People

La Grande Famille – The Cycle of Life

Daouda Berthe’s Family

Family is all important in Mali and by family I am talking of the extended family. All family members are important and it is considered absolutely essential in Mali to keep peace in the family. Sometimes this means to sacrifice your own dreams and wishes. Marriage is one of the most important events in life and there is no Malian woman that does not want to be married.

My friend and ex-project secretary, Daouda Berthe, who has embarked on a succesful career in Bamako, has send me a couple of pictures of his family. And I liked them so much that I am sharing them to day with you.  Merci Daouda!

Daouda’s beautiful wife with his fourth child

When the members of a family in Mali celebrate, they celebrate in style! In great malian style. It takes days to prepare celebrations like marriages and baptemes and they also last for days. Looking at these pictures you understand why Mali has been once a great African Empire. The Malian fabrics, hand-dyed damast in these pictures, are of a beauty that is hard to describe. You have to feel and touch them! And Daouda’s wife wears a traditional Malian gold  necklace and earrings, reserved for great festivities and special days. On the day of her child’s bapteme she is wearing them proudly. The designs of this type of jewelry dates back to great Empire of Ghana.

The Very proud father

And here is the very proud father with his newborn baby. Well done Daouda! You have not only managed to become succesful in your professinal life but in your private life you have kept the great Malian, African traditions alive .

A direct gift from God

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Categories: Bamako, Mali, Mali Fabric, People, Tradition, Wedding, West Africa, women | Tags: | 1 Comment

To Remember You Is Easy – My Malian Father

Isaac Traore – To Remember YOU Is Easy

Some things are hard to talk about. But to remember you is easy. You have left this world already, though you were young. But I pretend I am going  to write a letter to you. How could I know that you would leave so early? Or should I have known ? I should, because the statistics tell you about it. But you also think it is the person next to the one who is next and close to you!

The average life expectancy for a male in Mali is 49 years. Some statistics show figures up to 54,5 years.

Life expectancy has been defined as: The average number of years to be lived by a group of people born in the same year, if mortality at each age remains constant in the future. The entry includes total population as well as the male and female components. Life expectancy at birth is also a measure of overall quality of life in a country and summarizes the mortality at all ages. It can also be thought of as indicating the potential return on investment in human capital and is necessary for the calculation of various actuarial measures.

That sound so strange to me.

I think you were a little bit older than 50 years. So you just made it. And many others that I have known so well, are gone like you. Because the life expectancy of a male in Mali is 49 years. And it is what it is!

I know you so well because I spend each and every day with you. I spend hours in the car with you and I spend hours at your house with your lovely wife Assa, who always prepared a meal for us. You spend hours at my house. You were assigned to the project to help me coordinate the logistics and to drive when I was tired. Since I was tired so often, you  always drove. You knew everything but you were humble about it.

You drove me to the villages. You drove me from Nara to Bamako, you drove me back. You drove me on this road. Didieni was half way to Nara and it was the last village where you could buy something to eat and drink. We always stopped to buy sheep meat from the roast and ate it with onions from torn out cement bag paper. It was so good! The meat and the coffe with condensed, sweetend milk.

Didieni, Half Way To Nara

“You must eat”, you said to me, ” because you are really “pekele” ( thin) and you will not find a husband in Mali like that!” You laughed.

Boy, I  got fat later.

La Rotisserie Marocaine

La Rotisserie Marocaine had the best sheep and goats meat in Didieni. It rosted and baked for hours in the traditional oven. We took our meals in the little shack in the back. I bet you knew all the rotisseries marocaine in the whole of Mali. You have been around.

You said to me:  “You are so young. Is this not hard for you”. I replied: ” Very”

” Eat” you said, ” am gonna get that coffee of yours”.

It was logic that you became the Malian father for me. because you were so experienced, so calm and so outstanding as a human being. You could shed a tear from time to time and that was most unusual for a Malian man. You saw me fall in love, get sick, get well, you saw me cry and wipe my tears, you saw me work. You saw more of me than many others. Yes you did.

Issa And Daouda

You were loved by all. You and Daouda were friends.

You drove me all the way. And we passed by many others whose trip was so much harder than ours.

You made it easy for me and because of you I travelled well and safe. You drove all of us.

The Others On The Road

You drove me until I was home

My Home

You are what one calls “late now”. And I am late with my letter. But I imagine you are safe and travelling well now on God’s great road.

May Allah guide all your moves!

All I can say it is so easy to remember you.

Categories: African Food, Mali, Mali Villages, Nara, People, Sahel, Transport, Travel, West Africa | 1 Comment

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

Sleepy

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

And You Shall Have An Outdoor Shower!

What I learned about job descriptions written by development organizations for future innocent volunteers and expats is that they simply can not be trusted. Believe me that is the honest truth. If they could be trusted nobody would really go there to work.

