Mali!

• At the side of the road today, I witnessed a group of men undertaking one of the world’s worst jobs (in my opinion). They were stood in the sewer trenches digging-up the content and putting it into piles at the side of the road. I don’t know where it goes from there!

• Some people also have the futile job of dusting sand from the tarmac roads. I can see why it’s done, since otherwise the expensive roads would be buried beneath sand in a matter of months, but it must be frustrating to watch more sand fall as the bulk is brushed away. #

• It’s now mango season, so I get to eat the delicious juicy fruit every day. Mangos are 4 for 200CFA (about 22p)! That’s about 20 mangos for the price of 1 in the UK!

• Bamako is full of yellow taxis, á la New York. They tend to be 1980s Mercedes that are on their last legs. They clonk noisily along the road, have no seatbelts, are decorated with football flags and stickers, pictures of Gaddafi and Obama and other tack, and often there is one detached window-winder that we have to pass around to be able to wind-down the windows. The door of one once opened beside me while we were driving, and had I been leaning I would have fallen out!

A tatty little yellow taxi (granted, this isn't a Merc)

The communal window winder! This taxi IS a Merc.

• In Mali, there is a range of about 7 first names per gender, and a handful of surnames. We have all been given Malian names, mine being Oumou Cisse. Rachel is called Bintu Kamara, and at the end of our road is a lady called Bintu Tungara. This lady only speaks Bambara, so we can’t chat to her in French. To keep things friendly however, every single time we go past, she calls out in a fit of giggles, ROFL-ing, ‘Bintu Kamara!’ (and points to Rachel), then ‘Bintu Tungara!’ (and point to herself). She does this again and again for as long as we are in hearing distance, and she finds the similarity of the names as highly amusing today as she did when she first heard several weeks ago!

• People here have a weird sense of humour. I’ve explained the bean joke in the past, but we’ve also seen people in hysterics over jokes like [paraphrasing] ‘there was a woman with really bad teeth and she tried to eat some chicken but she couldn’t because her teeth were so bad’; and ‘(with role-play) there was a man driving a scooter and he was going too fast and he nearly crashed into a sutrama but he didn’t!’ What!? (Both examples from a stand-up comedian)!

• Rubbish is put into metal bins in the street which are burned of a night-time whilst groups of men sit around them chatting until the early hours.

• If we have left-over food at lunchtime, there are sometimes beggars around who will eat what’s left. These are often women with children, or street-kids.

• There is a culture here that everyone shares, and people just ask for things they want from you. For example, Hibak has given away countless water sachets on request. I was once in the market and wanted a banana but had no change, so some random bloke bought me a bunch!

• There is a serious lack of small change in Mali. It can be a hassle finding the change to pay for things, so there’s always someone who owes something to someone else.

• Bamako is fumy and smoggy and smells of sewage and is full of rats. It’s also incredibly expensive.

Anyway, that’s enough for now, I’m sure.

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Jemma x

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