Quiet and safe camping in the west of Mali
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June 2013 English

Here my ramblings on the month of June 2013

The month of June started chaotic. In the first place, my little helper Fodé left. He went back to his village to help his parents in the planting season. He has watered the plants and done small tasks in the past three months. There is noo rain in Mali for 8 months so watering is essential, unless you want a desert. That is a lot of work because it has to be done twice a day and all by hand. After he had left, all this work was mine again and it costed me a lot of time every day.
At 6 in the morning I would start, to finish at about 9. When Boly, my full time employee, had his weekend I had to water the vegetable garden as wel. Yoiu cannot start to late since the sun starts burning very quickly. Watering under a burning sun is not a good idea, the heeat wil burn the plants. So most of the days I am standing there, with a sleepy head and a hose in my hand. So sleepy that i caught myself watering the metal posts of my solar panels. Really Casper, they will not grow.
In de first week of June I had a visit from William van Gool in his big MAN truck. He was on his way to Europe, from South Africa. In a record time. He only stayed a day, which was a shame, but he had a scudule to keep. William, thanks for the stuff you took from Bamako for me. En tanks for your company ofcourse, however short.

Rainy season is slowly starting. The last rain was at the end of may. It came, as usuall with the first rains, with a lot of violence from the east. First tremendous winds which wipped upmthe dry soil, nicely dusting everything in my house. Half an hour later the first rain of the season. It was only 2 mm but stil very welcome. A week later the second delivery took place, this time 6 mm. But again accompanied with heavy winds and lightning. It coated everything in my house again with a fine layer of sand, just when i had finished cleaning the mess from the week before.

I had bought a new watering system on my visit in Holland in April. Small sprinklers that could be screwed into a standard PVC pipe. The sprinkels are then close to the ground and more effective then the big local ones. They loose a lot of water to evaporation and do not water properly if the plants are a bit bigger. I was hoping this system would be better and more water efficient. So I installed the first test and was amazed on how well it worked. I had brought 40 sprinklers with my and installed all of them during the month, to see if the system is viable.
The problem of watering by hand is that you need a regular water hose for this. Wel a lot of it actually. But the garden hose that is available here is both expensive and of bad quality. Due to the hot sun and the UV radiation, a hose does not last more then 3 months. Buying new once all the time is costly. This combined with the time consuming job, automatic watering is high on my priority list.
We westerners think that if it can be done automatic, its cheaper and better. And I guess in Europe that is true, but here in Africa labour costs near to nothing so the calculation is a bit different. But I wanted to make it a show project to show the locals what can be done, so I invested perhaps more then needed. The little sprinkels only cost a dollar a piece. To water all of my plants and trees I would need hundreds, and ofcourse hundreds of meter of PVC pipe. So perhaps I will find a compromise and water the important suff automatic and do the rest by hand. In the rainy season, and a few months there after, its not needed to water all, and after that, wel perhaps I can find myself another Fodé.

In Holland I had contacted Cees and Addie. This retired couple do a lot in projects in Mali. They have build schools here in nearby villages and helped construct gardens and chicken farm. This allfunded by Dutch people. This year they did not come to Mali due to the troubles in the North but in the future they would certainly like to come back (for more info visit www.maliproject.nl * in dutch*).
We discussed some ideas for new projects in the area, which can be very interesting in the future.
In june, I had to give a way the 5 little kittens. This was hard, both for me and mom the cat. I did not want so many cats on my campsite so I had little choice. But locals are not very friendly for their animals and cats usually end up as food on the rice. But what else to do. I gave one to Boly who promised me he would not eat the cat when he was bigger. From others I got no such guarantee. Oh wel, who am I to change the local habbits.

First week of june i had a visit of hippo’s at night. Did not notice it all all, nor did my dog, and they gobbled up part of my banana plants. Not just eaten, but many plants trampled by their big feet. Last year I had created a sort of fence on the water side to keep them from my land, but I had not maintaned it so parts had fallen down. Had not seen or heard a hippo for months so not really thought about it either. And thats what you get for not maintaining things. The huge footsteps between the banana plants did not leave any doubt about the kind of visitor.

