Posts Tagged With: West Africa

The Influence Of Islam On West African Architecture – Preservation Not Destruction!

Vey sad news have been spread all over the world through television. Several ancient buildings have been destroyed by ex-Gaddafi Taliban fighters who occupy presently the North of Mali, trying to introduce the law of the scharia. Amongst these buildings was a religious shrine, that was built in the 15th century in the style what is today defined as the Sudano Sahelien Architecture.

What has been destroyed is not only part of  the heritage of Mali and belongs to the Malian people, but it is at the same time the cultural heritage of the whole world. It is easy to tear something down ( a saying of my grandfather who survived two World Wars) – it is as easy as counting to one, two, three – but it can sometimes take centuries to build it.

The irony of this situation of destruction, reigning in the North of Mali is, that Islamic architecture heavily influenced the Sahel and Sudanian regions of West Africa during the 16th and 17th centuries with the use of mud bricks, adobe plaster and wooden support beams jutting from the wall to act as scaffolding for reworking. The architectural creations of the same religion( a peaceful religion in its essence)  are destroyed now by its extremist followers.

The influence of Islamic architecture on ancient West African architecture can be traced back to the 8th century with the arrival of Muslim traders. Arab Muslims incorporated existing indigenous architectural elements into designs originating in the Middle East.
It is mentioned in old documents that the famous Malian Muslim Emperor Mansa Musa returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca in the year of 1325, bringing back with him a baked brick technology to build five mosques, which influenced the future and the style of  West African construction.

The beauty of the Sahelian Sudano architecture lies in the fact that the Pre-Islamic West African architecture, that consisted largely of compact mud and tent structures was paired with centuries old Islamic design elements creating a completely unique and fascinating architecture, famous and admired all over the world. It is the perfect fusion of these two styles and cultures, that give the Sudano Sahelian architecture a mystical and deeply religious dimension.
It is a type of architecture that can be essentailly considered as organic, sustainable and ecological. Is Eco Design not what the West and the first world countries are trying to introduce into their societies on a larger scale ?
Let’s look to West Africa for inspiration and learn from it.
In the Sahel region, Islamic architectural styles of mosques and palace courtyards and high walls brought the concept of municipal city centers to West African cities.

Mosques were designed by using existing West African, Malian Dogon architecture consisting of conical towers, pilasters and buttresses that continue today to be a Sahel mosque’s primary characteristics.
Looking at these images of a mosque in Bandiagara in the Dogon Plateau one can sense easily the greatness of these buildings. They were taken by my very good friend Ralf Scheurer, an architect during a visit to Mali to the Dogon country.

One has to realize we are talking about mud- buidlings that date back to the 15th century and earlier. They have been preserved ever since just to be destroyed now.
What is happening in the North of Mali is a disaster and a catastrophe.

Preservation Not Destruction!

Categories: Africa, African Architecture, Arab, Islam, Mali, Mali Villages, Sahel, Sudano Sahelian, Tradition, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The History Of Female Circumcision (FGM)

In the late 1990’s the Project LAG in Nara started a sensibilisation programme to fight against the practice of female circumcision in the villages of our intervention zone (commonly called FGM Female Genital Mutilation in the Western world).

It was a daring undertaking, that had the potential to ruin the success of the project in no time and make us loose all the trust from the inhabitants of the villages, that we had gained over the years. Trust and cooperation are the essential ingredients to make a development project work. Many heated discussions, if we should or should not engage openly in such an activity, had taken place before. Female circumcision is a religious, cultural and symbolic concept and its practice has its origin thousands of years back.

On the field-level and grass-root level Fatoumata Couliably and myself were responsible for the implementation of this programme. But the whole team was involved in developing a strategy for this complex and delicate topic.  I could write an entire book about what I  learned and heard from Fatime and  the women in the villages concerning the practice of female circumcision. I could write an entire book about the emotions, the fear, the pain and the pride as well, that many women surprisingly still felt instead of all the hardship they had been put through by their mothers and grandmothers.

” The problem will be,” said Cheik Camara, the eldest and wisest of the team members, ” to convince the mothers. It is much more difficult to convince the women to give it up than the men. It has nothing to do with Islam either. It is much deeper”.

