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