Les Brochettes de Fatoumata Coulibaly – Fatime’s Kebabs

Madame Fatoumata Coulibaly, ex-Animatrice du Projet LAG, responsible for all activities relating to the women of Nara and the women in the villges. The only woman ever who worked for the project in Nara amongst seven men. A power woman.

It is my opinion, that there are moments in life, so perfect and well rounded off, that if you were offered a great sum of money later to trade in the happiness of these moments, you would refuse. Rather you would be willing to pay a great sum of money to buy that happiness and careless living back.

Fatoumata Coulibaly became one of my closest friends in Nara. Fatoumata or Fatime, as she is called held the position of “The Animatrice of the Project LAG” responsible for all project activities, that concerned the women in Nara and in the villages. Her job description was approxinmately 10 pages long ( I exagerate of course in case there are some labour layers amongst you).

Her tasks included educating women about proper childcare, hygene and nutrition, identifiying and developing income generating activities for the women, starting a contraceptive programme, teaching the women how to make soap, color fabric, make oil  etc. etc. The list goes on and on.

The ” Kebab Sit In” under Acacia Trees

When I arrived in Nara, the team of the project LAG was  made up of seven men and Fatime.

I was the second woman to join the team. And for seven years, until the end of the project there were only the two us of representing the female side of the human race. Imagine the bond we developed over time.

Fatime showed me how to drive the motor bike in deep sand. She rode the same bike as all ” the boys” and I never forget that moment, when I saw her for the first time lifting up her beautiful boubou, the traditional Malian dress (a wide tunica worn over a wrapped skirt) and swing her leg over the XT cross bike and ride off into the Sahel.  Another one bites the dust. That was me in that case.  But apart from being one of the strongest women I have ever met, she had another talent.

Her brochettes (the french expression for kebab) were phenomenal. Unforgettable and I still dream of them today. Fatime bought the beef fillet on the market in the early morning hours, when it was fresh and marinated it for 24 hours in “a special mixture” of hers. And there was only one  place where these brochettes had to be grilled and eaten. In the Sahelian bush at the ” Kebab Sit In”.

Fatime and Ccideron

Usually late in the afteroon I drove out into the bush for two or three kilometes, Fatime sat next to me and Ccideron was ordained to ride on the back of the car, to prevent the big white plastic bucket filled with Fatimes legendary kebabs from falling over. And he did it in style. We always went to the same place.

Finally

Me, doing what I always do!

Just put that camera down for a second!. Will you please!

We are talking to you!

But they were really good models!

Not only did Fatime give me hundreds of lessons about the mind and the way Malian women think, but I received many free geography lessons. These lessons were priceless.

with my aunt

Only very good friends and close family were allowed to join us, like my aunt, when she was visiting Mali. But no VIP’s

Night already! Who wants to go home !

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 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

Soukora – Talking Timbuktu

Soukora – Talking Timbuktu

In this clip you can listen to the legendary Ali Farka Toure singing one of the most beautiful love songs on this planet. Soukora is a song recorded for the LP/CD Talking Timbuktu that was released in 1994.

Talking Timbuktu was a muscial collaboration between the man and African blues musician extraordinaire, who was called the Johnny Lee Hooker of Mali, Ali Farka Toure and Ry Cooder. The collaboration between the two men crossed cultural boundaries in the most beautiful way.

The combination of both musicians who are two of the greatest guitar players on different continents on this planet is unbeatable. What politics can not achieve, music does.

Soukara is sung in the Bambara language. I brought a lot of music from Mali but Talking Timbouctou is still one of my favourite recordings of all times. Where I go Talking Timbuktu goes with. A decade later it still creates the same emotions as when I listened to it for the first time.

The Malians are great poets and very romantic people. Soukara means night.

” My love it is night now, Wait for me my love. I love you. And I love the night. I like it when it is peaceful at night, Wait for me my love, it is night now. Just wait for me my darling”

Categories: Africa, Mali, Sahel, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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

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

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 Land Is Scarred and Lost For Us – What It Takes To Grow a Tree in The Sahel

To plant is not the problem but to protect and make them grow. One of the project's tree growing sites.

Sometimes an image is all that is needed to explain something. Words are powerful. Words and images together are unbeatable but there are moments when a picture is enough.

