Friday, 21 September 2012

How to tell if you live in a conflict-affected country

There are a lot of signs you can use to tell if you live in a conflict affected country. For example:

Are there lots of checkpoints manned by people in uniform? Check
Is there occasionally violence in town? Check
Demonstrations? Check
Security threats against expatriates? Check
Increasing amounts of firearms in circulation and violent crime? Check
Curfew? Check

But despite all that, Bamako doesn't feel like it's in a conflict-affected country. t's overwhelmingly safe to travel around the town, and although there are demos and security threats at the moment, that has a lot more to do with 'that' video than anything to do with the war.

But today, I had a real sign that I'm living in a conflict affected country: being asked out by a 'security contractor' old enough to be my father.

I was in the gym, biking away, and a large man with an American accent asked me if I spoke English, and when I said I did, he asked me where the remote for the a/c was. Then said how nice it was to meet someone who spoke English because "here, you never know"*.

Anyway, once he'd worked out that he could talk to me, there was no stopping him. Lots of polite chitchat about where we were from, then this:

Me: so what do you do out here
Him: I'm a contractor
Me (trying not to sound suspicious): That's interesting. What kind of contractor.
Him: Security.
Me (trying not to sound judgemental): Oh?
Him: Yes, training.
Me: Oh. Right.
Him: Of course with all this in the north...
Me (trying not to sound too interested): Yes?
Him: so what did you say you did again?
Me (internally): damn, just as it was getting interesting

Now I don't know what he's doing, but I don't really need to. What I do know is that being chatted up by over-muscled security contractors that are far too old for me** is a cast-iron sign that I'm back. Hello countries in conflict. It's been a while. But you knew I wouldn't leave you forever, right?

*No Mr Security Contractor, you don't - you're already doing pretty well with the fact that most people already speak some of a second language. French. Not really fair to expect English as well. 

**to be clear, I said no. Actually I said that I would be in Kayes next week and then on leave. But hopefully that translates as no...

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Rainy Season Ended

A week and a half ago, the rainy season ended. And I really mean ended. It didn't phase out or anything - one day it was chucking it down every day, then one day it just stopped. And it hasn't rained since.

And so the city is back to where it was in May. The muddy streets are dusty again. The air isn't clear any more - there's a dust haze gradually rising. The green on the hills is fading - although it's hard to tell if that's because the plants are dying or if it's because the dust is blocking them out.

And it's getting hot. Not crazy hot like it was in May, but still low 30s and nothing in the way of breeze to cool it down. And there's none of that fresh feeling we get when it rains - just thick, hot air. Fewer pretty sunsets too, as the dust blocks them, and no more spectacular fork lightening across the sky.

So - there was a brief, shining moment... and then more dust.

At the hash, we're still running, but it's just a lot less nice than it was - it's hot and I'm sure one day I'll drop dead with dehydration.

On the plus side, there's no mud any more, and I don't have to walk through a lake to get to work. And it's easier to get a taxi because there's less competition and the ones missing windscreen wipers can stay in action.

But I miss the nice clean dust free air :-(

Apparently by mid-November it'll get as cool as the low 20s though, so that's something to look forward to.