Sometimes it turns out to be much more than you expected and that is a very nice surprise. Sometimes however it does not come close to your original vision and your inner attitude needs immediate adjusting.

And you shall have an outdoor toilet as well!

My job description said, that my house would be equipped with an outdoor shower. I thought that’s ok, it’s hot in Mali and I am just gonna be fine with that.! I am an outdoor person in any way! My inner eye saw an outdoor shower as a sort of steel or metal pipe, erected somewhere with an already established connection to a water point. My idea of an outdoor shower had been formed by the shower points in public swimming pools in Europe.

I definitely saw a nozzle or some sort of shower head at the end of that pipe. And in a way I figured there would be a certain degree of privacy. I actually did not give it much sort at all, when reading the job description. Who cares about a shower when he or she is going to a fascinating place like Mali.

What I can tell you today is that I did indeed spend a real great deal of my time outdoors – for all sort of activities. Showering took the least time.

First of all the connection to the water point was not yet established and would actually never be for the next seven years( I did not know that then, good for me). So the water was brought from the village well by means of a donkey cart. That is one of the reasons why I needed Kodjo.

Donkeys are tough animals but even they get tired. So a replacement for Egon ( the first donkey’s name was Egon) had to be there. Because no donkey – no water. Or a  tired, moody donkey – also no water.

Which meant at times that there were lots of donkeys on my yard! And donkey carts and people too.

In the end I did not have only an outdoor shower but I also had an outdoor toilet.

The seat in the first picture is a later adjustment. I was benefitting from this amelioration because the director of one of the organizations responsible for the project had a knee operation and could not bend his knee anymore. So a toilet seat was added to the scenario.  It has to be mentioned that this was the first toilet seat installed in Nara – although not in a conventional way as you can see in the picture!

In the beginning there was a hole in the mud floor and the famous bucket.

Same applied to the outdoor shower. There were four mud walls, a bucket but not no hole in the floor.  Above me Allah’s great sky. The view was beautiful.

And since my house was standing right at the edge of a well-traveled road from the villages to Nara I got greeted frequently over the wall  by travellers on camels while I was busy with some sort ” toilette”. This took a little while to get used to.

But who really cared, the girl was n Mali now!

Categories: Africa, Mali, Nara, People, Sahel, West Africa | Leave a 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

Throughout Her Life, A Woman Is Owned By Three Men

Three men own a woman throughout her life

I had become very close with Salif. He worked and lived in Nara for the same project as I did. Most of our free time after work and at the weeks-ends we spent together, philosophing in a shady place over the problems of the African continent and the possible solutions to them. More than once we got lost in stimulating conversations that lasted for hours.

One afternoon after work I was sitting in his yard, while he was preparing the tea on his small coal stove, listening to the sounds of Baaba Mal, coming out of the tape-recorder. Baaba Mal sounded a bit metallic that day, due to the quality of the tape recorder and the force of the 12 Volt battery, that had reached the last hours of its working life. New batteries had not yet arrived from Bamako because the truck was “en panne” ( break down ) on the road since the day before and was still in the same place some hundred kilometers away.

Our topic for this afternoon, that I had started, was the plight of African women in rural areas. One of the first things, that I noticed, when coming to Nara, was how incredibly hard the women worked. And I also noticed that in most cases it was accepted and expected that they carried huge loads on their heads, walked  to the well to fetch water, sweeped, washed, cleaned, were sent on commisisons to the market over and over again, worked into the late evening hours etc. In one word a woman’s job. Just that a woman’s job in rural Africa is so much harder than a woman’s job in any other place in this world.

Salif  listened attentively to my perception of the situation.

” I agree, he said, but you know here we say, that a woman is owned by three men throughout the span of her life”.

” Explain”.

” The first man that owns you is your father. When a girl is born she belongs to her father in our tradition. Then, when she gets married, she is owned by her husband. Her father does hand her over to her husband and his responsibility for her ceases at that moment. The husband takes over. And the last who owns her, is her son. This ownership you must not only see as a physical and autoritarian one, but it is also a mental and psychological one. “

The moment he had finished the sentence my mind drifted off and went on a journey of its own.

” A woman will never be free of the influence these three men have on her and her life, and that is the real plight a woman is living in my eyes”, I still heard him say.” in Mali it is still difficult for a woman to survive on her own without a man. The concept of feminine freedom is not the same for her as the concept of feminine freedom is for you. These are two entirely different things in this world.”

I had come a long way so far. I had a long road behind me to come to Nara. I thought of the months I had stayed in Berlin to prepare for this job with the organization that had hired me. I had given up my flat, my work, had sold everything. I had moved into a residence with many others, who went to developing countries all over the world. I owned nothing anymore except clothes. And we were all prepared for a job, that you cannot prepare for. That I know now!

