Trouble in Mali

bamSome years ago  my wife and I were briefly in West Africa.

Our first stop  was Senegal where we were scarily mugged  in Dakar, the capital, when we  were exploring a busy side street.

Next came Bamako, the  principal city of Mali on the banks of the  Niger River.

There was an open air market  close to our hotel  but we were leery  of going anywhere near it because of our experiences in Senegal. But we couldn’t resist and tentatively made our way  inwards from its edges,  into the center, where all the action was, expecting  to have to make a run for it at any moment.

But nothing happened.  We weren’t mugged  or bothered in any way.

French is commonly spoken there, other than local dialects,  and since my wife, Liz  is as fluent in French as she is in English, we had absolutely no trouble communicating  with the stallholders who were eager  to show  off and tell us about their wares.

Best of all was the experience we had  in the hotel restaurant  where we’d asked for ‘something from Mali, ‘ only to be told the menu comprised only European-style dishes.

We’d been looking forward to to sampling some of the local fare  and were very disappointed  to learn that apparently wouldn’t be possible:

I say ‘apparently’  because later  there was a gentle knock him our door and when we opened it standing there was our waiter  from that evening.  With him was a young man  balancing pots and  bowls on his head.

Mali is a Muslim country where marriage to more than one woman  is de rigour and our waiter had explained our interest in wanting to taste some of the local food to one of his wives, and she’d prepared  a selection for us to sample.

The young man  was a nephew who’d walked kilometers from a village on the far side of the river Niger to bring the food to us. But he wouldn’t accept  any form of payment, despite the fact, as we later learned,  not only was he out of work and penniless,  but he’d never had a job in his life.

We ate the food — a kind of delicious fish gumboo — with great enjoyment.

We wanted to show our appreciation  to the young man who’d delivered it to us, walking  for miles  to reach us, and since he wouldn’t accept any form of payment decided on another way of rewarding  him.

All of the  waiters  and waitresses were local men and women, busily serving  exclusively European clients.  So we asked for the  dessert trolley and told our waiter’s nephew to choose whatever he wanted, which he did with alacrity, helped by the grinning waiters and waitresses who’d abandoned their other customers.

The remainder of our stay in Mali  was just as enjoyable, except for the time we tried another hotel  and stayed in a  crowded room — crowded, that is, with hordes of mosquitoes 😉

That’s where I contracted  a mild form of malaria.

We later traveled across country  almost reaching Timbuktu.

But that, as they say,  is another story.

In other words, our stay  in this Muslim country  was completely enjoyable  so I was really sorry to learn  that from the look of it,  it’s very close  to becoming another Afghanistan  An al-Qaeda linked group  taking control of the northern part of Mali and is  “making gains towards the south,”  as the Canadian Press puts it, going on:

“Canada is contributing one of its large C-17 military cargo planes to deliver supplies to the capital of Mali after a request from France.

But not to worry because prime minister Harper insists  “no Canadian Forces personnel will be involved in any combat action ”.

Definitely stay tuned

Jon Newton — myblogdammit

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Contact me @ myblogdammit (at) ca


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