Posts Tagged With: Development Work

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

Sudano – Sahelian Architecture


Store room for sorghum and maize built from mud

If you do not visibly succeed with your development and project activities in ” building better communities or making a real difference to local comunities in your host country ” ( this statement would probably be part of your job description or of your Development organization’s mission statement when you sign up) – you still have the invaluable opportunity to develop yourself. There is no amount of money that could pay for this opportunity.

This may sound very harsh but this statement bears a lot of truth. There is a high probability that you would not succeed in building better communities and you will not even make a tiny difference sometimes. The communities are just fine without you.  And that is ok.

The really beneficial thing of doing volunteer work is the impact it has on the volunteer. The seven years in Mali were a never ending personal journey of discovery and learning in terms of culture, tradition, art, language, social norms and personal relations, etc. This jouney would have continued had I stayed. Gradually and slowly one becomes less judgemental, less racist, less sure about one’s owns convictions, less superficial and less proud. In fact the local community can teach you a lot of things your own culture would never do.

My first contact with Sudanese Sahelian architecture in Mali left me speechless. I will write more about it at a later stage. But this style of architecture and the way of building is entirely adapted to the ecological and environmental condition of the region.

French-Sudanais or the newer term Sudano (Sudanese) Sahelian Architecture covers a variety of similar architectural styles that prevail in the Sahel and in other regions of  West-Africa. These styles can be found south of and within the Sahara. The Sudano Sahelian architecture can be found only above the Savanna and the forest regions of the African coast line.

WIndow Shutter

This style is characterized by the use of mudbricks  and an adobe plaster, with large wooden-log support beams that stick out from the wall face for large buildings such as mosques or palaces.

At the same time the beams also act as scaffolding for reworking or repairing the building if necessary after heavy rains.  Reworking is done at regular intervals, and involves the local community.

Categories: Nara, Sahel, Sudano Sahelian, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nara au Sahel

Nara Main Street On A Week Day

The city Nara is situated at a distance of approximately 380 km North from the capital of Mali Bamako. Nara could be reached within a days travel, if lucky, which meant if there were no incidents like broken axles and several flat tires. In a worst case scenario it meant an overnight stay in the bush.

Nara is situated in a region called ” The Sahel “.

For centuries, the Sahel boasted some of Africa’s most influential civilizations. A narrow band of semi-arid land south of the Sahara, the Sahel attracted both Arab people in search for gold from the Sudan as well as Europeans looking for slaves from West Africa. The two influences merged with native cultures and traditions, creating a culturally complex and fascinating area. The Sahel is widely French-speaking and Islamic. The name Sahel comes from the Arabic language and means “shore”. Villages like Tombouctou, Djenne and Koumbi Saleh are famous today by historians and Trans Africa travelers.

Today the region is one of the poorest and environmentally most damaged in the world. The advance of desertification in large areas and the transformation from Sahel regions into “Sahara like” environments has seen the arrival and departure of many development projects and programmes.

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Nara, The Fire

When I applied for a position with an  International Organizations in the 1990’s, I applied for a job vacancy in the South of Namibia. I wanted to help disabled children and children with learning abilities to develop their potential.

I had grown up  and been living in Namibia for several years. I spoke three of the local languages, Africans and English as well. I was very young then, but I thought I had what it takes to assist at least some of the Namibian population to have a better life. I definitely had passion and a deep love for the African continent.  A very deep love. Still today I do not want to live in any other place.

I was invited for a job interview in Berlin, Germany. I did well and was asked if I would go to Tanzania instead. I said yes, wondering why, and thinking I have to speak to my boyfriend first. He never wanted leave Europe, where I was living since a year and a half. But I did. I was home-sick.

I said yes, when asked. After three days of  being assessed by the Development and Donor Organization I was judged suitable and capable for work in Africa. I went home in an overnight train. Riding the whole night, while I heard the noise the wheels made on rails, I thought: Will I like Tanzania ?  Will he ? I did not sleep. He bought a map for Tanzania when I was home with him.

Two days later I got a job offer for Nara, in Mali. Nara is in the Sahel. French is spoken. My French was mediocre at the time. I was a child of the South of Africa. But I was home-sick and I said yes again to Nara.

I was told later by some of the elders of Nara:  Nara comes from Noara and is an Arab name. There goes the saying that the first woman ever to settle in that region, was called Noara. A woman of beauty and strength. A stubborn woman. The village Nara was named after her. Nobody knows if this is really true. It is just a saying.

And Nara means THE FIRE as well. Nara is the fire and the heat of the Sahel.

Categories: Africa, Landscapes, Nara, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Way Home

Going back to the village after a long market day in Nara

At the time when I was living in Nara the weekly market in Nara was one of the most important cross-border markets between Mali and Mauretania. Every Monday people traveled in the very early morning hours from the surrounding villages to Nara.

Many used as means of transport  “charettes” – commonly called donkey carts. Some came with cars from as far as Nouakchott in Mauretania. Goods that had been produced in the villages were sold or exchanged against consumer necessities that came from the capital Bamako or from Mauretania.

I was in the favourite position that I was living in the  house at the end of the road on the right hand side. I just had to look over the mud wall and could see ” the villageois ” traveling back and forth.

Categories: Africa, Nara | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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