Tag Archives: ambulance

Squirmin at the vermin… (and other (more) important stuff)…


I’m now 6 weeks into my stay in Bamako, and despite being incredibly busy, the past week has dragged a little. I hope things speed up a bit more next week.

Mike and Steve our American friends spent the last week with us. On Monday night we cooked dinner for them as a thank-you for the ride home from Segou. The evening involved an exciting game of articulate, Taboo, singing, ukulele playing, and lots of beer. As a result of being hardcore and staying up til 5am, Hibz and I were rewarded with an immensely valuable ‘Last Responders’ t-shirt each (I had been eying these up with no ounce of secrecy since Segou). This made Megan bitterly sour the next day, having “stayed up til 4 [insert vicious bitter face here]”! On dropping us home, the boys cleared out the ambulance, providing us with cups, bowls, cutlery, a tin-opener (well-needed), a frying pan (for pancakes), pasta, generic tomato sauce, super noodles, mug-shots, chocolate, salt, olive oil, muesli, dried fruit, suncream (all factors, including 100 for Alvarez lol), insect repellent, hand sanitizer (tons of it), a hammock and a disco-ball (I’m sure I’ve missed bits). All was greatly appreciated. On Tuesday it was pancake day, and the many foreigners we’ve encountered here (Malian, Burkinabe and American) found the concept of a national day dedicated to pancakes amusing, despite the religious underpinnings. We intended to toss up some pancakes for the boys, but the idea was ditched in exchange for a trip to their hotel to use the pool on the Tuesday. Much to the rest of our group’s delight and in the interest of equity, all remaining members of Team ADYMCMFTW (our group) were given a t-shirt that night, which were to be worn the following day.

Having a sing-song with the Uke.

On Wednesday, it was Team Last Responders’ ambulance hand-over ceremony, to which we were of course invited being bosom buddies and all. The ambulance was being donated to the Salif Keita Global Foundation for use as a mobile clinic. It will treat 5000 people per year for skin conditions such as Albinism and Leprosy, and will save 1000 lives each year too! The ceremony was attended by Mr Keita himself, who was incredibly down to earth, coming over to say hello to us, and even inviting us to stay on his private island whilst in Bamako, which is (quote) ‘paradise in the city’. I think the boys themselves would admit they were a little bit jealous 😉 I believe Steve tried to convince him to perform, to which Salif responded with a jokey head-butt disguised as a hug! The Foundation was incredibly grateful for the ambulance, and it was wonderful to hear of the good work that will come of it.

The ambulance hand-over ceremony, Mike and Steve giving their speeches.

Ste handing over the keys to Mr Keita.

Meeting Salif Keita at the Global Foundation.

Stephen flew back to NYC on Wednesday night, so we had food and drinks at ours then gave him a truly epic send-off (including speeches, group hugs and a tunnel of awesomeness). Mike stayed for a few days more, and on Thursday we took him for a ride of the sutrama to Le Grand Marche so he could experience the real Bamako! After the successful shopping trip, four of us visited Espace Bouna for a bite to eat. The following day we introduced the local Togolese restaurant to Mike for lunch, before he took his afternoon flight to Senegal (followed by Istanbul, followed by Rome).

On Thursday, Fran, Megan, Rachel and I went to Amaldeme to discuss more plans we’ve drawn up. They were very enthusiastic about us organizing weekly arts & crafts sessions for a group of children, as well as an awareness-raising sports day. The design teacher explained that due to complications in the government paying Amaldeme’s (and UMAV’s) water and electricity bills, the school’s supplies have been cut. This means the special school at Amaldeme had to be closed in November as they cannot provide a clean and safe environment for the children so they are not attending at the minute. Some pupils do come to school every day however and merely play around the premises. The teacher suggested that these children could be the ones who take part in the arts and crafts sessions, providing them with an enjoyable and educational activity. The sports day will hopefully involve activities for pupils from both Amaldeme and the mainstream secondary schools to support integration. Children at Amaldeme are often not catered-for in secondary school, which prevents them from achieving so they drop-out of the system. We hope to raise awareness about learning disabilities amongst mainstream staff, students and the general public. We will also run promotional stalls and other activities at the event.

On Friday, JJ and I attended a community event in Lafiabougou run by FEMAPH and Handicap International on the rights of disabled people in line with the disability act. The gentleman from FEMAPH explained that Mali accepted the convention on the rights of people living with disability before France did, but the government has not implemented it and so changes are not coming about.  FEMAPH employs community outreach workers to go into communities and make people aware of the rights of disabled people in order that locals can work together to bring about change in their community. Friday’s session took place in a health centre with a largely professional audience and focused on disabled people’s physical access to services. As a result of FEMAPH and Handicap International’s work, the health centre agreed to put access ramps in place for its service-users.

