June 2014, English

June is the month that the rainy season takes it first uneasy steps. It often looks like rain is coming. Dark clouds, heavy winds, only to stay dry. But, if sometimes it does rain, it does so with a lot of force and destruction. Like the beginning of this month. In late afternoon the sky turned really black, so black I could not even see the dam 2 km upstream. The winds where howling, sand was blown sky high. The newly placed bamboo mats on my corrugated roof threatened to disappear, but managed to hold them and tie some extra wire to secure them. But then the rain started pouring, 60 mm in two hours. These first rains are the most dangerous ones. The earth is still hard and dry and instead of soaking into the ground, it flows full force towards the river, taking everything with it.
After this it was dry again for a week, everything turned hard and dusty again. Hard to predict the weather in June. But the locals are starting to prepare for the planting season. They are cleaning there lots, cutting small young trees and shrubbery, burning the rests from last years planting season, and wait for a few more rains so the ground is a bit softer and easier to plough.

I also have half a hectare where I want to do some farming. As soon as it is ploughed, I will plant maize, groundnuts and beans. It was hard to decide what to plant since the plot is right next to the road and right next to a rocky hill. the road means lots of passersby, hungry people will cut a cob of corn to eat on the way. If they don’t, the monkey will descend from the rocky hill to feast on the young corn. The groundnut is much safer, but takes a lot of work to harvest since they grow underground and have to be dug up. the beans are easy to grow but there are lot of insects who like the beans as well. So decided to divide the crop over the three as an experiment. Casper the farmer, who would have thought that.

The Korand and the Bible are true, according to Boly. There was once a house in Kayes, which burned down to the ground. When the owner went into the smokey remains he found everything destroyed, except for the Koran and the Bible which survived the fire intact. So you see, said Boly, there is no doubt. Sometimes I get a little tired of these stories. I have never heard of any house which has a Koran AND a Bible, lets stand that they would not have burned. But these kind of folktales are believed without a doubt, nothing you can say to the contrary.

Religion destroys a lot. Sure it gives comfort to some, but it keeps a country like Mali a backward country, it inhibits any sort of development. Anything that goes wrong is Gods will. Nobody will take any responsibility for mistakes, since its Gos who has wanted it like that. So in a same situation next time, people will not try it different, because its the will of the Almighty. There is no curiosity, no experimentation, no question as to why. So no progress. Making mistakes is good, if you learn from them. But this way nobody learns, nobody develops. If God wants you to succeed, you will. If not, ahh, its hHis will and nothing you can change about it.

I have heard these kind of things so many times, that I am not surprised but I do get a little tired of it sometimes. Just like Yvonne van Gerwer, a Dutch lady who has been living in mali for quite a period now. She also gets fed up sometimes. On her website http://rondombaba.blogspot.nl (in Dutch only), she explodes a little. Since it is exactly my sentiment, I shall translate what she wrote:

“I invest a lot of time, every day I am there for you guys. But you take none of my advice, you keep to your stupid traditions, you do not communicate with each other, do not see the reality of things. You pray all day long and pretty soon you will not eat for a month, shutting down the whole country for a month. Nobody takes any responsibility, all you do is that you say that Allah will provide. And if things go wrong, you go and sit under a tree to drink thee for hours. I have had it up to here….”

These words from this brave Dutch lady could have been written by me, she translates my feelings exactly. Underneath this months story I shall translate her analyses of the situation in Mali, which is not good.

The garden for the women of Dialakoto is going well. The veggies are growing good and are being harvested. Many patches have ocra, or ladyfinger, they love this vegetable. For those who do not know it, its a green finger like vegetable, when cooked releases a slimy substance, turning everything into a snotty sauce. I a personally not such a great fan of this food but here in west Africa they love it.

The water connection problem still has not been solved, although some pressure has been released. Just a short recap. The water company has decided unilaterally and without inspection that all water connections on this side of the river are illegal. So we are talking about my private connection as well as those of the garden of Dialakoto, and many other gardens on this side of the river. I received an official letter at the beginning of April stating so and have heard nothing since. I have organised all the gardens together and we have composed a firm but just letter in response, but when I wanted to send it I was urged by the mayor of manantali to wait. And I am still waiting. Everybody is meddling in this problem. The mayor, the plumbers, the friends of the plumbers, all are very unhappy with the situation. But this is Africa and nothing goes official, everything happens between closed doors and with word of mouth from one to the other. So trying to asses the situation, I heard many different stories and opinions. And if I understand it properly now, the water company is feeling the anger of the people and is trying to back out without loosing face. The story now is that they claim to have send the letter, not to cut our water, but to discourage others from connecting to the big water pipe. The water is meant for an irrigation project (which is rusting away) and if to many people tap water from the connection there might not arrive sufficient water at the destination of the pipe. The management of the ater company is slowly becoming aware of the fact that half the water is being lost due to leaking taps, leaking canals etc. So this adventure is still not at its end and I am sure I can report about it again next month.

