April 2013 (English)
It’s been a while since my last story. I am aware of this but can do nothing about it. I am located in the bush of Mali, have no power here and a super bad internet connection, so what to do. I will try to catch up by telling what happened the last few months. This is probably my last story on this website so READ THIS:
Because I have bought some new technological gadgets I hope to inform you more often about my experiences in Mali.
As is known, things are not well with Mali. Miraculously, the French soldiers who arrived cleaned up the north without many shots fired. They liberated all cities in the north from Islamist rebels.
The population was delighted and expressed this by carrying French flags on their cars, showing them in their windows and even on themselves.
Unfortunately, it is unknown how long the cleanup effect wil last. The rebels have fled, or are hiding among the population and therefore hard to find. When the French leave, the rebels might just come back. The UN has approved a peacekeeping force of 12.000 soldiers but nobody has any fath in this.
Moreover, the political scene in Bamako is still in shambles. There is much talk and lots of deep pockets that need to be filled. There is no real government and many services have been suspended or work in slow motion. The result is that all civil employees find it necessary to ask money for every service, since no-one seems to control anything. So you understand, the misery is far from over and as long as there is not a new decisive government, it will remain so. Election has been announced for July, but stil no date has been given, which gives me little hope.
Luckily for me is that I live in the quite corner of Mali, far away from any bandits. But there are other problems that may be less serious in nature but still annoying. More about that later.
I spent my time in recent months developing my campsite. Perhaps not as rigorous as I wanted, since the tourist are avoiding Mali like there is a plaque. I build two large round African huts as guest sleeping quarters. Almost right on the water, they are located in a beautiful place. Each cabin has a shower and toilet and two beds. With a thatched roof, the huts are relatively cool.
I also made a stairway down to the water with a small plateau and a rocking chair next to it. Tourist can relax on the waterfront, in the hope that a hippo passes by or just observing the many birds and the occasional fisherman. They can swim in the lovely clear cool waters of the river Baffing, so anyone who doesn’t come by is unwise.
At present, there are many heavy fruit trees. The mango trees are bending over with fruit, the cashew nut fruits fall like raindrops on the ground (yes, I have cashew nuts from own garden) and the banana trees are beginning to produce. I installed a sprinkler system for most banana trees so I only have to turn on the tap.
I also constructed two BBQ areas, so guests can properly roast their meet or fish. Finally I had a new house built for as a tool shed, for al my garden and other tools. As a result, the two existing round mud huts became available. Renovated those with a new straw roof and a paint job, they look real nice again. Gave one to the chickens and in the other I keep my big things like sacks of cement and wheelbarrows.
The maintenance and cleaning work also continues. The banana trees are to be maintained, the campsite regularly cleaned from leaves and growing prickly bushes. Preparations for the next rainy season continues, after all again the rains start in June. The construction of gutters to counteract erosion, masonry walls etc. You understand , it keeps me busy.
Sometimes I forget this is Africa. And sometimes I encounter the strangest things. . For example, in Manantali (where I do all my shopping) there are two butchers. If they can find a cow they slaughter it in the evening. In the morning they hang the cow, in pieces, on large hooks in the market place. You can point at the piece that you wish and that is cut off. But good meat is scarce because the cows are mostly lean and consist of 80% bone, chamois and intestines. Meat is expensive, bones are cheaper, so many Africans buy the cheaper bones or guts. The butcher chops the bones in pieces with a big axe. The splinters and pieces of meet and blood fly in all directions but the African have no problem with that. I hate sharp splinters in my flesh so I’d rather have no bone but pure meat.
I had a reasonable relationship with one of the butchers. He knew what meat I am looking for and he usually keeps it for me. The other butcher is a blunt dick and I’d rather not go to him.
However, my butcher, who is called Malim, made a big mistake. He bought a few cows that were apparently stolen , he claims he did not know this. Whether he really did or not, I do not know but the result was that my favorite butcher was arrested and thrown in prison (without trail ofcourse). There was now only one butcher in the whole off Manantali, a jerk called Omar. I am not the only one who dislikes him, but that is besides the point. With the absence of Malim I tried to buy meat from Omar a few times, but he keeps refusing to sell me any, even though his hooks are filled with cow parts. Omar knows he’s king of meat so he can do anything he wants. He sells mainly to women, I guess I am the wrong sex for him. Or perhaps he dislikes white people, or for some other reason he thinks I should be a vegetarian. At first I became angry at him but to no avail, I remain meatless.
I thought to be solved the problem by sending a local to him, instead of going myself. But I am the only one who asks for meat without bone, so I guess he is onto me. The local either comes back empty handed or with two kilo’s of mashed up bones.
