Mali food . . .

. . . is pretty delicious and comes in very large portions!

Breakfast options include rather nice baguettes, pains au chocolat and pains au raisin from our local boulangerie; maize porridge (smells like custard, delicious with jam) or fruit (papayas, mangos, bananas and coconuts!)

My favourite Mali dinners so far have been:

–         chicken yassa – chicken with a sweet and spicy onion sauce)

–         brochettes de capitaine – kebabs made from fish from the River Niger, delicious with really garlicky peas and sautéed potatoes (Malian fish and chips!)

–         rice with “sauce de feuilles” (literally “leaf sauce” – green, spinachy and salty) or “sauce arachide (peanut sauce)

–         spicy tomato-y meat or fish stew with mashed yam at out local Ivorian or Togolese restaurants, where you wander into the outdoor kitchen and wait for the smiley chef to take the lids of all the different saucepans so you can choose your lunch (and order via a mixture of French, Bambara and exaggerated Brit-abroad pointing)

More culinary highlights (and possibly even some food photography) to come as I continue my exploration of Bamako’s restaurant scene . . .


I went to the market in Bamako today (see pictures below).  So much to see – fruit, vegetables, musical instruments, masks, and most wonderfully of all thousands of different fabrics in every imaginable colour and pattern.  All of us girls bought some fabric to get outfits made up for the wedding that we have been invited to next weekend (the daughter of the Operational Director at FEMAPH, one of the charities we are working with, is getting married).  Will post some photos of me in my new outfit next week!


Le cousinage de blague

A quick post about the Malian sense of humour, which is something that I’m working very hard to get my head round.  In the Malian culture lesson that IS Mali organized for us, the teacher explained that in Mali humour is used as a means of defusing arguments and ensuring that everyone in the community gets along.  However, there are certain rules and structures about who can joke with who.  Certain ethnic groups can joke with each other and people of certain surnames can joke with people of other certain surnames.  


We’ve all been issued with temporary “Malian names” – mine is “Awa Diarra”.  This means that we can figure out which other surnames we’re allowed to joke with and (hopefully) start joking around with everyone here.  Think this might be a challenge though as some of the jokes sound quite strange to British ears.  One of the most important jokes goes something like this:


Person 1: “You love beans, don’t you?”

Person 2: “I hate beans.  I can’t stand the taste of beans.  It’s you who loves beans.”

Person 1: “Beans?  Beans are disgusting.  But beans are your favourite food.  In fact, I saw you eating a big plate of beans just the other day.”

Person 2: “What?  Me?!  I’ve never seen a bean in my life.”


And so on and so forth, the joke being that most people like beans but for the purpose of the joke, everyone keeps protesting that they hate beans.  Within the group of volunteers we have been experimenting with this joke and have actually found it pretty funny, although I’m not sure whether I’ve done in justice on this post . . .

Some photos of Bamako

Here are some photos of the area where I am staying in Bamako

Bamako street scene 1

Bamako street scene



Bamako street scene 2

Palms & bougainvilleas

Palms & bougainvilleas

Bamako transport - moped

Bamako transport - moped

First impressions of Bamako

Hello everyone, or rather “I ni sogoma” if you are reading this in the morning, “I ni tile” if you’re reading it at lunchtime, “I ni wula” if you’re reading it in the afternoon and “I ni su” if you’re reading it at night.  Saying hello in Bambara is quite complicated . . .

First things first – I arrived safely, I haven’t got sick yet (touch wood), I haven’t forgotten a single malaria tablet (ditto) and I’ve had an absolutely wonderful first week of my big adventure.

I feel full of excitement about the project that I’m here to work on for International Citizen Service.  I don’t want to put too much detail about that on this blog as our Facebook page is shortly to go live with loads of information about the project – I’ll post a link when it’s up and running.

So – a week and a bit in – first impressions of Bamako.  This might not be very coherent as I’ve felt overwhelmed (in a good way!) by so much of what I’ve seen and experienced this week, but bear with me!

The welcome that I and the other ICS volunteers has received has been amazing.  It feels like my whole week has been spent meeting people – colleagues at the office, their friends and family, staff at the local NGOs that I’ll be working with as well as everyone in the neighbourhood handing out and watching TV outside in the evening and coming over to say hello and to introduce themselves.  Every single person has welcomed me to Bamako or chatted enthusiastically about Mali’s chances in the upcoming African Cup of Nations or complimented me on my French (a few people have even asked me if I am French, which has literally never happened before and has made me unbelievably happy!)  And all the time when people meet, they greet and greet each other several times, asking lots of questions before starting their conversation – How are you?  How is your family?  Your work?  Your home?  Your kids?  Your parents?  Your health?  Fine, good, not too bad, well – the questions and answers come back and forth in a mixture of French and Bambara accompanied by lots of handshaking and smiling.  It’s a lovely, chatty, relaxed way of communicating that is really pleasurable to take part in (even if my Bambara tends to make people here fall about laughing!)

The city itself is hot, busy and beautiful.  The temperature in the morning as I leave for work is an absolutely perfect 20 degrees and sunny, blue skies, like the start of the most perfect English summer’s day you can imagine.  Later the sun is really fierce but in the early evening it gradually gets so that by the time I drift off to sleep it’s a nice warm drowsy temperature.

There are always interesting sounds floating around in the background here too – from the noise of crickets chirping in the evenings around my apartment, to the very loud cockerel that crows irregularly but very enthusiastically under my window in the mornings.  Lots of traffic noises too, and music everywhere drifting out of people’s windows.  Everyone here is so proud of the Malian music scene, and I’m off to a concert on Friday for my first taste of live Malian music – can’t wait!

Lots of Bamako is a dusty yellowy ochre (paths, smaller roads and lots of the buildings).  But interspersed with that there are so many other colours.  I keep noticing different designs painted on walls as advertisements or as art, as well as the beautiful fabrics that lots of the women here wear.  My plan is to come back to England with a whole new wardrobe of African skirts!  Then there are the buses which are bright green and the taxis which are bright yellow and the pink and purple bougainvillea cascading over the walls . . . it’s incredibly beautiful.

I’ll post more soon as I carry on exploring the city and learn more about life in Mali, and will start taking some photos soon too!  Thank you so much for all your comments and emails, it was really reassuring as I suddenly got nervous last Sunday to know that everyone was thinking of me.  Keep them coming!

Bamako here I come!

Well, I’m all packed and ready to fly this afternoon. I’ve got all the essentials (I think) including tickets, passport, yellow fever certificate, entry visa for Mali and (ahem) four different types of teabag. Time for the adventures to begin!