I could tell so many intimiate, moving and emotional stories of circumcised and excised Malian women and girls. And I will come to that point, but however today I have compiled a ” more scientific summary” to enable readers to first understand the history, the symbolism, the different practices and the health consequences surrounding FGM because it is no ” easy” concept at all.

Over 90% of the women in Mali are still being circumcised or excised today.

FGM is considered by its practitioners to be an essential part of raising a girl properly—girls are regarded as having been cleansed by the remove of all “male” body parts. It ensures pre-marital virginity and inhibits extra-marital sex, because it reduces women’s libido. Women fear the pain of re-opening the vagina, and are afraid of being discovered if it is opened illicitly

Definition: Female Circumcision or Female Genital Mutialtion (FGM), also known as female genital cutting and female circumcision  is defined by the World Health Organization  (WHO) as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

The word “mutilation” differentiates the procedure from male circumcision and stresses its severity

The WHO has offered four classifications of FGM. They are classified as follows:

Type I, removal of the clitoral hood, almost invariably accompanied by removal of the clitoris itself (clitoridectomy)

Type II, removal of the clitoris and inner labia.  This type of FGM is also often called excision in West- Africa.

Type III (infibulation), removal of all or part of the inner and outer labia, and usually the clitoris, and the fusion of the wound, leaving a small hole for the passage of urine and menstrual blood—the fused wound is opened for intercourse and childbirth. Type III, commonly called infibulation or pharaonic circumcision, is the removal of all external genitalia. The inner and outer labia are cut away, with or without excision of the clitoris. The girl’s legs are then tied together from the the hip to ankle for up to 40 days to allow the wound to heal. The immobility causes the labial tissue to bond, forming a wall of flesh and skin across the entire vulva, apart from a hole the size of a matchstick for the passage of urine and menstrual blood, which is created by inserting a twig or rock salt into the wound. There is another form of Type III called matwasat, where the stitching of the vulva is less extreme and the hole left is bigger.

In Type 3 excision or infibulation elderly women, relatives and friends secure the girl in the lithotomy position. A deep incision is made rapidly on either side from the root of the clitoris to the fourchette, and a single cut of the razor excises the clitoris and both the labia majora and labia minora.

Bleeding is profuse, but is usually controlled by the application of various poultices, the threading of the edges of the skin with thorns, or clasping them between the edges of a split cane. A piece of twig is inserted between the edges of the skin to ensure a patent foramen for urinary and menstrual flow. The lower limbs are then bound together for 2–6 weeks to promote haemostatis and encourage union of the two sides. Healing takes place by primary intention, and, as a result, the introitus is obliterated by a drum of skin extending across the orifice except for a small hole. Circumstances at the time may vary; the girl may struggle ferociously, in which case the incisions may become uncontrolled and haphazard. The girl may be pinned down so firmly that bones may fracture.

Around 85 percent of women who undergo FGM experience Types I and II, and 15 percent Type III.

Type III is the most common procedure in several countries, including Sudan, Somalia, and Djibouti. Several miscellaneous acts are categorized as Type IV. These range from a symbolic pricking or piercing of the clitoris or labia, to cauterization of the clitoris, cutting into the vagina to widen it (gishiri cutting), and introducing corrosive substances to tighten it.

FGM is typically carried out on girls from a few days old to puberty. It may take place in a hospital, but is usually performed, without anaesthesia, by a traditional circumciser using a knife, razor, or scissors. According to the WHO, it is practiced in 28 countries in western, eastern, and north-eastern Africa, in parts of the Middle East, and within some immigrant communities in Europe, North America, and Australasia.

The WHO estimates that 100–140 million women and girls around the world have experienced the procedure, including 92 million in Africa. The practise is carried out by some communities who believe it reduces a woman’s libido.

The vulva is cut open for sexual intercourse and childbirth. In some communities, when a pregnant woman who has not experienced FGM goes into labour, the procedure is performed before she gives birth, because it is believed the baby may be stillborn if it touches her clitoris. The risk of haemorrhage and death from FGM during labour is high.

