Travel

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.

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

Dumped On A Dusty Street

Scrap for Africa, dumped on a dusty street in Nara.

First world scrappage  programs lead to first class scrappage sites in Africa.

A scrappage program is a government budget program to promote the replacement of old vehicles with modern vehicles. Scrappage programs generally have the dual aim of stimulating the automobile industry and removing inefficient, high emissions vehicles from the road. Many European countries have introduced large-scale scrappage programs as an economic stimulus to increase market demand in the industrial sector during the global recession that began in 2008.

In an effort to stimulate consumer spending, the German government has provided a scrap bonus of 2,500 euros ($3,570) for two million old cars in 2009.  Germany announced, however later, it would not extend the subsidy, which has proved extremely popular.

Many Germans jumped at the chance to replace old cars with new ones. But instead of being crushed here, as planned by the program, many cars end up in Africa. Nigerian dealers say they export up to 150 cars per month.

Similar, the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS), colloquially known as “Cash for Clunkers“, was a $3 billion US federal scrappage program intended to provide economic incentives to U.S. residents to purchase a new, more fuel-efficient vehicle when trading in a less fuel-efficient vehicle. The program, starting in 2009, was promoted as providing stimulus to the economy by boosting auto sales, while putting safer, cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles on the roadways.

However 50000 scrapped vehicles have been exported to Africa and Eastern Europe, where newer, safer cars of the type being destroyed in the West are prohibitively expensive.

Now just add all the cars that have been brought to Africa since the 1960’s.

( more information about these programs can be found on Wikipedia)

Categories: Cars, Landscapes, Mali, Mali Villages, Nara, Sahel, Street Life, Transport, Travel, 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

We Want You To Stay Up There

We want you to stay up there for a while or the pleasure of unity

The last 100 km of road before "Nara la Sahelienne" would appear in the dust

I had received from my employer a job description, admittedly a little bit vague in nature,  that left room for a variety of  joyful and exciting interpretations about  my new position and the living conditions in Nara.  At the time I liked the fact that this job description was so “open” and that it allowed me to fantasize with my friends and family.

Since the project in Nara was a ” collaboration ” between different organisations I also had three superiors with the same hierarchical powers ( over me ), a fact that should not be underestimated and that can be even under normal working conditions challenging.  All three represented powerful, long-established, reputable organisations with distinct mission statements and philosophies. One organisation was a left orientated political foundation, another one an international donor organisation, the pro-longed arm of the German Ministry of International Development and last but not least an independent, fund-raising  NGO, the initiator of the Nara project in the 1990’s .

All three were experienced, impressive men with decades of working experience in the field of International Development work and they had lived most of their life abroad. Their political and religious convictions varied and so did their view of life, management styles and perceptions of the role of foreign aid and the technical advisors or assistants (me again) assigned to projects. Each one organised, worked and orchestrated from his regional office as a regional director. I dare to say they did not like it other too much.

Johnny Cash’s song  ” The one on the right is the one on the left ” fitted this scenario perfectly.

At the time the sector of International Development Work was a rather wild playground with fierce competition and rivalries between the structures concerning project regions, programme interventions and positions.

Several meetings took place individually between the three directors and me to clarify my mission but instead of enlightenment I felt a tiny little bit of nervousness creeping in. Finally, in the meeting before the last meeting, I got one clear instruction before leaving for Nara.

” We want you to stay up there for a while, that is the most important thing for now,” so I was told by the independent NGO director, who of course had a right to say so because it was him who had created everything in the first place.

“There has not been enough presence so far in that location.” he explained further.

” Up there ?”

” Yes, up North, in Nara, please you take your time, you observe and look at the situation, look at it from all the angles and just be present and patient . No need to be proactive right now.”

” Ok”, I said.  I thought I can do that.

” And then you write us a detailed report at the end of the month about what you have seen with all your personal observations.” he added. ” It should be a bit longer than a page.”

After having arrived up there and having seen the place I had a the necessary and un-avoidable follow-up-thought on my first thought that went somehow like this :  Can I do that ?