In Berlin, in the multicultural melting pot, in the open-hearted and pulsating metropole I had seen gay and lesbian couples walking freely hand in hand on the streets, committing to their relationship in public without making a topic out of it anymore or without even showing the slightest sign of insecurity. I had seen beautiful women and men with a new understanding of freedom in their eyes. You could feel the freedom.  The idea of the nucleus family has faded to a large extent in Europe and in fact it does not interest many people anymore to talk about how the once classical roles in European societies have changed. Not that family values are not important anymore, just that the roles been inversed or completely reformed.

I put my head back and closed my eyes. Why does something that is so right and is the norm, feel completely wrong in another place. And why do his words seem to be so true.

” Are you alright “, Salif asked.

” Yes, yes , I am”. I was looking at the changing colors of the sky. A thin line of pink appeared over the trees and the air smelled of dust.

” When I talked of ownership, he added, it does not mean that it has to be seen in a negative way. It is not necessarily a negative thing. I know there are men who do not treat their women well. We do not approve of that in our society either, but it is hard to deal with. It is just a fact, that a woman is never entirely free in her decisions because these three men, father, husband and son are with her forever. Even if her husband is dead, her son takes that role. So when is she ever free of a man’s influence. “

” Only when there is no man anymore, I guess, is that what you saying “‘

” May be, he replied, but is it worth it?

Categories: Africa, Mali, Nara, People, Sahel, Tradition, West Africa, women | Tags: , | Leave a comment

In Africa, When An Old Man Dies, It’s A Library Burning

I have written this post a while ago for my other blog. But its true place is here. Amadou Hampâté Bâ was one of the great and unforgettable Malians, who dedicated his life and work to a topic that is close to my heart – the oral tradition in Africa and the importance of the wisdom of the elders in the society. I will save my thoughts on this for the next post and let him talk for himself here.

In Africa, when an old man dies, it’s a library burning – spoken by Amadou Hampâté Bâ 1960 at UNESCO

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“I graduated from the great university of the Spoken Word taught in the shade of baobab trees.”

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“The people of Black race, as they are not peoples with a tradition of written literature, have developed the art of speech in a most special manner. While it is not written, their literature is not less beautiful. How many poems, epics, historic and chilvalrous narratives, didatic tales, myths and legends of egregious literary style have so been transmitted through centuries, carried by the prodigious memory of the men with an oral tradition’s, passionately in love with beautiful language and almost all poets.”

Amadou Hampâté Bâ 1985

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” If you know that you do not know, then you will know”

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All the proverbs are from Amadou Hampâté Bâ and the pictures are from Dr.Juergen Schlichting, my uncle and mentor, a street photographer and writer who was born in 1936. His extraordinary work covers the 1950’s to the 1980’s. The photos in this post were taken by him during a trip through East Africa in 1959. His images complement perfectly the quotes of Amadou Hampâté Bâ. The life of this great African writer fascinates me over and over again. For the ones who would like to read more about him I have compiled a small summary below.

Amadou Hampâté Bâ was born to an aristocratic Fula family in Bandiagara, the largest city in Dogon territory and the capital of the precolonial Masina Empire (Mali). After his father’s death, he was adopted by his mother’s second husband, Tidjani Amadou Ali Thiam of the Toucouleur ethnic group. He first attended the Qur’anic school run by Tierno Bokar a dignitary of the Tijaniyyah brotherhood, then transferred to a French school at Bandiagara, then to one at Djenne. In 1915, he ran away from school and rejoined his mother at Kati, where he resumed his studies. In 1921, he turned down entry into the école normale in Goree. As a punishment, the governor appointed him to Quagadougou with the role he later described as that of “an essentially precarious and revocable temporary writer”. From 1922 to 1932, he filled several posts in the colonial administration in Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso and from 1932 to 1942 in Bamako. In 1933, he took a six month leave to visit Tierno Bokar, his spiritual leader.
In 1942, he was appointed to the Institut Francais d”Afrique Noire (IFAN, French Institute of Black Africa) in Dakar thanks to the benevolence of Theodore Monod, its director. At IFAN, he made ethnological surveys and collected traditions. For 15 years he devoted himself to research, which would later lead to the publication of his work L’Empire peul de Macina (The Fula Empire of Macina). In 1951, he obtained a UNESCO grant, allowing him to travel to Paris and meet with intellectuals from Africanist circles.
With Mali’s independence in 1960, Bâ founded the Institute of Human Sciences in Bamako, and represented his country at the UNESCO general conferences. In 1962, he was elected to UNESCO’s executive council, and in 1966 he helped establish a unified system for the transcription of African languages.His term in the executive council ended in 1970, and he devoted the remaining years of his life to research and writing. In 1971, he moved to the Marcory suburb of Abidjan, and worked on classifying the archives of West African oral tradition that he had accumulated throughout his lifetime, as well as writing his memoirs (Amkoullel l’enfant peul and Oui mon commandant!, both published posthumously).Wikipedia