Halfway during the month I left for a short visit to the capital Bamako. Needed to renew my passport, needed a few things for the garden and for myself (coffee) and wanted to do the trip before the road would get to soaked because of the rainy season. Everytime I take the trip to Bamako I do it faster. It would take me all day in the beginning, now I arrived at 14:30. The fact that I had taken my mechanic with me to buy some parts in Bamako did help since he could drive part of the way. I could have loaded my car with passengers, but had to disappoint a few, one of them a shopkeeper from Manantali. That would have nasty consequences for him, but more about that later.

Joined the 21st century, bought a washing machine in Bamako. Had been washing my clothes by hand for the last 10 years, so it was a great luxury.
Renewing my passport should have been a formality, where it not that the Dutch burocracy (or is it European burocracy) had landed in Mali. It started when I tried to make an appointment at the embassy a week before. I asked for a Dutch speaking person but they refused to connect me. Perhaps they were to busy organising the next party. If I wanted to renew my passport I would have to make an appointment via the internet. Had a hard time convincing the man, in French, that I had to reliable internet connection. No internet, no appointment was the subtle response. Luckily I know the ambassador himself a little so after his intervention I managed to get am appointment. Arriving at the embassy I was spoken to by locals, behind thick bulletproof glass. They gave me some forms to fill out and I was directed to another room with of course another bulletproof window. God these people, they are scared of what? Ebola perhaps?
Checking my forms the first Dutch speaking person took my photo. It was taken by a photographer they themselves had advised. Putting my picture in a scanner, I was told the picture was not right. My head was 2 mm to big. Mind you, its not us, its the machine that says so. Had to drive another two hours to get new pictures and returned the next day with three sets of pictures, all a little different. You are lucky, the lady said, some people have to come back three times.
Just like most embassies of Holland, I found everything cold and impersonal, but then I have had few good experiences with embassies.

Except for the washing machine and passport I bought some materials for the garden, coffee and soda water and other food items, some water taps and car parts. They where two expensive days. On the 18th I arrived back in manantali, only to see the Dutch team have a hard time against the Australians, but beating them in the end.

in the meantime, back in Manatli, Boly had departed for a wedding, for three days. Every wedding here takes three days !! Those are a lot of unproductive days per year. Boly knows I am not going to pay him when he takes of, so its his own decision. With the proceeds of the garden being very low at the moment he is hard on cash. But no offer from him to come and catch up on a Saturday or so. I am starting to doubt his motivation a little. On my absence, during my three weeks Holland, he had planted nothing and not kept the garden very well. But he never complains, which is strange. Also he will never use his brains. he cultivates as he knows and trying to find solutions for problems is a no-no. Even when I suggest little improvements, he will do these for a week or two, then ‘ forgetting’ them. since he gets half of the proceeds from the garden I would have thought he would a better worker, however his head is empty and completely void of any ideas or suggestions. Perhaps I have to have a little chat with him. This I have to do very carefull because talking like a westerner does not work with Africans. You have to talk around the problem, and then some more. I do not want to let him go since he is also my window into the African world.
of course the next problem is that Ramadan is starting the 27th of this month. Its a hard month. Not drinking or eating during the day. In Europe it might be hard but while working on the field under a burning sun with 42 degrees and not being able to drink is torture, and definitely not good for once health. People work around like zombies, only longing for the sum to go down, their breath smelling like dead birds. I admire the strength you need to do this, but the unquestionable believe in the relegion is something I sometimes have problems with.

On the 22nd I had rented out my campsite grounds for a party. I think it was the older students from the Lyceum who had organised it. Althaugh organised is a big word, on the sunday in question, at 11 am, they still had not organised anything. At midday finaly, a donkey cart came with a load of chairs and when they had all set it up at 1 pm, a huge storm broke out, ruining the party. When at 4 pm the rain stopped, the grounds where soaked and muddy and the few guest left early.

