Quiet and safe camping in the west of Mali
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August 2013, English

Here my ramblings from the month of August 2013

August is the hight of the rainy season in these parts of Mali. It rains every day or every few days, sometimes an hour, sometimes half a day. Because of the rain there are times I have to postpone, or even cancel, my visit to the local market. Not only because the roads are so bad when wet, but also because there are few vendors in the market place when it rains. Life sort of halts in Africa when it rains, appointments are not kept and people just wait for the rain to stop.
The African gras is now waist high. That is, in places where I do not cut, pull of spray pesticides. The latter is a very popular thing here. The locals will spray everything with pesticeds if they have the money to pay for it. I try to keep it to a minimum. This ofcourse contrary to all African believes. Boly hates grass and weeds and stil does not understand why I leave them grow, although I have explained to him many times.

In the rainy seasons, the birds are more colorfull , probably to attract a partner?

In the rainy season the birds are so beautifull

Had some visitors the other day, some locals who sometimes come to stroll through my gardens. Ahhh these whites, they are very different from us blacks, one of them said. We blacks, we would cut every single piece of green that sprouts from the ground. But you, you let it grow and have created a beautifull place just in one year. You have flowers and trees, it is so nice here. My hart started beating a little faster of pride.
Africans have their own habbits and customs, some of which make me frown or even laugh. There are a lot of insects crawling around, one of the the millipede. In many different forms and shapes, some with a pair of siccors on their tail, hairy ones, brown red and black, some as thick as my finger. Some may bite. I am sure thats true although I have not had the expereince yet. But if you do get bitten by a millipede, there is only one way to guard you against certain disease or even death. You have to kill the monster that bit you and count all his legs. Only then you are safe.
Lizards can also bite. There are also many different kinds and sizes, from tiny 5 cm ones to 3 metres long. Some of them are beautifull with a purple body and yellow head. They sit in the sun, bobbing their heads. Funny sight, the locals think the lizard is laughing at hem, saying ” you can’t catch me haha’ . But some lizards can also bite you and ofcourse there is a local way to avoid sudden death. On being bitten you have to go to 7 different villages and drink water from every village. Only on completing this you will avoid horrible death.
You might think I am making it up but believe me, I am not.

Most people cultivate these days. Everything by hand. The plaughing is done by steer, donkey or even horse. There is one tractor in the area but locals have no faith in this machine. It plows to deep, they claim. All the nourishent for plants is in the top soil and if you plaugh to deep this layer ends up to deep down and the dead, unfertile layer from deep down ends up on top. Nothing wil grow. I could not believe this at first, sounded like a bullshit believe to me. However I heard it from different sources and wonder if there is any thruth to this. Does anyone know? Mail me.
After plaughing, you need to plant. Most of this again done by hand, although some have a kind of a planting machine. A bycicle wheel with holes in it, which drops one seed through the hole every 20 cm when being roled through the land. And thats when the two crazy weeks start. What happens when you put lovely fresh seed in the ground. Right, the birds, acorns, marters, lizzards, etc they’d love to eat them. And you can’t have that ofcourse. The solution is to put young children, mostly 5-8 year olds on your land during daytime to chase away any hungry animals. And they do this with sound. Producing sound in any way you can. Most just shout but some have come up with other solutions. Singing, banging on metal lids, immitating the barking of dogs, miauwing of cats, sounds like a gunshot, even heard the lion roar once. They start at 6 in the morning, till 6 in the evening, and the sounds of all these boys making funny noises is like living in a funny farm. Sometimes I suspect they try to compete who can make the strangest and loudest noise. Luckily it only lasts 2 weeks because once the seed has grown upto a few cm above ground the dangour has passed. All is quite again, until next year..

Nice butterfly

Nice butterfly

 

The income from my garden is slowly rising. It has never been my intention to create an income from it. My intention was to show locals you can make money all year long and to make so much money from it that i could pay the salary of Boly, so making him work for his own money. Wel the last point I have not reached, the garden is now paying for half his salary, but I am on the way. And doing means learning, so I am sure I’ll get there in the end.