It is going to be stimulating! I hope!

But then again..

It is going to be stimulating !

Categories: Africa, Development Aid, Development Project, Landscapes, Mali, Nara, Nature, Transport, Travel, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Kodjo Kamissoko, The Guardian Of My Life

Kodjo Kamissoko, the guardian

“Do I really need a guard? “ I asked when I arrived in Nara.

“I would say you do “, one of my future Malian colleagues said, “we all have guards!”

” What for?”

“Well, for fetching water, buying meat, chicken and other groceries on the market, cutting the meat, watching the house, sweeping, ironing, heating water in winter for the shower, feeding the animals, keeping the children out of the yard, chasing stray dogs…I think you are supposed to work here. If you don’t have a guard you will hardly find the time to work.”

“What animals are we feeding”? Project Animals? “

“No, your livestock, I mean. You are goanna breed some chicken I assume for the kitchen. May be a little vegetable garden as well. And by the way there is a guy coming over this afternoon to show you two donkeys. You can just pick one and negotiate the price. You will only need one for a start “.

“My French is not yet that good to negotiate prices”, I worried loud.

” He does not speak French, I think only Soninke”, my colleague replied.

When I understood that a ” charette” a popular local means of transport – a donkey cart on two recycled car tires with a matching donkey – was needed to travel to the public well in Nara, queue in line behind the ones who have arived before you, manually fetch water in buckets and pour them into plastic barrels on the donkey cart and then travel back to the house to off-load the water into two other plastic barrels stored at the house  – an intense search for a guard started !

Kodjo Kamissoko, more than a guard rather a friend

Kodjo Kamissoko, A Soninke man in his forties was the chosen one and occupied “the guard position” for nearly six years. He lived on the same property with me. He became more my guardian and advisor than guard. Apart from doing all the above mentioned tasks he made the best Arab tea in Nara, knew the gossip and new stories always first, was great company and totally reliable. I will speak a lot about him.

 

He enjoyed long night conversations around the fire.

And he did make light more than once !

Categories: Africa, Arab, Mali, Market, Nara, People, Tradition, Travel, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

La Papeterie et Librairie de Cheick Hamalla Traore a Nara

I can not tell you if this little shop still exists but when I was living in Nara, la papeterie and librairie ( paper and stationery shop) of Cheick Hamalla Traore was the place to source your material for the office.

Many small shops were situated around the central market in Nara. An entire library of its own could be written about the life stories of the traders and owners of these convenience shops.

 I have listened more than afternoon over a  glass – or three – of strong, delicious Arab tea to their adventures about doing trade in the Sahel.

Categories: Mali, Market, Nara, Papeterie, People, Sahel, Street Life, Tradition, Transport, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Rebel On Nara’s Roads

 

Blue Rebel on Gravel

 

In a metallic cornflower blue color, a real featherweight and adorned with decorative TOTAL stickers this rebel served more kilometers than can be counted. It is easy to repair as well. The ideal means to get around fast in Mali’s buzzing capital but it passed the test on gravel as well.

Categories: Bamako, Mali, Nara, Transport, Travel, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When I Came To Lagos I Sat Down And Wept

When I came to Lagos I sat down and wept

With his back leaning against the wall of his house, not looking at me, he said:  ” I too have been in Exode. I have. My son left us in the year 1999. He went to Nigeria. It was good at first. For two years  he sent us money every month.”

He paused and his thoughts traveled into the past.

” We took care of his wife and his four children. He did not come home. The money stopped and there was no sign of him. We waited another year. Then I went to look for him. There was nobody else who would go for me. My wife said, you must look for your son. And I rose “.

For six months I walked, people often took me with their car. But most of the time I walked. I am close to 60 years old. Allah, forgive me, I nearly lost faith. I came to Lagos.

When I came to Lagos,  I was so tired I sat down and wept.

I could not find my son.

Categories: Labor Migration, Nara, People, Travel, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Exodus – In Search For Work

From Nara to Bamako and much much further

Categories: Africa, Labor Migration, Sahel, Travel, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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