Home safely

I arrived safely back in Northampton last night.  It’s wonderful to be home, despite it feeling really strange to leave Mali at such an unstable and uncertain time in its history.

No more blog entries until I set off on the next adventure, but thank you all for reading and for your lovely comments, particularly over the last week or so.

Homeward bound

I’ll be heading home from Mali this weekend, so there might not be too many entries on this blog for a while . . . until I head off on the next stage of my adventures, that is.  I’ll try to post a few more pictures up here before I leave (in between saying goodbye to everyone here, and doing last-minute souvenir and fabric shopping!)

Sleeping on the roof

I’m not going to write about the obvious subject today, but want to reassure everyone that I and the rest of the team are all safe and well in Bamako.

Here are a few photos of my current roof terrace-based sleeping arrangements, designed to cope with temperatures of 27 degrees at night:

My bed

Improvised mosquito net arrangement

 

Views from the roof terrace

Security situation in Bamako

Panic not, everyone!  Although the BBC News website is making Bamako sound rather scary due to military protests in the city centre, tonight everything is very calm in Hamdallaye-ACI 2000 (the area where I’m staying).  I’m safe and sound and off to sleep on the roof terrace at the office . . .

My perfect Mali lunch

My perfect Mali lunch starts ten minutes’ walk from the office, at a little restaurant run by a Togolese lady.  On the menu: riz gras (rice cooked in beef stock with tomatoes), beans with a delicious sauce that looks like red pesto and tastes like heaven, and sweet fried plantain.  Occasional sightings of rats near the kitchen have not been enough to put me off yet.

Lunch

For dessert, it’s a toss-up between Malian yoghurt which, completely unexpectedly, is the most delicious yoghurt I’ve ever tasted, or mangoes – in season at the moment and for sale on every street in Bamako.

Mangoes for sale

And after lunch – a tiny glass of attiya, sweet green tea which gets poured over and over again from glass to teapot before it’s ready to drink.
 

Attiya

 Bon appetit!

Happy International Women’s Day!

International Women’s Day was celebrated yesterday (8th March) – here I am modelling the official Mali International Women’s Day fabric:

The slogan on the fabric reads: “Women’s Access to Elected Office: Challenges, Issues and Perspectives”.

A grand day out – Mali style

This weekend, we visited a desert island . . . or the Mali equivalent, which is an island on the River Niger in Bankoumana, a village outside Bamako.

We had a hot and eventful taxi journey there, involving burst tyres, heated negotiations with the taxi drivers and lots of stopping to ask for directions.  The journey culminated in a long drive down a very bumpy road which looked like it was heading into the middle of nowhere, still not quite sure if we were going the right way, as the driver cast anxious glances at the petrol gauge . . .

But then we arrived and everything was fabulous.  We travelled in a gondola-style “pirogue” to our own tiny island for an afternoon of eating banana sandwiches and mangoes, swimming in the river and sunbathing.  It was really tranquil – one of my favourite magic Mali moments so far.

Dimanche à Bamako

. . . began for me at 6.45am, as I passed three separate wedding parties hanging out on my street, milling around, getting their hair done, having breakfast and taking photos . . .

. . . and ended in the evening at Exodus bar, watching Amadou and Mariam, singing along to the chorus of their most famous song “Beaux Dimanches”: “Les dimanches à Bamako, c’est les jours du mariage” (“Sundays in Bamako are wedding days”). 

Perfect.

 

Amadou & Mariam

 

Festival sur le Niger

So much to blog about today as I had an amazing weekend at the Festival sur le Niger in Ségou.

We all set off on Friday afternoon from Bamako after a two-hour wait for a bus at a petrol station in the searing midday heat – not so fun.  (Current Mali weather update – 33 degrees and getting hotter!)  We ended up on a bus with two of the acts who were due to appear on stage the next day – Sousou and Maher Cissoko and Doussou Koulibaly – who treated us to a bit of kora music as we headed for Ségou to get us in the mood.

The festival itself was amazing – it was held on the banks of the river Niger, with the main stage floating on the river itself.  

Main stage

 

Sitting by the river watching the bands

As well as the bands we’d met on the bus – who were both brilliant – we saw Malian music legends Salif Keita and Rokia Traore.  However, my top tip for the next big thing from the festival is a band called Sauti Sol, a really fun band with very excellent dance moves who may or may not be the Kenyan equivalent of JLS . . .

After the live music finished we headed to the after-party in a “moto-taxi”, which is basically a little cart towed along by a scooter (top speed – not very fast).  Lots of dancing with very happy Malians and Peace Corps volunteers later, I fell into bed around 6am, as the call to prayer began to echo over Ségou.

It was really a perfect weekend, made even better by the fact that we got to sleep under the stars (well, under mosquito nets under the stars) in the courtyard of the lady putting us up for the weekend, the lovely Awa.

 

Sleeping under the stars

 

Awa

 

 

The icing on the cake was our very stylish journey home in a 1989 American ambulance which was being driven by two American guys, Mike and Steve aka the Last Responders, who had shipped it over to Liverpool and then driven it to Bamako as part of the Timbuktu Challenge.  The ambulance is due to be handed over to the Salif Keita Foundation this week, who will be using it as a mobile clinic for albinos in Mali. 

 

Steve, Mike and the ambulance

 

In other news, I have bought loads more gorgeous fabrics so will shortly be heading to the tailors for a Mali makeover.

 

Mali fabrics

 

Also, I got my first bit of post from home yesterday – thank you Tom, you made my day!  Seems like letters take about a month to get to Bamako, so if anyone does fancy putting pen to paper then please do it soon to make sure it gets here before I leave.

Waterfalls at Siby

The photos below are of the waterfall at Siby, a little town we visited last weekend on our first excursion out of Bamako.  I had a lovely swim under the waterfall – much needed after a very hot and bone-shaking Landrover trip from Siby itself.  Lots of bumps and jumps and lots of bruises sustained all round.  However, it was all worth the wait when we jumped in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall – cool water and tiny fishes nibbling at our feet!