An African wil shake his head and say, InsAllah, but me, I decided to fight. Even if it is only to annoy Omar. I am planning to start my own butcher shop if Malim does not return. I ‘ve talked to several people. The mayor is very enthusiastic and others would like to have a second butcher. The mayor has promised me a first-rate place on the market if I’m going to start. However, however, the big problem is to find the cows. To set up a good business you need to have a fairly constant supply of cows and that is difficult. Probably also the reason why Malim bought stolen cows. With the help of some other people I am investigating how I can get that going because I have no desire to start something halfhearted. Since I am leaving for a visit to my family in Holland shortly, I will investigate further when I get back. Casper the butcher, sounds nice huh?
Good news, my family has been extended with five kittens. The cat was pregnant and today she gave birth. Mom-cat looked tired but seems to have survived the ordeal well. Can not see how many small ones she has produced, I want to leave the new family in peace for a bit. What am I going to do with the kittens? No idea, but the locals will gobble them up so maybe something for the butcher …. 😉
Its a bit quite around the aid projects momentarily. Not that there is lack of demand for aid. On the contrary. But few projects are, in my opinion, useful and feasible. Did help some people with their medicall problems, but this on my own account. Muhammad-Casper, my ‘foster son’, suddenly developed a cheek like a football. Looked like an infection in his jaw. The little one is only 9 months old and his face looked like the elephant man. I bought some medicine but his mother either did not administer them properly or they did not work. So he needed a a small incision in his jaw to bleed the swelling. I took him and his mom to the hospital several times and he is now completelt cured.
The chef de village was very ill. He is one old man and he was already to thin and now suffering fome fever and diarrhea. For an oldie this can be fatal so I helped him with loperamide, vitamins and OSR and he has recovered as well. For the rest I get a lot of requests for aid which are either absurd or not feasable for me. Build a school for us in village X, help us with a new roof. The latter from a family whio sits around and does nothing all day (the men).
I have two students who grow potatoes on a piece of my land, but I am not to enthusiastic anymore. They sometimes forget to water them. However, the crop is not dead or harvested yet so I have to see what happenes in the near future.
I made a small football pitch for the youth. This in a distant corner of my property, far from my house. There are metal goals and two basketball baskets as wel. I had promised this long time ago and have now kept my promise. The kids themselves have to maintain the pitch themselves. They even cleared the ground from grass and stones, I payed for the metal goals and baskets. The youth are very happy with it. But I am not sure if I am.
Every day some kids come to ask me for a football. Since I had one, the first two days I gave them my football to play with, but at the end of the second day playing the football was broken. So the next day they came to ask for a pump to inflate the leaky football. Ok, I supplied that as well but after one day the pump was broken as well. So now a broken pump and a leaky football. I was getting already fed up, the next day they asked for a bicycle to go into town to pump the leaky football. I refused. The next day they asked me to buy a new football, I refused again. And so it continues. It is time that they take their own responsibility and start to fix the things, and not ask my for a new one. And its time they stop annoying me. Give us some water, we are thirsty. Give us the basketball, the football is leaky. Give us this, give us that. I have given enough for now. Because if you do not put your foot down, there is no end. People keep coming and asking. And they never learn. Sometimes I think they have brains like chickens, since all the things I ask, are forgotten the next day.
One of the little projects that I want to start after my return from Holland is cooking with gas in the small villages. Everybody now cooks on firewood or charcoal, which is also made of wood. This facilitates a lush trade in wood, resulting in a lot of tree cutting, although in principle this is illegal. There is also a ‘forestier’ in Manantali, who should ensure that they cut no trees but I’ve never seen the man check anything. It is permitted to gather “death” wood so the locals burn the grass which in turn kills the trees. They let it dry and then gather the wood, and bring it to the market under the pretense of “it’s dead anyway.” All know it wasn’t dead wood a few weeks before but nobody is stopping it or convincing them that its bad to cut so many trees. Selling wood creates an income however small, but the damage to the environment is clear to see.
Wood or charcoal is not cheap. Basically gas is cheaper, It is the faster, easier and cleaner. And much better for the environment. However, it is not available in my region and people are not aware it even exists. If I calculate it quickly and dirty, cooking on gas about half the price of cooking on wood. Must mention that the government has in recent months increased the price of gas significantly.
So there is no supply of gas cylinders in Manantali, but I can do something about that. What I need to find a solution for is safety and durability. All gas stoves found in Bamako are made in China and the quality is horrible. Cheap, but horrible. Gas leeks from all sides, buttons come of when you only look at the stove and the hose connection looks like its made of plastic. A European will, if he smells gas, go and look where it is leaking or at least close the bottle, but people who have no experience will ignore it, with all horrible results. So any system will have to be African-proof. I am not implying that Africans are stupid but the situation in African villages are very unlike a western kitchen. Cooking is done in the open (wind, dirt, sand), kids all around, a a small playing child could easily hurt himself or worse. Leaking connections could be fatal when somebody passes by with a burning cigarette or so, something with possibly fatal consequences. And that is not helping people of course.
