Kodjo And The Cats

Kodjo in peace now with Yalla Keita the Wanderer and Marley

Kodjo. my guard said: “Non, non, non, ca c’est vraiment trop. Trois chats”. ( No no no, its really getting too much now. Three cats).

In the picture you see him, now at peace with the kittens, playing in my living room! This has not always been like that.

We already had a lot of animals. Did I mention that I often received animals as gifts from the villages – like the two giant tortoises the size of a small-sized outdoor summer table, that were named after the two soccer clubs Bayern Muenchen and Moenchengladbach. I received goats and chicken, guinea fowls and little buck, just to mention a few.

We had the two donkeys Egon and Emil. And the horse Mandela.

Yalla Keita, The Wanderer. He did wander a lot!

But here they were: three Sahel kittens as wild and as beautiful as the land.Named: Yalla Keita, Marley and Sissoko!  Two Malian names and one Jamaican. Marley, was named after Bob Marley of course because he had been born with a similar intense expression on his face like Bob when singing ” Could you be loved”. At least that was, what was said about him.

Sissoko was altogether a different case. He chose to live in the bush and came only from time to time to visit his two brothers.

My best friend Eva with Marley and an empty champaign bottle. A special gift she had brought all the way from Europe to Nara to celebrate my birthday.

Kodjo sighed: non, non, non!

But I reminded him that he also had contributed significantly to our growing family.  In my next post I am going to tell you how he did that. So he had no choice, than to say “oui d’accord” – yes Ok!

The daily fight

But in the end everything was well! And like Kodjo said there were also quiet moments!

A rare quiet moment


Categories: Africa, Animals, Mali, People, Sahel, West Africa | Tags: | 1 Comment

My Neighbour’s House

My neighbours

It was absolutely essential to establish good neighbourhood relationships with the ones that were living next to you. Life was lived in close proximity to each other. Sending greetings over the wall – at any time possible.

Building up good relations with your neighbours in Nara also meant chasing goats and other livestock from the young trees, planted and hard protected in front of the wall, helping each other out with some eggs and maize from time to time, inviting your neighbours over for the tea and generally keeping an eye on the property of the other.

Categories: Animals, Livestock, Mali, Nara, People, Sahel, West Africa | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The Horse Of The Sahel

A young Sahel stallion with his owner, a wealthy horse breeder and trader

In the cercle de Nara the most beautiful horses can be found. After a short while I became the owner of two.

The horses of the Sahel are small in frame with slender and long legs. They are extremely robust and resistant and adapted to the harsh and unforgiving climate of the Sahel belt. Their lineage can be traced back to the Sahelian kingdoms.

The Sahelian kingdoms were kingdoms or empires that were all centered on the Sahel belt, the area of grasslands south of the Sahara, spanning 1000km across Africa from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.

The wealth of the states came from controlling the trade routes across the desert. Their power came from having large pack animals like camels and beautiful horses that were fast enough to keep a large empire under central control and were also useful in battle. The first kingdom was the Empire of Ghana founded 2500 BCE. All these kingdoms had substantial and significant towns but still each empire had a great deal of autonomy.

In every village the beautiful small and slender Sahel horses can be found

In most of the villages in the Nara region these beautiful horses could be seen. Horses were treated  extremely well and cared for which stood in strong contrast to countries further down South, such as South Africa, Namibia and Bostwana, where horses were seen as mere means of transportation for many and can be ridden up to exhaustion.

In Nara, the value of a horse was well understood and the long history that the Sahel horse has in this region made them precious companions for their owners. Horses belong to the life of the sahel.

Categories: Africa, Animals, Horses, Mali, Mali Villages, Nara, People, Sahel, Transport, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

You Make Me Whole Again!

The Holistic School of Thought

Traditional fencing in a village in the Cercle de Nara

From 1994 to 2001 the LAG – Malihilfe supported 17 villages in the Cercle de Nara. The Project LAG ‘s interventions followed the approach of a “holistic multisectorial village development”. This approach was based on the assumption that all the basic, elementary and unsatisfied needs of the population, as food security, availability of drinking water, sanitation and education to name just a few, had to be taken into consideration during the planning of the project’s activities. This approach also assumed that if basic living conditions could be improved in a holistic way, in other words by attending to the problem areas simultaneously through integrating them into an annual project plan in form of well defined and researched activities, things would eventually get better in the villages of the Sahel.

Mali had been classified as the fifth poorest country in the world when I started working in the Sahel in 1996. Things had to get better.

The LAG was the first organization to set up a project infrastructure in Nara. It worked in close cooperation with two other foreign donor organizations that supported the project in terms of finances, knowledge, logistics and personel. Many projects at this time fancied the “holistic” approach. It did make a lot of sense because of its participatory and patient nature compared to development strategies of the 1970’s and it had all the potential to turn projects into success stories instead of white elelphants.

But the north and north west of Mali englobes a wide a variety of life-styles with many of the communities in the Cercle de Nara being of a pastoralist and nomadic nature. One of these lifestyles is called ” The Transhumance”.

Traditional home in a village in the Cercle de Nara

The Transhumance can be described a pastoral strategy practised since thousands of years in the Sahel, especially in the north of Mali. It relies for migration for one part of the year and village residence during the other part. Seasonal migration patterns differ and they depend on a variety of factors ranging from the size of the herds to socio-economic status and family clan. There exists what we called the ” big and small transhumance”.

The small transhumace is also sometimes called a ” dry season transhumance ” that entails staying in the villages during the rainy season and then migrating south for the dry season. The dry season begins in November and ends at the beginning of July. Migrants consist of small family groups or male herders without any women.