I feel like my French is improving significantly of late. Both the Amaldeme and FEMAPH sessions were conducted in French and I felt I got the general gist of what was being discussed most of the time (although translation definitely clarified things and I would struggle to express myself in meetings in French). We are still having weekly French lessons, and people here are keen to help us learn. I visited Rene in his office earlier in the week, and on walking through the door he declared that as of now only French will be spoken in his office. We had an hour long meeting in French, which involved lots of ‘pardon?’ ‘Lentment, sil vous plait’, gesture and repetition, but it was a successful meeting and I got the answers I needed. He also advised that if we email him in English, he will hit delete from now on, and instead we must email in French. I didn’t mention the existence of Google Translate.

Several conversations in French I’m proud of to date include:

  • Directing a taxi driver to the alcohol shop and asking him to wait then take us back, followed by Hibz and I telling him his price of 1500CFA was ‘pas un bon prix’ despite the fact he had waited, on account of us getting to the other side of the huge city for that price, and that he had had a cig-break while he waited! Hibs threw in a ‘parce-que nous somme tubabus’, and I told him we would not use his taxi again. The fact we only had a 5000CFA note rendered us useless on the negotiating front. Silly man in his silly ‘Hello-Kitty’ knitted hat!
  • Telling the man in the corner shop that I would not take him to a party with me, nor marry him, on account of my ‘Mari’ back home. Furthermore I did not need a Malian husband for my short stay in Bamako, and no, he could not come back to the UK with me.
  • Asking the water by the pool at Café Bretton to change Megan’s fizzy apple juice to a fresh apple juice. At face value this was less successful, because my attempt at ‘fresh’, or ‘frais’ in French was interpreted as ‘fraises’, or ‘strawberry’, so she ended up with freshly-squeezed strawberry juice. Considering this was not on the menu but was conjured-up anyhow, much to Megan’s delight, I considered this a success.

JJ's Angels... ready to go out and celebrate his birthday!

Saturday was JJ’s birthday, so we went clubbing at Byblos on Friday night. Sadly that evening, after dropping me off at the apartment in a taxi then making the 5-minute walk home to the office, two of the girls were mugged. Fortunately nobody was harmed, although disappointingly both cameras were taken, as well as the famous blue young money cash money (kitty) pencil case. What a shame that one low-life person (a taxi driver) could damage the reputation of the lovely people of Mali. The girls were fine the next day thankfully, and we all went to the pool while JJ went to watch the rugby. We had pizza and drinks with the office staff at Rene’s on Saturday night, and Bridie’s speech was of note because she almost made me cry with it, never-mind birthday boy JJ! I don’t think I can hack going to Rene’s apartment any more though. Bamako is full of rats- daytime, night-time, they don’t care. Initially I was quite tolerant of the rats, until one passed very close to my feet one time. Outside Rene’s block it’s very dark, so much so that you can’t see the ground. But you can hear the rats… squeaking and scuffling. A couple of weeks ago by Rene’s, one passed beside my feet in the dark. Then, on Saturday, Hibz and I shone some light into the area to check it was clear, then ran quickly through the dark patch, which obviously alerted the rats, and one flew past Hibz, just about showing in a glimmer of light. Being terrified, she screamed and screamed, scaring me in turn. It’s a frightening experience. I grew tired early that night so was going to go home alone, but being scared of the rats I waited until Dolo was leaving so I could walk with him. This was a poor decision as he was in no rush, dawdling through the prime rat area, holding me up terrified behind him, listening to them scurry. It was hell.

Finally, last night we heard a rumour (via an ex-pat ‘what’s on in Bamako’ email) that Amadou and Mariam were performing a free concert that night in Hippodrome. Though slightly sceptical (you don’t get owt for nowt these days), we saw they had been interviewed by The Guardian at their Bamako home that weekend so we figured they were around. True enough, they gave a fantastic performance at Exodus, an intimate open-aired venue. I really enjoyed the music and the atmosphere and it was a lovely finish to the week. It was also tubabalicious!

Amadou and Mariam performing at Exodus.

