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!

8 thoughts on “First impressions of Bamako

  1. Those who want to follow Mali’s pathway through the African Cup of Nations to a glorious victory in the final need to know this: The whole of the African Cup of Nations 2012 will be shown live on British Eurosport with ITV4 showing 4 live games including 1 group game, 1 Quarter Final, 1 Semi Final and the shared live coverage of the Final.

  2. Fran, I’m going to book my flight to Mali very soon as you have made it sound so beautiful. Your way with words puts wordsworth to shame! Love and kisses from Dundee xxxxxx

  3. I ni su Fran! So glad to hear you’re having a wonderful time and people have been welcoming. That’s so funny – my anthropologist colleague who did fieldwork in West Africa has said exactly the same thing about greetings to me – “Et la famille?” “Et la sante?” etc etc. I was just talking about you this morning to another colleague who is planning a conference in Bamako next year 🙂 Look forward to hearing more of your adventures! Kx

  4. Oh wow France I sense some serious travel envy coming on! Your blog is an absolute delight to read, really looking forward to following your adventures over the next three months! We can compare notes when you get back, as I’ve only ever been to East Africa 🙂 Stay safe xx

  5. Great piece of writing, Frances. Bougainvillea – I love this word.

    (ps – I’m one of your Dad’s old college mates…)

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