Before my trip to Bamako I had bought seeds to plant. Some mais, beans and groundnuts. But when I came home that they, the two bags of beans where missing. i searched and looked, even went back to the shop but could not find them anymore.
When, 10 days later, I went to the market again, an old lady came running after me, talking fast in Bambara. I had no idea what she was saying but when she opened a plasic bag it contained my two bags of beans, which apparantly I had left at her stall. i was really happy. Not so much for the beans, they where not so expensive, but for the realisation that there are still honest people around who do not want to steal from you or like you for your money.

Sp lastly I have to tell you the story of the shopkeeper who had to take the bus to bamako because my car was full. On returning, he missed a connection and had to wait in Kita. Luckily he found a small bus that left at midnight for manantali and he took it. Just before the turnoff at Tamabaga, a huge log had been placed over the road and the small bus was forced to stop. Some bandits appeared and at gunpoint took all the money and mobile phones of all the passengers. One passanger however, caught one of the culprits and grabbed him by the throat. He struggled him to the ground and yelled to the people on the bus to come and help him, since he was all alone. All the other bandits had fled. But nobody dared to exit the buss and the guy alone had to let the bandit go. Luckily nobody was hurt, but they where all left penniless and traumatic. The shopkeeper himself had spend all his money buying goods in bamako so he escaped with loosing his phone.
Mind you, these kind of hold ups are very exceptional. But Mali is a poor country and the war and the bad governing is not making it any better. Poverty makes people do strange things.

In Holland, I am telling Boly, while drinking a cup of coffee in the evening, just before he is returning home, we can predict the rain almost to the minute. He looks at me with empty eyes. I tell him you can make good money if you can predict the weather properly. Still an empty glance. Who will pay money for the weather, he asks laughing. Well I say, a farmer who is planting or spreading manure. Or a ship owner who wants to go to sea, even me, so I know if I could drive to Tamabaga on a dry road. He keeps looking empty headed at me, nut I am used to that. Only God can predict the weather, he says, because He creates it. It start to explain to him things like low and high pressures, wind in between but after two minutes I see no comprehension in his eyes. I sigh and say, yes you are right, only God can predict the weather, and poor another cup of coffee.

Before this story is getting any longer I better stop. I will close with the analysis of Yvonne van Gerwer on the situation of Mali, and thank her for this. Will continue next month.

Mali, a drunk Mango-republik

In Moti we support the government.
Today there is a ‘big’ demonstration in Mopti to support the Government of Mali. About 20% of the population will participate, according to Baba. They are the people who work for the government, administrative personnel and students who are getting a day off for this. The demonstration is taking place on orders of the government in Bamako. And not participating could cost you your job….

Capt Sanogo wanted an end to corruption and ousted the government two years ago. He ‘ accidentally’ killed a number of people and took a few billion to put in his pocket and distributed to friends. He know resides in prison and the new democratically elected government of Moussa Mara needed support.

They need support because it is now becoming less and less clear wether the new government is a good development or just another in a row of cheesy and grabbing politicians only interested in themselves. And to get support, you have to pay money. But there is enough money. Well, there was, because it seems the IMF has frozen payments on the 4 billion dollars when it became clear that the new president IBK had bought a new airplane from this money, while the plane of his predecessor was still on the tarmac.
But not just a plane, a new Rolls Royce, new motorbikes for his security detail, a renovation of his palace and so on. All this with the new motto : end the corruption in Mali and Mali d’ abord (Mali first). Among the people this has now be changed to Ma Famille d’abord (My family first) since his huge family and his many friends and arse kissers are all eating out of the well filled IMF vault. Thank you very much.

It was getting so bad that a lot of criticism came over this government and pressure was building to do something. The country is suffering from poverty but it seems the Politicians in bamako are to busy with their own political games

In the meantime, there are people from many countries in mali. Military advisors, police trainers, judges and others from all over are trying to bring back stability to Mali. Of course they all do this out of there own interests, but at least they are being clear about this. And it seems to pay off

These foreigners are spread all over the country. However the Malian politicians, the government services and the NGO’s are all located in Bamako. They are blatantly absent in the rest of the country. The country where, specially in the north, a fragile cease fire had been achieved with help from the international troops.