“La lutte anti-erosive”, the fight against erosion and its consequence the advance of desertification, and the stabilization of newly formed dunes to prevent them from further moving down south in the Sahel is an ongoing problem that gets a great amount of attention from development and nature conservation organizations all over the world.

It is in my eyes the biggest problem because ” The land is scarred and lost for us”, as an elder local resident said to me once.

I can never forget his words. A great part of the work I did in the Sahel (with an amazing team of people) was in the field of the protection of the natural environment in the cercle de Nara. Nara having  been classified since decades as a zone of ” food insecurity and extreme poverty” had enormous environmental problems.

And land was lost for us.

I should learn the truth of these words during seven years and see it daily with my own eyes. Once a certain stage of degradation had been reached, the land and its fertility could not be re-gained no matter what measures were applied. Developmental programmes and projects that cover the hole Sahel belt will contradict my statement and say that many measures work and that a combined effort is necessary. They don’t. Combined effort does not work.

It is not my objective to criticize the efforts of organizations and the flow of millions of dollars and euros to the Sahel region because I was involved in the same efforts passionately for many years. Simply to keep these measures going that are taught by developmental organizations ( and they are taught even if the process is named participatory)  and to apply them again and again is exhausting and tiring for the ones who have been designated as ” the responsables” ( village people again)  in the project planning.

To plant a tree is not the problem. To grow it is the challenge. The challenge for the residents is to protect it with a fence, either of wood or wire, if you have, so that the goats can not eat it, then to fetch water from the traditional wells or from the water holes in the marigots ( dried out lakes), to walk to the site by foot in the hot Sahel sun and to water the trees twice at least. Better would be three times a day, as the project said. The challenge is to do this for fifteen or twenty years. The challenge is to protect the young plants against natural predators, such as crickets and bugs. To do this the project has shown the target group ( the village people) how to prepare a ” completely organic and ecologically safe ” brew from plants like the Neem tree. This must be applied preventative once a day.

But yes, of course there is training and” encadrement”- monitoring or follow-up. A local project agent will travel with a motor bike to all the sites and will be in frequent contact with all the locals, ready to answer questions and to offer the project’s support if needed. He will do that at least for five years.

I am holding my breath now here.. but one good thing has happened. We created a job. The local agent is going to feed his family for five years because he has a job and a salary.

But what can be done ? Really?

” It has to be left alone, it is scarred, the land is scarred and it is lost for us, but not forever. It has to be left alone and a new order will be established. It will not be like it was before and it will take a very long time. Other will live on it not us “, was what the old man said to me. ” It has happened like this before”

Categories: Development Aid, Development Project, Landscapes, Mali, Mali Villages, Nara, Nature, Participatory Development, Sahel, Sahelian Goats, 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

Payer Avant De Consumer! Pay Before You Drink!

Akono posing in front of the beverages selection available for consumption at the Kouame Bar in Nara

There was nothing that could be said about “Nara au Sahel” with absolute certainty except the one thing: that it was a very very hot place ( temperature wise, I mean). The management of the Ghanaian Kouame Bar, Akono, took care of the thirst of the residents that had been accumulated during a long hot Sahel day.

The establishment, having gained such great popularity, especially in the later hours of the night when darkness prevailed, had some serious rules that could not be bend or contradicted, no matter what the reason was.

 

Payer avant de consumer!Pay before you drink!

Payez avant de consumer ! Pay before you drink ! – was the most important rule. And admittedly it made a lot of sense.

A basic selection makes your life easy and does not confuse you!

The selection of beverages on offer were exhibited openly and were easy to memorize by a tired mind. Your choice was made very easy. In the afternoon one could already decide for which drink to go at night. Ten drinks were available depending on the stock and on the condition that the delivery trucks had come through from Bamako without breaking down or getting stuck on the road for several days.

There was no need to study long menus of complicated cocktail mixes. Apart from that the Koaume Bar was a place of great happiness, animated discussion and relaxation. I will tell you about the grilled cow feet and legs, that are a Ghanaian speciality another day.

Categories: Africa, Bar Kouame, Mali, Market, Nara, People, Sahel, Street Life, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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