The big transhumace is intensive in nature but the migrants move north towards Mauritania and they move during the rainy season. The migrants return only to their villages for a couple of weeks when the harvest time comes which is around October. After that they continue to migrate south with their herds for the long dry season lasting several months.

Migratory and pastoralist patterns have been overlooked for decades in project planning in the Sahel. During the last years more attention is given to them.

But for us soon the question arose: Whom can we make whole again if there is no continued presence, no male presence in the villages for several month every year ? Who is going to do the follow up on the implemenattion of the “holistic village development activities”?

Categories: Animals, Labor Migration, Landscapes, Livestock, Mali, Nara, Tradition, Transhumance, West Africa, women | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sahelian Goats – Pride Of Their Masters

Sahelian goats and their masters on their way home

A small troup of Sahelian goats is led home from the bush through a street in Nara by their Peul (Fulani) masters under the last rays of the Sahel sun. I watched this sight for many evenings, sitting at the gate of my house and it was always of the same beauty and serenity.

Sahelian goats have stiff short hair, are bred in a variety of colors from pure white, cream, to red, black or gray sprinkled or pied, gray, brown or black. They are kept primarily for their meat and skins. Their milk is processed very seldom in the northern dry and arid parts of Mali but is offered to visitors in the villages, mixed and thinned with water as a sign of hospitality. The Sahelian goat is a breed occuring specifically in the north and north-west of Mali

It is difficult to grow and plant trees in the Sahel. No tree grows by itself. It has to be watered, protected by fence and pampered like a prematurely born baby, not only for months but for many years. The Sahelians, as the goats are sometimes simply called add another challenge to the complexity of this task.

In planning processes, aiming at sustainable development the simple fact it is often overlooked that it is extremely tiring and exhausting for the ones who have to do it, to protect young trees and seedlings against livestock that has been living in an area for hundreds of years. Even more so if that livestock is the pride of your soul.

Categories: Africa, Animals, Fulani, Landscapes, Mali, Nara, Nature, People, Sahel, Sahelian Goats, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

An Azawakh Named Alaska In The Sahel

Azawakh Alaska as a puppy

I had to dogs in Nara. Both were indigenous African dogs.

One of them was a male Azawakh.  I had received him as a puppy as a gift from a man in one of the villages we worked with.  His skin was of a beautiful unusual white golden color, that reminded me of snow, when he was young. I named him Alaska because of that.

The Azawakh is an indigenous African dog found in the Sahel and in the regions of the Southern Sahara. Azawakhs have evolved and adapted to the harsh and unforgiving environment of the Sahel over hundreds and hundreds of years. Due to the isolation of the Sahel and Southern Sahara regions an amazing and beautiful species developed. They are true desert dogs and capable of supporting extreme heat. Azawakhs have long legs, very slim, elegant and lean bodies and a relatively short back. They can run fast and for long distances.

Traditionally they were trained as guardians and herders for the cattle of the people of the Sahel and they are excellent hunters as well.  Hunting is in their blood. A troop of several hundred cattle accompanied by four or five Azawakhs and their nomad masters is a very beautiful and memorable sight.

Alaska playing with a kitten in the house

Alaska was soon known all over town, not only because of his name but because he followed me everywhere.

Of course I was asked what his name meant. After my explanation, the continent of Alaska became even a discussion topic in Nara including the Bar Kouame. Many were fascinated by the fact, unheard before, that there was a region on our planet as isolated and as vast as the Sahara but it’s surface was covered in snow instead of sand.

 Azawakhs love to bond with one person and if you care about them and show love they develop a deep and very intense relationship with you that lasts forever. But he only obeyed half heartedly others  members of my family and never listened to anyone else. The fact that I lived close to the bush in a vast open space tempted him very often to go hunting to the bush with stray dogs and catch the occasional sheep or goat for which I had to pay for of cause because everybody knew Alaska.

Categories: Africa, African Dogs, Animals, Azawakh, Fulani, Mali, Nara, People, Sahel, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three Thirsty Camels

Three very thirsty camels approaching one of the wells in the region built with Development Aid Funds

In the 1970s, the Sahel came into the lime light and captured international attention when drought and famine killed nearly 200,000 inhabitants of the region.

Though conditions have since improved during the last 4 decades, the Sahel is still fighting a vicious cycle of soil erosion, insufficient irrigation, deforestation, overpopulation, desertification and drought.

International development agencies believe that ambitious tree-planting, dune stabilisation and irrigation projects will help the Sahel, restoring it’s fragile natural environment over time. From Ehtiopia to Niger to Mali projects have been busy with well drilling, irrigation schemes, water and sanitation schemes accompagnied by training measures to raise environmental consciousness with the local population.

Creating access to clean drinking water was and is still one of the priorities of most projects in the region today. Same applied to our project at the time.

But Nara’s ground water to be found in a depth of 200 meters and more was of fossil origin. Among the many ethnical groups of the region are nomads and berbers. Livestock is their life.

The question which arose soon was:  Water for the camels and cattle or for the humans ?

The fossil ground water, hidden in chambers and flowing in the earth so deep that it could not be reached by the local population with traditional drilling methods, could only be touched and brought to the surface after hundreds and hundreds of years with modern Western technology and foreign aid.

Was that a good thing or a bad thing the faithful development assistant on duty asked himself ? Would all the hopes and all the Development built on this fossil water not collapse when the water was finisihed. No, said the KVW ( Kreditanstalt fuer Wiederaufbau), we have done a calculation that this water will last a thousand years.  And in a thousand years there will be a new plan !

But they did not count the camels !

Categories: Africa, Animals, Landscapes, Nara, Nature, People | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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