‘ Our’ soldiers are located in Gao en are there to be used as ears and eyes in the struggle against the jihadhi en terrorist groups. These are normally not Malian people but they fight for a caricature of Islam. There belief of Islam has nothing to do with easy going Malien Islam, and they are here to make lots of money with trading drugs, hostages and cigarettes.

The Tuareg (at least part of them) are fighting for a piece of land for themselves because they feel they are being discriminated. They are being helped by the Alqaida affiliated groups who posses a lot of arms and money. It seems France is protecting the Tuareg, also for their won intrests. There could be large deposits of minerals in these parts of Mali, the Tuareg region called Azawad. The old coliniser of Mali depends for a great deal on trade with its former colonies. Without the proceeds and minerals it would get very dark in France. See http://www.dewereldmorgen.be/artikel/2014/05/05/afrikaanse-landen-betalen-nog-koloniale-schuld-aan-frankrijk (in Dutch)

In between these ideologic groups of the Tuareg and the Alqaida, there has formed many splinter groups with their own menu, some a little jihadist, some a little Azawadian. Drugs for their own use, rape and robbery. When fighting together they make life unbearable for the normal person. Fighters switch from one group to the other, groups merge and divide again and nobody is sure anymore of which group doing what.

All this with temperatures of 50 degrees and more and the month of Ramadan upon us. No drinking or eating during the day but I assume the fighters will get dispensation from Allah, one more reason to join any of these groups.

It seemed that a fragile cease fire had been reached in the Tuareg conflict in the north, centred around the town of Kidal, all this awaiting the peace negotiations. But the negotiations never started since the government in Bamako was busy with itself.
Until, two weeks ago, first minister Moussa Mara decided to visit the town of Kidal, the most northern town of Mali and stronghold of the Tuareg.
To be honest, it looked to me like a brave but disastrous decision. It was getting to hot under his feat in Bamako, where Mr Mara had lied about the purchase of the plane for the president as well as other ‘ important’ expenses.
So he decided to visit Kidal, and that is when it went wrong.

The Tuareg and malian army got entangled into a battle, shot where fired. Mr Mara, with his entourage, was evacuated from Kidal with the help of the international troops Minusa, but not before he had forcefully stated ” The was had begun”.
50 Malian military died, may wounded and the Tuareg shot some malian government employee. While the minister was being evacuated, the Tuareg quickly, with the help of their suddenly appearing friends from Alqaida, managed to capture a few towns and villages. Everybody thought the Alqaida fighters where dead or driven off by the French, but here they where, appearing like ghosts when needed.
Death, confusion, desperation on all sides as a result.

The Malian people are screeming mad. The only information the uneducated people get is from the state television, where malien journalist see it their job to throw petrol onto the fire. ” Malie suffers from international intrique” ” Minusa and France do nothing” and ” Remove Koenders” where some of the headlines of the papers.
Some even call for help from the Russian president Poetin
Three days later the head of the African Union, also president of Mauretania and Bert Koenders, head of Minusa, left for Kidal to arrange a ceasefire. the Malian army was not seen again

The war has started, according to Mara. The war has ended, according to the international troops two days later. But who had given the order to the Malian army to start the war? This question is now being discussed in Bamako. Its not us ! they all shout in union and wash their hands. In the meantime they are looking for somebody to blame
So their is work to be done, they say from Bamako, and today, at the protest, they call for togetherness and union. But the normal people understand nothing of all this blabla and the public opinion is flying in all directions.

These fundamentalists are doing well during all this fighting and bickering. Fundamentalist Islam (not to be confused with the Jihadist islam) is growing fast. Mosques are springing up everywhere and the women in black, all covered, dresses are being seen more and more. They have their own schools where children get decent education, they share food with the poor and are very motivated to help the population, even though the demand that in exchange for this they are to join them. But hey, if you are hungry and you have a failing state, what options do you have.

Mali is going through a difficult time. In the west people hearing the word Mali, they associate it with war and unsafe territory. But Mali is huge. If you pass Mopti, only then will you arrive in the north and yes, that is not the place to be at present. But that does not mean all of Mali is unsafe. I have been living here for 5 years, one of the last lonely whites in between the locals. I can move around freely, travel wherever I want and never feel unsafe. As far as I know the same goes for other Dutch who live in Mali.
Every brave white guy who will come to Mali in contradiction to the western opinion will understand and find out that Mali is still a very hospitable country with beautiful people. Once you have been her and have left, you will miss it for sure

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