Tuesday, 30 October 2012


So this weekend was Tabaski - the Malian word for Eid-al-Adha. Eid-al-Adha is the Muslim festival celebrating Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his own son on God's command - for which he was rewarded by being given a sheep to sacrifice instead.

To commemorate this, every year sheep are slaughtered, with a prayer said as they are killed, and the meat eaten, with a portion given to the poor. The wider festival involves families visiting, sharing the meat, eating more meat. So to summarise: it's a big deal, and a lot of meat is eaten by all.

In the run up to Tabaski, the streets become gradually more and more full of sheep. You'll be driving along, and suddenly you have to stop because there's a herd of sheep in the way - think driving in the country in Wales, only in a city, and you get what I mean. And when you ask people about it, they're all excited, and you can't help getting excited too, even if it isn't your festival.

And this time, I was in luck - a colleague invited me to hers for some sheep. As I spent Eid-al-Fitr eating in a fairly depressing Chinese restaurant because it was all that was open, I jumped at the chance, and on Tabaski morning up I jumped to go across town to hers. Sadly, there was traffic, so I missed the actual sheep killing, but I ate a lot of sheep, which was good, and it was great to be part of it. By the evening, it was party time - huge queues outside all the clubs, and everyone out dancing and celebrating.And by the next day it was quiet, with only the massive, expensive sheep that no-one can afford to buy left standing - and the tiny ones, which people buy to bring up ready for next year.

Of course, because it's Mali, it has to be political too. A few taxi drivers complained that sheep were more expensive this year because of the crisis in the north. At first I assumed it was just taxi driver moaning (because some things are the same everywhere) but I asked a couple of colleagues about it, and it turns out it's true. A lot of the sheep come from the North, and the traders can't get down, so it's pushed prices up in the capital. And on top of that, the drought killed hundreds of animals - pushing prices up further. So prices are up by about 50%, and on top of everything that's hit people this year, a lot more of them can't afford a sheep. 

Friday, 26 October 2012

Ways I Might Die in Mali

Since our security advisor imposed the totally unnecessary curfew, we've been spending some time listing the ways we are actually most likely to die in Mali. I thought I'd share them. Spoiler: 'Jihadi attack' and 'road block death' aren't there.

1. Car accident
By far the most likely

2. Hit by car while walking by road.
There aren't really pavements, so this is definitely feasible. Also they don't indicate, and they swerve a lot. And I look the wrong way when I cross the road. Clearly I'm doomed.

3. Falling in a hole
There are a lot of holes in the street, mainly drainage channels/sewers as well as giant potholes. Walking back from the gym at night, with no lighting, I'm often genuinely concerned that I'll fall in a hole and die.

4. Infection
Possibly related to 3. If I fall in a hole, I'll probably survive the fall (the holes aren't that big), but the foul smelling black crap at the bottom of the hole/ditch would probably not be good for me.

5. Breaking my neck falling down a hill at the hash
Some of the hares like to have us run down rough-cut steps. Some time, someone's going to break their neck.And given my current fall rate, it'll probably be me.

6. Electrocution
Someone in the Dakar guesthouse was nearly killed by a live wire coming in contact with, of all things, a sunshade. It's worse here. The other day I unplugged the washing machine and the entire plug came out of the wall. Then I looked down and realised the water pipe had overflowed and I was standing in a pool of water. Holding disconnected wiring. Realise that I've had time to have all these thoughts and am not dead, so live wires probably aren't in contact with the water. Put down wiring on top of washing machine, back away slowly...

7. Malaria
This should probably have gone higher, but I'm taking prophylaxis for the moment

8. Drowning
Drunk people + pool parties = dangerous

9. Flipping off the bridge
In a famous Bamako incident, three Americans were in a car with three prostitutes crossing the bridge (at 3am?). The car flipped, went off the bridge, and they all died. It turns out there's an uneven road surface that, when you hit it fast, means that this happens quite often. Although luckily the traffic's bad enough that hitting it fast isn't usually an option.

10. Level crossing
The taxis stop in traffic halfway across a level crossing. In Kampala someone was killed doing that a few years ago, and it always freaks me out.


11. Zombies
I haven't found a good zombie plan for Bamako yet - no location that has both access to water and food, and is defensible. If there's a zombie apocalypse I think my best bet would be to die in the first wave, rather than have my suffering prolonged.

A little morbid perhaps, but kept us entertained for an evening...

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Bug season!

I just got back to Mali from leave, and it turns out that it's Bug Season!

The rainy season is receding into the past, the hills around Bamako are getting steadily browner, and the air is dustier.But the main change is that there are bugs EVERYWHERE.

There have always been ants. But now there are more, and they're bigger, and they have NO FEAR. I was reading on my sofa in my living room last night, only to find massive (luckily non-bitey) ants crawling ALL OVER ME.

Then a step up from the giant ants, there are big black hoppy things (technical term). They're about the size of my thumb, and they regularly launch themselves at me from the other side of my office. You don't know shock until you're merrily writing a report only to find yourself pelted with massive black insects seemingly intent on flying into your face.

Then there are the grasshoppers and criquets pelerins (locusts) making their annual pelerinage from north to south. Those don't fly into you as much, but they are still everywhere. Apparently there are more than usual this year - normally they wipe them all out in their Libyan breeding grounds, but this year people in Libya have been a bit busy and didn't get round to the extermination. Luckily they don't seem to have destroyed too many crops - for a while, we were worried that after the war and the food crisis, the locusts would be next - possibly followed by the river of blood, the frogs, and the death of the first-born son.

Anyway, having been eagerly anticipating the cooler weather, I now have lesser dreams. I just want to be able to sit in my office without enormous bugs flying into my face, and on my sofa without being covered with a swarm of ants.