I think I’ve written more than enough for one day,

Jemma x

Festival Sur Le Niger


Over the weekend we attended the Festival Sur Le Niger, a large, open-aired music festival by the river in Segou. Our plans were actually a little sketchy until the actual point of departure. Having called up to book, one of the girls simply told somebody on the phone how many people wanted to come, was given a meeting point, and was told we would stay with a host family in Segou. No booking confirmation, no cash upfront, nothing. Friday lunchtime came and we left for the pick-up point in Bamako- a Total petrol station forecourt. Pick-up was supposed to be at 2, so in true British style we arrived nice and early at 1.30. Then we waited. And waited. Then questioned if we were in the right place. Then we saw a little minibus loaded with luggage and instruments and figured it might be en-route to the festival. It certainly was, but it wasn’t our bus. We waited some more in the mid-day heat- being 36’C on Friday, we had to shade ourselves right in the middle of the petrol station forecourt as 4x4s, trucks and buses filled-up. Spotting a gentleman wearing official attire, we checked with him that we hadn’t missed the bus. He assured us one was coming, a ’30-seater, air-conditioned coach’. At about 4pm, another group of musicians who had been waiting with us at Total jumped on board a little minibus. Conveniently there was space for the 8 of us on board the world’s hottest bus too, so we loaded up our bags. Then the bus drove off. To go and get petrol. Without us. Luckily Hibz (a person who  can’t tolerate much heat), and Rachel (who isn’t a big fan of crowded vehicles) had the foresight to remain on board the stuffy bus-oven with our bags, so they went for a little surprise ride. After about 10 minutes, we got a phonecall to say they had pulled-up outside a ‘random house’, and that the driver had disembarked. About 20 minutes later they arrived back, all filled up with fuel… phew! We jumped on board, hot and sweaty with lots of water and home-made fans and waited to depart. Then waited some more. This is Africa guys! At about 4.40pm we finally set-off to Segou. The 3.5 hour journey was long and hot, but somewhat entertaining. Between reading my book, napping and playing trivial pursuit, a few amusing things happened. The musicians we were on board with were from Senegal and Sweden, and were a husband and wife group with their band and entourage. The guys from the band pulled out a chora and played some music during the ride, then Rachel and Hibz had a little lesson. Each time we stopped, street sellers came up to the window, so I bought myself some new sunglasses for 500CFA (60p), and at one point, someone from the band bought some carrots for everybody to snack on. There was also a point where we stopped at a toll booth and some of the girls wanted to nip to the loo, but because the bus was so jam-packed (it was indeed a 30-seater, but was just little minibus, without air-con), they had to jump out of the window (or be lifted out by a laughing local man in Bridie’s case)! We arrived in Segou in the evening and said goodbye to the band. We watched them perform the next day, caught-up with them a few times, and were invited to an after-party following the concerts on Saturday. Between us we got to know several of the artists over the weekend. It felt a little bit like as Tubabus, we got lots of chat and attention from people at the festival.

On arrival in Segou we were told we could all stay together in our homestay. For some reason, I got a little bit excited thinking we would be going to a huge Malian house. We weren’t…. We stayed with Awa, a lovely single-mum and her three children in a two-roomed house. Some of the girls slept in one of the rooms, whilst the rest of us chose to sleep outside under mosquito nets where it was cool. Homes here don’t typically have a kitchen indoors, instead people cook outside with fire and pots. Whilst pleasant enough, Awa’s home was a little dark and tatty, and it was clear that Awa did not have much money to live on. I imagine the cash we paid to stay will have been significant for her and her family. The toilet was a hole outdoors and we washed with a bucket of cold water outside.

The festival was somewhat quiet in the day, but there were performances going on and lots of shopping to be done. I finally got myself a lovely patchwork quilt from a nice Mauritanian chap called Moussa. At one point I was buying some postcards from two boys when a huge fight erupted as one opted not to give the other some of the cash I paid. All the people around them got involved, giving both boys a (hard!) crack round the head. Here in Mali adults are quick to give a child a smack if they ‘deserve’ it, whether a known child or not, as it is the responsibility of society as a whole to raise children. At night things definitely livened up, with performances from Salif Keita, Rokia Traure and Habib Koita, amongst others, on a huge floating stage on the river. The festival lasted until around 3am, followed by an after-party at a nearby open-aired nightclub by the river which was lovely. Whilst at the festival we met several people, including Mahmood, a Traureg lad who spoke really good English. He told us he learnt when he was younger both at school, and by pestering tourists to give him ‘cadeau’ (gifts) of pens and paper, then giving him vocab to learn. He now takes private lessons and works as a tour guide in Timbuktu. Mahmood also told us about the culture behind Tuareg head-scarves. He said out of respect for their parents, Tuareg children should cover their faces with their turbans so that only their eyes are on show and their parents do not see their faces. The headscarves also keep them cool in the desert in summer and warm in winter.

At the festival, Rachel, Fliss and I met a couple of American guys, Mike and Stephen. They said they were completing the Timbuktu Rally, and had shipped over an ambulance from America to Liverpool, then drove from the UK to Mali. This was a journey that was supposed to take 3 weeks, but due to a number of difficulties, actually took 10! Cheekily at the end of the night we asked them for a ride back to Bamako in the ambulance. As it happens, this materialised, and the next day we drove back in the cool, funky but incredibly hot 1989 US ambulance for 5 hours to Bamako. It was clear we were back in Bamako when we screeched to a halt in chaotic traffic whilst immersed in a cloud of fumes, dust and pollution. Bamako has dirty air, it’s clear. Mike and Steve will hand the ambulance over to the Salif Keita Global Foundation on Wednesday at a ceremony that we’ve been invited to, which Mr Keita himself will be in attendance at. The ambulance will by used out in rural places as a mobile clinic to treat people with Albinism and Leprosy. This was their journey: http://www.lastresponders.org/.

All in all, a great weekend was had by all. Except JJ. Who stayed home!