The problem with the butcher, of which I wrote in recent months, has still not been solved. Malim, my butcher, has been released from jail but finding cows to sell is still a problem. Have to go without meet for a week or more. No problem for me, but the dog, and specially the cat, have more problems being vegetarian. The cat wil find a mouse or a bird sometimes to supplement her dieet, the dog came home with a complete sheepshead. Hope he did not kill the sheep himself.
My dog is gone a lot since I came back from Holland. In the morning he takes of, probably to the nearest village, searching for friends or a nice bitch, He is usually back around dinner time. He comes barging in like an elephant. But I am not to happy with this behaviour, he should stay around the campsite, thats his job.
Anyway, I am rambling, to get back to the butcher. I had wirtiite that i might go into the butcher business, if only to secure my own supply of meat. But after researching this, I found that I connot guarantee the supply of cows. And that is ofcourse essential. So I thought abouty it a lot and came up with another solution. I found somebody in Manantali (where there is power) who was willing to rent his freezer to me so I bought a whole cow. Took me a while to find one that I liked, with the price that i liked. The result is that I have a freezer full of meat, should last me a few months. The butcher, who did the killing and cutting (right here in my backyard) kept the intestines, feet, head and feet as his fee, the rest was for me. I shall eat good the coming months.

On the 28 of juli elections wil take place here in Mali. Ins’ Allah ofcourse. Wildest rumours go about. One town in the far north, called Kidal, is still in the hand of the touaregs and the interem government wants this town back before the elections. All people should have a chance to vote, including the people in Kidal, is their opnion. But the touaregs are defending Kidal like its their heaven, so the problems in Mali are still not over. If the elections are to be postponed, there wil be additional problems for the suffering nation. Having said that, there are many who say elections are coming to early, under presure from the big nations (read USA and Europe). It would be better, they claim, if there is time for new and fresh politicians to stand up so Mali will not be governed by the old bunch, the once who created the problems in the first place. That is something that might have some tryth in it. Mali needs a good and forcefull governement who can take actions instead of doing blabla and filling their own pockets.

My vegetable garden is doing ok now. Boly, who I emply full time, is spending 5 days a week, full time on his ‘ baby’. I do catch him taking a nap once in a while under a shady tree, but I cannot blame him, temperatures still being around 40 degrees celcius during the afternoon. But he is getting half of the proceeds so its also in his own intrest to keep up with the weeds and the insects.
Last month I pocjetted 12.000 francs and he was so happy. Its a mere 20 euro, but its in addition to his normal salary. I imagine he is now getting hte hang of it, but still he comes up with these crazy ideas. Like the other day he wanted to plant hot pepers. I asked him, how much does a peper cost in the market. 1 franc, he replied. I sais, Boly, if 1 pepper costs 1 franc in the market, we will have to sell them for 50 cents, so the seller can make his/her profit. If one plant gives 50 fruits, and you can plant 20 of them in one row, you spend more time weeding and watering then you will gain in money. I am not sure he understood…
We have to plan better, because Boly stil wants to plant the same things all the gardens plant. The reult is that the market is flooded with the same products, so prices go down. We have to plant things that will be scarce. Like cabage, which now cost 400-500 francs a piece. It wil take some time for me to learn when which product is scarce and expensive, but i will het the hang of it eventually.

Part of my fence has fallen down during the first storms. and have to be repaired. an additional job for me, besides all the other jobs. Sometimes I think by myself, why am I doing this? Wel, I guess for the future. One day tourism wil pick up and I should get a steady income from that I mean I have a super nice piece of land, which over the last year has only improved. All the trees I have planted, all the flowers, the infrastructure, its something you will not find for hundres of miles around. So at some point, i will be rewarded by all my efforts. Ins’ Allah again ofcourse.

After the initaila good start of the rainy season, thins dried up. It was hot and dry again for weeks and everybody was screeming for rain. Every afternoon thick black clouds would come racing towards us, but everytime the rain passed us by. Sometimes you would see it falling 10 or 20 km further on, sometimes it was just false alarm for all. A bad harvest would be a disaster. For many, the harvest is all of their income for the whole year, for most its the only way to eat. If on top of the economic problems the rains would stay away I forsee disaster.
Every night, when the dark clouds came racing across the lake towards us, I would run to the tourist huts to close the windows, quickly close the windows in the toolshed and run home to tie everything up. Usually rain comes with a lot of wind, so all things not tied up will be blown away. Put my motorbike on the big stand, all the clothes from the clothesline, close the window on the south side, take my chairs and table from the terras and put them inside.. But everytime i done it all for nothing, next morning the sky was blue and the ground was still dry. Until the night 28 to 29 of june. It started raining at 2 a.m. And rain it dis. 60 mm of rain fell in a few hours. If you know that for example in Holland, there falls 800mm yearly, you can imagine almost 10% of that within hours is a lot. But again very welcome