During three six-month studies in the 1980s, Hanny Lightfoot-Klein interviewed 300 Sudanese women and 100 Sudanese men, and described the penetration by the men of their wives’ infibulation:

“The penetration of the bride’s infibulation takes anywhere from 3 or 4 days to several months. Some men are unable to penetrate their wives at all (in my study over 15%), and the task is often accomplished by a midwife under conditions of great secrecy, since this reflects negatively on the man’s potency. Some who are unable to penetrate their wives manage to get them pregnant in spite of the infibulation, and the woman’s vaginal passage is then cut open to allow birth to take place. A great deal of marital anal intercourse takes place in cases where the wife can not be penetrated—quite logically in a culture where homosexual anal intercourse is a commonly accepted premarital recourse among men—but this is not readily discussed. Those men who do manage to penetrate their wives do so often, or perhaps always, with the help of the “little knife.” This creates a tear which they gradually rip more and more until the opening is sufficient to admit the penis. In some women, the scar tissue is so hardened and overgrown with keloidal formations that it can only be cut with very strong surgical scissors, as is reported by doctors who relate cases where they broke scalpelsin the attempt.”

The term “pharaonic circumcision”  stems from its practice in Ancient Egypt under the rule of the Pharaohs.”Fibula” (in “infibulation”) refers to the Romanpractice of piercing the outer labia with a fibula or brooch. Genitally-mutilated females have been found among Egyptia mummies.

It is said as well  that the common attribution of the procedure to Islam is unfair because it is a much older phenomenon.

What has been summarised and said about FGM in this post is compatible with my findings and experience from the  encounters I had with the girls and women from our project zone.

I have written this post today because my friend and old collegue Cheik Fadel has send me a website link two weeks ago. I am very pleased to see that the awareness what FGM is, is growing and that more and more women and men are joining the activismn against its practice.

      Here is another wordpres site about female excision that you can follow

http://marcheencorps.wordpress.com/lexcision/

Categories: Africa, female circumcision, Nara, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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

Young Soccer Talent In The Sahel

Young soccers players move down to the "marigot" the dry lake, to get ready for a soccer match. Since it is a special match they have all dressed up in white T Shirts and shoes for this occasion.

My first work assignment was to be patient and present, in other words to look around and understand my new environment. At the end of my observation period a detailed report was expected. That was fine with me, writing was never a problem for me.

But I can tell now that it takes a minimum of two years to understand the relations of the people in a village like Nara au Sahel and to get a feeling for a place. Two years are just the beginning of a long journey making you understand the basic functioning of a locality. Two years just help you to not embarrass yourself too much anymore in public. The finer connotations still escape you ! After two years you move on to the next level.

I talk about participatory development and development aid but my focus is on the human side of it. The focus is on what can happen and will happen to you when you immerse yourself deeply into a culture, that is not only not your own but more so is deeply distant from your culture.

It is fantastic.!

It is absolutely fantastic but the greatest change will happen to you and not to the ” developing world or the third world and its people. The one fundamentally and drastically changing, thereby causing great concern to your non-understanding family is going to be you.

The view over my wall. It offered constant entertainment from all sides

For the execution of my first assignment and many others, the wall around my mud and Banco house was the ideal working environment. I lived in the last house at the end of the road on the right hand side of the  “Quartier Liberte”, also called the Moor Quarter. At the end of “Liberty” was a great dry lake, the French expression for it is “marigot” or simply “le mar”. Leaning on my wall, changing my position with the moving shade and moving along with it – I was patient and present as had been suggested.

In this dry lake soccer matches took frequently place. One afternoon a special match was organized and I saw the young promising soccer players moving down to the mar. All were dressed in white t-shirts and they were wearing SHOES!  That showed how special that match was. Normally soccer was played barefoot on sand and gravel. There are no football clubs, sometimes there is not even a ball ! But Soccer is a real peace maker in  Africa.

And why are there so many great African football players? Because most of them started like the young soccer players in the  marigot of Nara au Sahel.

Categories: Africa, Landscapes, Mali, Nara, People, Sahel, Street Life, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Village Chiefs In The Sahel

The Village Chef of Lohoite

In Mali a Village Chief holds his position for life. Every village has a Village Chief. A Village Chief gets his position through inheritance. The male lineage to which he belongs can often be traced back to the founding family of the villages and to warriors of the earlier pre-colonialised West African empires. There are cases were families have been chosen by the colonial authorities to replace existing ruling families thereby facilitating and re-enforcing colonial influence and power over the villages. This has impacted on the development of villages up to the present day, mainly by establishing a new order by force and sowing conflict for future generations to come.