So I’m looking for simple gas ranges with automatic sensors that shut off the gas supply when there is no flame. That is quite normal in Europe, I had such a stove in my camper, but here they are not to be found. Will therefore have to look in the Netherlands.
If I find the correct gas ranges (two burners, the ordinary simple ones without oven), I want the bottle in a closed cabinet so no one touch the hoses or connections. Then I have to adapt the flames as well since the African cooks with big metal cauldrons. The regaler gas stoves are to small to hold these. Once I solved these problems I want to supply one to the local village closest to me and see how it goes. Then adapt the system according to the findings. When I and the users are satisfied, I can build more and get the bottles myself from Bamako or Kita. Ultimately good for nature, good for the environment and everyone is happy.
Grandma Fajoungou, a really old woman is not seeing to well. Ihave already been asked a few times to help her, but I thought it was an old age problem, something which even I can not cure. Last week I suddenly got a bright idea of glasses. I have some old spare glasses that I never use. So I took two old glasses to the village of Djalakoto. The old woman did not see me coming, only when I stood right before her did she recognized me. I told her that I might have a solution for her bad sight and put her my old glasses on her nose. Her eyes, usually pinched, were suddenly wide open, her mouth dropped open. Oooooohhhh, she cried out, I see everything clearly. She was so happy that she would not let go of my hand while looking around as if she saw the world for the first time. Her rotten teeth colored nicesly with the big round glasses. That was a good deed which costs very little and I was able to change someones life for the better.
I recently started to lock my gate at night. A month ago I was sitting on my patio, in the dark at nine o’clock in the evening or so, watching a movie. Suddenly two large African men stood in front of me out of the blue. I live quite remote and normally you see nobody after nightfall . So sit scared me and I reacted (too) aggressively. The dog started barking and growling and I snapped ‘what the F are you doing here. ” Yes we came to have a look around, said one of the men. I told him it was 9 in the evening and there is not much to see in the dark, and just arriving quietly is not the African way. I told them brusquely to come back in the daytime. They left but I followed them at a distance, to the gate. I saw that they drove an Escon car. Escon is the local energy company and I approached them again to ask about their intentions and apologized for my unfriendly reaction. They understood and we had a friendly conversation. . They had seen the signs on the road and came to see, probably if there was something to drink. Anyway since then I lock the gate, because there may also be people with bad intentions.
And so last week I walked to the gate to close it. It was almost dark. I started fumbling with the key in one hand and my flashlight in the other when I suddenly heard a rustling beside me. The dog, who walked beside me suddenly began to growl. I turned half and shone my flashlight on the ground. There was a whopper of a snake crawled 50 cm from my feet. The beast was only five feet but as thick as my leg. Fortunately he crawled away from me. I made an jump to safety and the snake did the same in the other direction, so fortunately nothing happened but my heart beat a bit faster than normal.
The heat has returned. The months of November to February were delicious. During the day nicely warm and at night cool. 14 degrees is the minimum temperature that I measured. Sometimes, when its cool and there is a breeze it feels like Holland. The months before was rainy season. Not too hot but humid weather. And many insects, even the occasional mosquito.
With the lovely cool evenings you can enjoy, especially if it is up to 38 degrees during the day. But two weeks ago there was a sudden change. I sat on the terrace with a cup of coffee, after supper., 8 o’clock or so. A very small fresh wind made it enjoyable. From one second to the next it changed. There arose a fairly strong hot wind like a hair blower. But a hair dryer about 5 cm away from my face. Unfortunately, the coolness was over. It stayed that night above 30 degrees. Could not sleep. Unfortunately I just have to get used to it again because it’s been a few weeks hot, even at night. The prospect that I will be in Holland shortly makes it bearable.
One of the annoying things about living in the bush are the insects. There are many, and there are many species in Mali but the three culprits are the termites , the ants and spiders. The termites eat everything. Obviously no metal but all wood, fabric, plants and trees they munch away. The termite lives underground. He surfaces above the ground when he smells a nice piece of wood. They sort of drill small tunnels in the wood, munching away, until the wood is so filled with tunnels it sort of falls apart. But they also love fabriks like cotton. Once during a big wind my towel blew of the clothes line and lay on the ground for just a day. The termites had already eaten a large hole in my nice towel.
I have constructed a fence around my property to keep goats and sheep away. This with wooden posts, plated in cement. After 4 to 5 months the termites have eaten half of them away. They have even invaded one of my sleeping huts. There was a tiny hole in one of the cement floors. The termites make there own sort of highway. A mud tunnel creeps up the wall. There is nothing for them to eat but that does not keep them from searching, and scraping the mud tunnel from my freshly painted wall leaves a brown mud stain. Termites can cut , or eat, a tree in a matter of months. They can also attack the roots in the ground, there is nothing you can do. So you see the tree dying and know they are eating away down in the ground. Very irritating.
