Bamako: city of dust, city of bougainvillea. The friends who turn out to be heroes; The ones we break bread with who nourish our own hearts; The colleagues who become family; The neighbors who anchor our days; The greetings that never end; The showers that bring relief, both from dirt and sweat as well as from anxiety over the season’s harvest; The mornings that stun you into submission; The village chiefs whose class and style are unmatched; The history that keeps you guessing; The magic around every corner. After two years in Bamako, i’ve said (a long, rather drawn-out) farewell. Hopeful to be back soon and see an old friend with fresh eyes. Until then, starting over again somewhere new: [View of Hargeisa, Somaliland]
There are moments in life when good cheer is at a deficit. It’s no one’s fault, but you’ve looked under the cushions, in the back of the refrigerator, you’ve peeked into the neighbor’s yard and interrogated the donkey lazing on the corner, and you simply haven’t come upon any good cheer. Not to worry. There is a formula. It consists of the following: Bright yellow walls added to bright green leaves, Multiplied by an airy courtyard, plus friendly patrons. Multiplied again by sweet and spicy juices, the freshest around, and a menu to satisfy the most discerning palette. With the addition of friendly faces, and beautiful spaces, all divided over good company, squared for good measure. And what do you know, just like that good cheer sprung forth, just in time for lunch. Where have you found good cheer, lately? . . sending joy from Taxi Bamako, café and petit hotel, Rue 224 Porte 1018, Hippodrome.
We hunted. We hunted for clothes, for shoes, for things we didn’t know we needed. We were on a mission to stay focused inside the whirlwind of fabric, colors, voices, and knick knacks that is the friperie market of Bamako. I followed the leader, the expert, the one who knew how to best liaise with the Boutiquier Masters of Piles of Clothes. We went boutique to boutique, stack to stack, dress to shirt to skirt… We moved from bed sheets to clothes to shoes and back again. We waited patiently, for shop keepers to bring their gems, and for each other. We waited a bit less patiently as well. We got to know the neighbors. There was trying on and trying off things, lots of questions and guessing, yeses and nos, and cash exchanged hands. In the end, all parties left satisfied, and tuckered out.
Prelude to a filling lunch, and much beloved in Bamako: Vietnamese nem, seasoned and ground beef and onions wrapped in a fried, crispy rice paper. Here’s the low-down on nem.
What’s your house like? Not the one that keeps you out of the rain, but the one to which you retreat when times are tough. The house you built from bones, and shards of glass, and pockets of generosity, and life’s gifts. The house you carry with you, like the tortoise you were meant to be, like the one you are sometimes. What’s it like? Grandiose, with room to dance? Or just big enough to nap inside? How do you arrive to that place? Do you run, do you crawl, do you saunter? How often do you go? What’s it like in there? Are you safe, and free of fear? Is it comfortable? Well-furnished? Are there plenty of rugs and pillows? Do you breathe freely? Who do you let in? For how long do you entertain? Do you remember the route inwards? Don’t forget it, keep practicing–it’ll come in handy when you need it most. . . . Photos of homes, etc. in the neighborhood of Faso Kanu, Magnambougou, Bamako
Saturday’s lunch at a training for Malian doctors, by three foreign epidemiologists, put on at the Centre Aoua Keita in Bamako: Chebjen (aka Ceebu Jën, or Thiéboudienne) Red rice, fried fish, and an assortment of vegetables.