I have sacked the lady who was selling my vegetables on the local market. She was a very nice women but not very dependable. Sometimes she would not pay me, other times she did not show up, everytime another excuse. Now I am selling my veggies to the wife of the local pastor. A very symphatic Maliën women and things seems to work out good. Have the idea she might not be paying me the proper amounts once in a while, but we are talking cents and dimes here. At the moment I am selling ocra, green peppers, hot peppers, aubergines, tomatoes and papayas. Also African bel-peppers which I really do not like. Banana trees are doing well, there are about 25 trees with fruit at the moment. Should start selling these in the coming weeks. Have planted some extra papya trees and the new trees that I bought in Bamako last time also seem to catch on. Orange, apple, coconut and grape. Can’t wait for them to bear fruit.

Rainy season is nice, shame about the musquito’s and the merente. The latter is a small fly with a big mouth. You don’t see them coming, you don’t feel them landing on you, untill they take a big byte, usually from your legs or on your elbow. They seem to attack from behind. They suck your blood and leave a nasty bump which itches for three days. They are active during the day and once their time is up, the musquito’s appear. Lots of them, tiny and nasty. So opt to wear long trousers and use musquito repellent from sunset. Luckily both will disappear after the rainy season.

Many days in August are cloudy. That could cause problems with my power supply since i only have solar panels. I have a over capacity, specially for these kind of days and up to now I have been able te keep my fridge running and charge my computer and phone. I am so happy with my little WEACO coolbox. Hope it never breaks down but I have had it since 2003 and it has done quite a number of miles now. Having to replace it would be a problem since I have never seen a fridge that runs on 12 volt here in Mali.

This lizzard lives in the little stream next to my house. He is about two meter and can make a lot of noise, specially at night

IBK has won the presidential election in the second round, as expected. Ibrahim Bubacar Keita is his full name and he is an old minister in one of the previous cabinets. Not a new guy, not a hothead. But he is one of the politicians responsible for all the problems in Mali, which is not a good case. The fear is that nothing will change in Mali and that is not what Mali needs. But lets see before we judge. He starts his ambt on the 5th of semptember i think.

My wall is slowly but steadily growing. I add some stones every day (weather permitting) but I have to do it all my self. Hauling the rocks, mixing the cement and sand, placing the rocks with mortar. Lot of locals who usually help me, but they are busy in the fields for themselves or to make a buck. Up to now I have finished three strectches of 5 meter and am busy with fouth and fifth. The collums have been placed, I m now waitting on some locals to find me some flat rocks to add.

De muur vordert gestaag

The wall is slowly growing

Still have way to go since the wall, when finished, wil be about 200 meter long. Also need to take care of the water canals all the way down to the river. I have deviced a system where most water first lands in a sort of hole, so the sand and sediment will be left there, after which it continues its way into he river. That way I can replace the sand and soil the rain tries to take away. Up to now I am really stisfied with my work. It might not be the nicest masonary but its strong and decent. And again, doing so is teaching me every day.

The problem with my dog is stil not solved. My experiments with chain and wood went well, for a few weeks, then he figured it out and left, wood trailing. After not returning for two days I went to get him again. Guess he was enjoying himself in the village. Now I have him attached 24 hours a day, with some breaks for toilet. But even then I have to keep a good eye on him since he will take off if he’s not close to me.

My dog with chain and wood attached

My dog with chain and wood attached

As I wrote I try to go to the market every morning. Since my coolbox is to small to stock a lot, I have to buy most things fresh every day. The bread available is derived from the french loaf so after a day its hard as rock and not eadible. Fresh vegetables, if available, are also of such quality that after a day they start to rot. But the market is always fun. people to see, chats to make. However its 5 km there and back and I am not always in the mood.
There are two roads to get there. One is the dirt road along the river side, only accesible by motorbike or bycicle. But after rain its dangerous and treatcherous. The other is the longer road, on the only piece of tarmac that we are rich here in Manantali. Well, tarmac is overstated since its so filled with potholes that there’s more hole than tar. Once in a while they repair the road, usually by pouring sand in the holes. But when it rains, the sand flushes out, when its dry the wind takes it. So its a solution for three days, then the holes are back in force. So I usually try to go by motorbike since the bad road is not good for my car.