Has some unwelcome guest again middle of June. Again Hippo’s strolled around the campsite at night, nibbling on the babana trees. I had enough of them. love to see hippo’s, but not muching on my fruit and labour. so constructed a anti-hippo fence. Thats a long thin wire, all around the banana trees. Its just above the ground, say hippo feet level. On the wire I attached empty beer cans, left by tourist. In the beercan i put some pebles. So when the hippo comes out at night, he walks into the wire and the cans start making a rattling noise. They do not like that, and wil run back into the water. Well, thats the theory anyway. That went well for 10 days but on the 11th night mr hippo found a way in and ate some more of my banan trees. I repaired the fence properly, lets see and wait.

At the beginningof the rainy season lots of creepy crawlers again. Had a smell incident with a huge snake. This one was really big. Not long, but fatter then my biceps. I am no Arnold Swarzenegger but this thing was easily twice my biceps. It was the dog who stumbled upon it and started barking. By now I know this bark, so I went to look and tried chasing it away with a few rocks. It would not budge and kept hissing at me. I then decided to try to hit it with some rocks but after missing 6 times I couldn’t find anymore rocks. Suddenly it started moving away and disappeared in the brush.
The scorpion the next day on my terras was les scary. It found my foor on its neck. Should’t walk onto my terras at night, stupid animal. A few days later i found its sister. I was cleaning some weeds and the thing almost stung me. It also inspected the bottom of my shoes.
I have also a huge lizard living next to my house. The thing is at least 3 meter long and makes a lot of noise at night. It crashes trhu the underbrush and spalshes in the water. But i leave him in peace, if he leaves me in peace. But i’ll have to have a little chat with him that he stops making such a noise when i am trying to sleep.

There where stil not many tourist this month. William van Gool came by in his big MAN trucks. Got some requests to rent out my huts per hour, but i kindly refused. Some locals have discovered my gardens and come at dusk to stroll around and sit on the waterfront to watch the sun going down. I placed a big rocking chair (thats not the right word, its a chair on a chain, like a swinging chair) so you can swing and look over the river. The doctor from the local hospital comes and strolls around with a woman, the manager of the bank came to visit me, oh wel, slowly people starting to discover my place.
I am still happy here in Mali. Life is simpel. Ok sometimes i miss the luxurious things from home but you get used to it. The locals life with a lot less then I do, and they are happy. Wel, that brings me to my next project. I still have a few hundred euro left from the last project but i could not find a proper way to spend it so i left it at the bank. Now a new project has knocked on my door in which I do have confidence. And that is to construct a vegetable garden in Dialakoto, the small village 1 km away. It will be agarden for the women, but I do hope to involve some of the man. I have two goals with this project. One is to create a permanent way to cultivate, in and outside of the rainy season. This will give them a food source all year, and probably a healthier one then they have now. And healthier food (including more variation) is a good way forward. The second goal is to discorage the women from cutting wood. That is what they do now. They cut wood around the village to sell in the market. With the money they earn they will buy vegetables for the evening meal. If they grow there own veggies there is no need to cut wood. I can hear you think….haa, they will cut wood to sell, to increase there income. But that is something I will need an agreement on, before i start this project. I have raised the discusion and most women agree and would be happy to leave the trees standing if they can grow there own veggies, so I forsee no problem in this.
To create the garden, I need a piece of land. This is available but I have to make sure who owns it and what rights there are. No use having a nice garden when the owner suddenly says he wants his land back. Then I have two major hurdles. To create a decent fence all around the land, otherwise cows, donkeys and sheep wil eat it all, and to get a reliable water supply. If I can solve these problems, the project should be able to start. In my next months writing i shall give an estimate of the cost and ask everybody reading this newsletter to donate a few dollars or Euro. But thats for next month. Untill then…

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