Village chiefs are usually elected by the heads of the households in the village, all male. Women do not participate in the election of a village chief. Although the role of the village chief is an extremely important one, he does not represent a village and he is not accountable for a village as a whole.  If there is unity in a village depends to a great deal on the personality of a village chief but also on the history of the village and what role it plays today in the modern Malian society.

Additionally each village can be divided into committees, or groups of people, such a the youth including men from 18 to 50 years, the elders, usually all men over 50 and the women, including women over eighteen years of age.

The objective of participatory development processes is to re-dress and rectify the mistakes and failures made by top down centralized development strategies. In this sense Village Chiefs and the rural councils of local governance structures are often chosen to represent the local population and the villages in participatory development processes.

Especially for nature conservation and natural resources management project chiefs, and the clan of elders are desirable representatives because they manage the local resources in a given area.

Each and every decision in participatory development planning In Nara had to be run via the Villages Chiefs.

Given the complexity of this system it is easy to get an idea how much complexity it added to development work and community decision-making and control of resources and turn on the implementation of the so-called participatory strategies.

Categories: Africa, Development Aid, Development Project, Nara, Participatory Development | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Did Not Order Puff Sleeves

My tailor in Nara had a more modern model of a sewing machine that was run by a small generator.

“C’est comment “? my tailor asked.  (How do you like it?)

“It is very, very nice”, I said, ” but I did not order puff sleeves!”

“What sleeves?”

“Puff sleeves, sleeves that look like big balloons at the shoulders”!

“Oh, but that is beautiful”

” Qui, je sais, mais je ne voulait pas ca !” (Yes, I know, but I did not want this!)

“But it is beautiful”. He had already turned back to his sewing machine.

That was the end of our conversation and I took my dress and walked down my street back home. The sun was sinking behind the trees and it was a lovely evening. The way of dressing yourself properly is considered an art in Mali. Each individual that I have met followed this principle. The culture of the country and the people is reflected in their beautiful colourful clothes. Mali is famous for its tie-dyed materials that are produced in different regions of the country and sold all over the world.

Most women and men still dress in boubous and other traditional clothing. Tailors are typically men – or to avoid generalisation 99% of the tailors are men. They transform the colourful patterned meters of cloth into glamorous loose-fitting but elegant clothing. Textile decoration is still done the way it was in past generations. Each ethnic group such as the Bambara, Dogon, and Tuareg have their own preference for art materials, style, and techniques.

It is not easy to find the right tailor. A tailor of great reputation is always booked out. And then there is the fact that most tailors are artists as well and have the power to create a new fashion trend. What is done by designers in the Western World is initiated by the tailors in Mali. The better a tailor, the more inspiration and fantasy he has and that also influences his sewing and tailoring. And of course he does feel free to change a little may be what you ordered and what you wanted.

Reflecting like this on fashion design and tailoring in Mali, I made a stop at the “Kouame Bar” since it was still very hot. I met two of my friends from Nature Conservation there, relaxing each over a one litre bottle of “Castel” beer.

‘Did you get a new dress?”

“Yes”

“Show it”.

I took it out of the plastic bag.

“That is fantastic; he does really know his job. I must send my wife there. You know, I think he really only took you as a costumer because you are a Toubab ( that means white, at the same time it is the colonial term for a doctor in Mali}. But that woman is too rude sometimes. My wide is rude. Nobody wants to work for her. Akono, another beer”.

“It is just the puff sleeves…” I started.

‘What sleeves”

“The sleeves that look like balloons, I am not sure…”

“No that is beautiful, he knows what he does”.

“But they are very big”.

“Yes, that is why they are so beautiful”.

After politicising, gossiping and talking for over an hour at “Kouame”, I finally walked the last 400 meters home through the night. Kodjo, my guard, was sitting outside at the gate with a friend. We had come to a sort of agreement that he would not comment anymore if I had been at the sinful Bar Kouame, drinking beer.

“You have been away for a long time”, he said instead.

“Yes, I got my dress”.

“And is it nice?” he asked

 It is great; it has big sleeves, like balloons”

“Oh yes, he likes doing that, he really knows his job. I want to see it tomorrow”.