Categories: Africa, Koranic School, Mali, People, Sahel, Uncategorized, West Africa | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Playing The Small Talking Drum

One day my bro Chris, aka Ccideron asked Cheick Fadel aka Fernandel, le bonne homme du Sahel: “What is that little drum called that you play under your armpit and that makes sounds like a human voice ? “

The question had just been asked and immediately a jamming/drumming/smoking/tea-drinking session was organized with one of the best musicians in Nara. Fernandel knew them all of course.

Making Music at Cheick Fadel’s home

It is called a  Tamani, said Fernandel, the small talking drum. And Ccideron got hooked on it.

Right away !

Ccideron at work


The talking drum (aka dondo, adondo, atumpan, or gan gan) is a drum where the pitch can be varied, like a timpani. Like many drums, the talking drums have been used for communicating in Africa.

When the drum is squeezed under the arm and played, one can produce the intonations of human speech. The drum originated in West Africa. These drums add a beautiful dynamic to music. It is a symbol of joy and unity for the Malian people.

The expert

But as always, TALK IS INDEED CHEAP. When it comes to playing the small talking drum it takes a little bit more than squeezing your armpit to produce the desired sound.

Africa has a rich musical tradition with a wide variety of instruments, many of them ancient and long associated with oral tradition, storytelling and improvisation. For centuries, Africa has produced a wide variety of different drums, idiophones, string instruments and more. Many African musicians can play more than one instrument with equal skill. Yeap!

And so did he !

Long and intense sessions

These sessions ( we had many of them ) were intense and long and the participants got exhausted from all the music talk.

Luckily a tea maker was always part of the team and frequent breaks, dedicated to sipping the dark and bitter sweet  Arab tea, helped the band to recover again and again. And of course the beds, chairs and divans under Fernandel’s ” Hangar” came in handy as well. Sometimes you just have to get into a comfortable position and the world looks bright again.

Dark, bitter and sweet is real nice!

Fact is everything can be turned into art if you put your heart into it, if it is making music or making tea – it’s just the same. It is art. Looking at the two, you would not believe that there was no alcohol involved!

Ccideron and Fernandel

Music until the moon came up – and then through the night!

Until the moon comes up

Categories: Africa, Nara, People, Sahel, Tradition, West Africa | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Time For Cheick Fadel – le Bonne Homme du Sahel

Cheik Fadel ' le bonne homme du Sahel"

It is time for Cheick Fadel ! Cheik Fadel ” aka Fernandel” – le bonne homme du Sahel !

I have created this site also for the ones who have worked, socialized, suffered, danced, laughed, cooked for me, talked through the nights, had meals with me, opposed, helped, invited, fought me, shouted at me, explained, hugged me, gave me presents, listened to music with me, worried, cared for me – and simply became my friends. Yes this is possible!  The most beautiful thing about development work is that true friendships can develop and will and that is why I have added a very personal note to this blog.

Not only did Cheick Fadel have a great sounding, melodic name – who could resist carrying such a name! Not me!  His name is somehow music and so is the whole man. Cheick was born and bred in Nara, a true man of the Sahel. His family has lived there for generations and still is. He worked for the project for several years as ” the field agent for community gardens programme” that was aligned with the Conservation and Management of the Natural Resources Sector.

What else did we do in Nara?  Well, we did basically everything. That is the nature of ” holistic village development programmes” .

Cheick Fadel on tour in Kabida Bambara

Cheick Fadel ” toured” the community garden sites with a 500 Yamaha XT off road bike day after day. We all had a moto cross bike but I think he developed a special relation with his bike. No wonder considering the time he spent in the bush with “her”. He “sensibilised” the people in the villages, showed them how to grow vegetables, supervised the installations of new community gardens and did a trillion of other tasks, always radiating happiness and content.

And he fought a very personal and raging fight against the natural predators, ravaging the pampered gardens in great numbers every year.

Cheik Fadel going to war against the predators

It has to be said that ” la lutte contre les predateurs” ( pest control)- at times turned into a war. And I really don’t know where he got the gas mask from. It was there before I came.

And his favourite place to do after hours work was of course ” Kouame” !

I was invited so many times to his place and we listened to tapes on his tape recorder he had bought on the market in Bamako. Cheik Fadel introduced me to Malian music and to many other aspects of Malian culture and tradition.

Categories: Bar Kouame, Development Aid, Mali, Nara, Nature, People, Sahel, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 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

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