 

roofvogel voor de deur

Nice bird, right in front of my door

Its waiting on the Chinese to start improving the road. They are working on the strectch Maina-Manantali. Thats about 80 km and should have been finished in 2013. However we are nearing the end of 2013 and they have not started tarring yet. They are way behind scedule. But once the road is finished, I can drive to Kayes and back in one day. And Kayes is a big town near the Senagalese border where things are cheaper then in Bamako.
Anyway, the market of Manantali is a real African market. Makeshift feeble wooden roofs where vendors sit on the floor or on an old table, selling their things in the morning. Most fruit and vegetables is arranged in little stacks of 50 or 100 francs. There is some fish, but very expensive. Ladies selling peanutbutter paste, other selling deep fried balls of flower, little bags of spagetti, ready to eat. Sometimes somebody will have imported veggies from Bamako. The difference is immediate. Good quality and usually a lot bigger then the local stuff. But more often the only things available are unions and potatoes, lots of very vague leaves and the ever present ocra.
When it has rained, the market turns into a mudpool. Nothing is paved so its hard not to step upto your ankles in the mud. Nobody seems to care.
The available unions and potatoes are very expensive, for here. Both of them are around a euro per kilo wich is a lot of money. Most people cannot afford this and will buy one union or one potato. The basic food remains rice, which the locals will eat twice, or three times a day. Rice, which is sold in 50 kilo bags costs around 17.500 francs which amounts to 26 Euro. One bag lasts me three months, but a local family will eat a bag in two weeks. The starnge thing is that all rice sold here is from Pakistan, a country which, if I remember correctly, does not have enough rice to feed their own people and millions were donated not long ago to buy rice for Pakistan. Makes you wonder.

Anyway, now for something completely different. You might remember that i set up small projects to help the local population. The help is direct and immediate, without NGO’ s or other government agency’s eating half of the money. I am very choosy in the projects I do, want to make sure its feasable in short and long run. Last time I financed, with your help, a new Kanoe, which is still in use and they are happy with, every day. Now I am planning to set up vegetable gardens for the village of Dialakoto. This is the village nearest to me. There are bout 17 families living there but there is no steady water except for the waterpump I repaired and a well.
There is a great demand for gardens so locals can grow there own food. It will safe them a daily trip to the market for buying their vegetables and this in turn will deminish the cutting of woos, since selling wood is how they make money to buy the veggies in the first place. The refraining from cutting wood is one of my conditions.

Een witte kikker, heel speciaal

Ever see a white frog?

I have had offers of a few different pieces of land to start the gardesn but none of them where to my liking. Or to far, or no water near, or to many owners (which could create problems later), the last piece of land offered was in 20 cm of water during rainy season. A few days ago, the village chief offered me a piece of his land to start the gardens. As he put it: If the white man is willing to help us, we should at least offer him a decent piece of land. So he decided to donate a piece of his own land, which means the land is now available. There is a water source near , its close to the road and village, and the size is felxible. I need a piece of 50×40 meter minimum.
Before I start some things still have to be done. Tre has to be made some paperwork, a contract between the village chief and the women, and one between me and the women since I want to keep my finger in the pie. I want to help with the planning and designing, I will arrange the financing and building of fence and water supply. The women will have to donate a small amount each month for maintenance.
The expected investment will be around 1500 Euro. I still have some money left from my previous project (the canoe, which is still in use every day), I want to donate some money myself which means I am looking to find about 1000 Euro.
To find this, I am asking you for your help. Please help me to realise the vegetable garden for Dialakoto so they can feed themselves better. Together we can make a small difference. I never ask for much, only if I am sure this will benefit many people and costs relatively little money. The women in the village are very enthousiastic, they have already had two meetings to discuss the matter. They would rather start today, but will have to wait till the financing is aranged. If you can help me, if you can help Dialakoto and thei women, please donate any amount to the Rabobank in Holland, IBAN NL67 RABO 0167843672 and mention Dialakoto Gardens. Myself and all the woman will be for ever in your debt.