“Beautiful”, he murmured turning back to his friend continuing their conversation.

Categories: Africa, Mali, Nara, Tailor, Tradition, Traditional African Clothing, 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

Child of the North – L’Enfant Du Nord

Child of the North of Mali

A true child of the North of Mali.  Seen in Tichlatt, a Moor village in the Cercle de Nara.

Photography is my all absorbing passion since childhood. There is great beauty in documenting life for later. Mali and Nara belong to the few places on this earth were I often forgot to take pictures because life was so fascinating and intense.

So I just lived, dreamed and did not think about later. Like that I did not miss out on great moments.

Mali has to be thanked.

Categories: Africa, Berber, Mali, People, Sahel, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

And Aicha Cooked !

Aicha cooked up a storm in my kitchen everyday !

” I don’t get it,” a friend of mine said, “you and that girl from Niger, whats her name ? Your best friend ? You two, you seem to be the only ones who are picking up weight in Mali ?

” Martina, her name is Martina, ” I replied a little thoughtful because he had rightfully told the truth.

It was obvious! I was picking up a kilogram for every year because AICHA CCOOKED ! Aicha cooked up a storm in my kitchen day and night.  After having employed a life time guard, my resistence to having further people around me and taking over necessary daily tasks had been broken down by African logic and was close to zero.  A personel guard could not be topped! Or only by a cook !

In my first week in Nara, a young woman had been coming to my house for three consecutive days to see me. The first two days I had stayed too long at the office and she was already gone when I came home which was not good, so I was told by Kodjo, but on the third day she was still sitting in front of my house when I hurried home earlier from work not to upset Kodjo again.  Aicha ! A beautiful name and a beautiful woman.

” Aicha wants to cook for you ” , Kodjo said. ” She is a good cook, and you have to eat. “

That was definitely true and I had not been eating a lot these last exciting days. So what the heck, let her cook, I thought. Aicha had a tiny baby, named Moussa and now my houdehold counted already three – not including the animals like Egon, the water-fetching donkey and the young but growing chicken family.

Busy Monday in Nara

Aicha visited every day the Nara market, understandably preferring the food and kitchenalia line, bringing home whatever she needed to make us a healthy Sahel meal.

She had a budget to buy groceries and meat that she used during the whole month and the money was better guarded than a donation box in a catholic church in Poland.

For lunch she usually prepared rice with different Malian traditional sauces or stews everyday. In the evening there was grilled chicken, grilled fish or beef skewers with fried potatoes, vegetables or sometimes salad. And no I did not get sick from the salad. The menu could also offer couscous. Except for the meat and the onions none of the ingredients were familiar to me. It did not matter. She made ginger juices, prepared her own chilli paste, called piment in Nara. She baked maize bread. Cooked with red palm oil.

She made a sauce from Baobab leaves. Cooked with Cassava and bananas. Huge bananas!

Made a peanut butter sauce with chicken and chilli ! YES!!

It did not occur to me that my colleagues did not eat twice a day hot opulent meals. If you have Aicha ! You love Aicha !

Me fiddling with the connection of the gas stove assisted by Martha, the Sahel hound

With the equipment I had received cooking did not always go smooth. Even Martha the Sahel hound ( I will tell her story a little later ) could not help at times.  It was my employers philosophy that technical advisors in developing countries should not display too much luxury. No luxury at all in fact.  And indeed nobody had a gas stove in Nara.

But Aicha cooked ! And she took this task serious. Very serious!  After a while she cooked on fire and then the food got even better. Fresh, lovingly prepared food. Aicha’s cooking became famous in Bamako because colleagues and friends visiting me and not living the same culinary pleasures as I did, told wondrous stories about Aicha’s meals.

Aicha starting to cook at night, preparing a meal for Nara dignitaries

Aicha’s cooking was so tasteful and amazing that I could negotiate more than once a reduction in consultants fees for training and other educational measures in Nara when meals were included in the payment. Aicha’s meals! Aicha cooked at night for guests and Nara dignitaires. Aicha had a calling and followed through with it.

I did not mention that Aicha was a traditional healer as well!

Categories: Africa, Baobab, Mali, Nara, Nature, West Africa, women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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