A brother of the termite is a small beetle of which I do not know the name. They also eat anything. The shelves in my kitchen are infected by them, every day there is a few piles of sawdust on the floor. Even worse is that they eat my food. I opened up a small satchel of Dutch cheese sauce (in powder form) to make some pasta, it was invested with these small beetles. They also invest rice and peanuts, they even eat away from my Nasi mix (a dutch-Indonesian spice mix). A few of these insects in your food, ah, thats live and perhaps even healthy. But a whole army of them, no thanks.
I roast my own peanuts. They are very tasty and very cheap here. But before roasting you should check them very well. In many peanuts those annoying beasts have drilled holes and placed there eggs.
The thing is to keep all your food in tightly sealed containers, the only way to keep insects out.
Ants are a different story. These are more intrusive than termites. From each hole or slit in my wall or floor a sea of ants can suddenly appear. If you leave something of food laying around, inside or outside, you can bet the bet that ants will find it within the hour. I give my dog the occasional bone. If he leaves it behind for half hour on the terrace it will be black with ants. I sprinkle with poison, close small holes and do everything to eradicate the animals but without visible results. They are very persistent.
I also have a spider infestation in my house. Probably because I have a wooden ceiling I think. Hundreds of spiders and spiders, usually the ones with these long legs and tiny bodies (longlegs?). They are constantly constructing their web in my house. Everything can be cleaned with the broom, but the next day it is full again. The walls, corners, and all rooms seems like a spider-ball.
Last week one of the girls from the small village was going to get married. Unfortunately, the tradition is that they get married when they are 14 years old. That is stated in the Koran, they tell me. Coincidentally I have a Koran in my house but I cannot find anything about age. I have repeatedly mentioned that 14 really is too young to get married. To no avail of course. I think the girls marry young because the parents get a dowery. Usually at least a cow and some cash, so basically they ‘sell’their daughters for money.
Anyway, when I bought my property one of the conditions was that when a girl was getting married, the girl and her friends would be allowed to come to my shoreline to wash their clothes and clean out some cabalas. My land is the only land where large flat rocks run into the water, ideal place for washing clothes. Everywhere else the shore is sandy or muddy. So today about 30 young girls came to wash their clothes for the coming wedding party, meanwhile singing and shouting and making a mess of things. Africans have a habit of not talking but shouting. You can hear them from miles away. For a day I can bear it, and it was a nice sight to see all the youths banging their clothes against the rocks, while singing African songs. At 3 in the afternoon they left with their clean clothes, singing all the way home and leaving behind empty packets of washing powder, groundnut shells and probably some confused fish.
The same girls by the way, painted my traditional African huts in traditional colors. They promised to make some nice designs and I left them doing it. When they where finished and had left, I went to have a look. It was horrible. They did not make any designs, they just slapt some colors on the walls, it looked like a 2 year old had played with paint. I took my garden hose and rinsed all the paint from the houses, luckily it was water based paint. Till date there are color marks in the sand where the girls spilled paint. Once, but never again.
I actually have guests. Wolfram and iris. A German couple whom I met first in Ethiopia. I was on the way to Europe, they on their way to South Africa. They have now finished thei tour of Afrika and are on their way to Europe. They are very happy with my campsite and tell me time and again that they have not had such a nice spot in all of west Africa. Best place since Namibia. I am pleased of course. Beyond that its nice to have guests. Gives me a chance to have good conversation. And Wolfram and iris are very friendly people so we do a lot of blah blah in the coming days.
Despite this the preparations for my departure continue. One month to the Netherlands, so some things have to be taken care of. The animals need food, water the plants and trees, the fruit has to be picked and sold and so on. Have hired a night watchman for safety. On the day of my departure, five minutes before I wanted to leave, the guy suddenly came up to me and told me he thought it would be necessary to increase his salary. Of course I refused to pay him more and threatened to find someone else (which is difficult in 5 minutes) . He capitulated, but next time I’ll find someone else, that’s obvious.
The drive to Bamako went very smoothly this time and at half past three I parked my car at the Sleepy Camel in Bamako. The weather was very hot, but the sleepy Camel was full with guests. This time there was no problem with power but there was no water. The long-awaited shower came from a bucket. Spent two days to arrange that my car was what repaired, my generator was repaired and went to find some solar panels for when I come back.
The flight to the Netherlands, with Royal Air Maroc was good, but the seat (and wait in Casablanca) was long. But I’m back in the Netherlands. Delicious break from the heat.
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