Zelfs enge kruipertjes zijn mooi

Even creepy crawlers are beautifull

My cat is pregnant again, surprise surprise. I expect within a week or two she should have a litter… that is, untill the little accident. I was walking with cat and dog to close the gate in the evening. They always accompany me. The dog had his big chain on his leash, trailling behind him. I do this so I can hear where he is, in order to call him wheb he gets to far away or tries to leave in search for friends or females. The dog and the cat were fooling around a little, playing, chasing one another. The dog might be a lot bigger but the cat is quicker in the turns and usually outsmarts the dog. However, probably because she is pregnant, she might have lost some of her speed and somehow the cat got stuck in the chain of the dog, not far from the dogs head. It looked to me that the chain was around her body but I could’nt see propery because it was already dark and everything went rather fast. The cat gor caught in the chain, in fright tried to claw the dog in his face. the dog got scared (the two have never faught) and tried to run away, but doing so tightened the chain around the cat. The cat panicked and started hissing and clawing, the dog got more scared and ran away faster. It took me a minute to catch up with them two, by now the dog was trying to byte the cat. When I finally managed to release the cat from the chain, she ran of and I did not see her for two days. When, on the third day, I found her under a tree, she had a small part of her entrails sticking out of her bum. It was leaking fluids and did not look good. It looked like she had not lost her childeren, her belly was still big, but I am fearing for her life when she has to give birth. There is no capable vet in the area so there is not much I can do. She continues to eat and drink well so just have to hope for the best.

I have decided to nuture (castrate) the dog next time I go to Bamako. There is a good vet there who I trust. Locals have offered to do it for me. I asked them how they would do this, since there are no surgical instruments in a hunbdred km radius. ‘ Tapé ‘ they sad. That is how they do it with the local steers. Well, if you know a little french you might know what that means. The two bricks method. Bang it till its broken. I kindly refused.

 

Roodkapje, bestaat ook in geel

Red, also available in yellow

 

Some of the discussions I have with locals are interesting. I try to make them understand some basic things, but its not always easy. For many problems they have only one solution : God will provide, or God wil give us the solution. That is all very well and nice but the other day I was having the discusiion of over population.
I started to explain that perhaps 50 years ago, there was one village in this area with mayby 50 people. Now there are a few thousand, cultivating the same land and taxing the environment with cutting trees and killing wildlife. I was calculating for them as follows. Every man marries 4 women, with every woman he has 10 children. That is about avarege in rural Mali. Two of the 10 children will die (Mali has one of the highest infant mortality figures in Africa) which still leaves 32 children. Of these 16 will be boys (that turned out not to be true, see later), who will in turn marry 4 women and so on. Calculate how many people there will be in this area after two or three generations, not taking into account migration to other parts. The numbers are staggering and I asked how this area will sustain all these people in the coming years. If you have to clear all this land just to cultivate enough for all these people. there will not be a tree standing. And no trees, no animals, no animal feed, no rains, the Sahara will be on its way. If you repeat it often enough, I hope people will start to think about it. If that only is the result of my talks, I will be happy.

I asked Boly how this works, with 4 women for one man, they should run out of woman some time. But according to Boly, for every 20 children born in his village, 15 are female. That was not the lesson I remembered from school, in de west the ratio male-female is near 50% I believe. Why is it so different here? Is it because they have evolved to the 1-4 marriage arrangements? It sounds fantastic, but can this be true?

Further more, august is ofcourse remembered through its rain. Many days are partly cloudy or outright cloudy. The day starts bright but during the morning clouds form and rain starts to drizzle in the late afternoon, sometimes well into the evening. But at the end of August the rainy season is well over its peak and some sunny days have returned. Oww, Mali is so beautifull in the rainy season, its a shame you cannot see it yourself. Maybe some time in the future…..?

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