Wednesday with words

Hot season in Mali

Hot season has arrived in Mali,*) no question about that, and this is mentioned on all kinds of platforms, such as Facebook and different blogs.

Here is a collection of funny tidbits from some Facebook friends and their friends:

You know it’s hot season in Mali when…

…you don’t need a towel, you air-dry in less than a minute.
…you refer to a day that doesn’t hit 115F / 46C as a “cool day.”
…you stand in the shower with your clothes on so you can have the illusion of cooling as your clothes dry.
…you take cold showers on purpose.
…even the Malians say, “Boy, it’s hot.”
…you are showering your kids and they scream, “No, it’s too hot. Turn on the cold water.” You reply, “This IS the cold water!”
…you can bend your candles into any fancy shape you want.
…your clothes feel like they’ve been freshly ironed when you put them on.
…your ankles sweat.
…corned beef melts on the table before you get to make sandwiches.
…you can fry eggs on your forearm.
…all the expats in Kayes head for the border.
…the only time you are completely dry is immediately after a shower.

from Sharon & friends: You know it’s hot season in Mali when… (Facebook status)

Coping strategies:

Here are some excerpts from Jennifer’s blog about her strategies for hot season (to read all of them go here)

WATERBEDS: When waterbeds became popular in the 70s and 80s, someone decided they were the solution to a missionary’s problems in hot climates. I remember people telling us we HAD to get one. After all, if you can get a good night’s sleep, it goes a long way toward helping one cope with the strains of the day (which is true). …

The problem is that water tries to equalize itself with the air temperature. For a large body of water, like an ocean, the difference remains significant, so you can still have a cool dip in hot weather. But a relatively small body of water, like a mattress, quickly approaches the ambient temperature. Even if the room cools off at night, the warm water is contained in a huge rubber “bottle” which releases heat slowly – a month or more after the end of hot season, but certainly not in a few hours! …

Seemingly, this did not work for her, but it has worked fine for me so far. It certainly contributes to the miracle that I can sleep in a room that has 92-95F /33-35 C.  As she explains, you have to cool down the water mattress with soaked towels and fans. Depending on how hot it is, I do this one to three times per day.

SHOWERS: Did you notice how many people in the responses at the beginning referred to showers? Don’t be surprised if you come to my house and I answer the door dripping wet – if it’s not sweat, then I’ve just taken a shower fully clothed. It’s even more effective if I can sit in front of a fan afterwards. …

SLEEPING OUTSIDE: We might have avoided the waterbed fiasco altogether if we had investigated how the local people tolerate the heat. Quite simply, they move outside to sleep at night. It’s even better for those whose houses have a flat, concrete roof to sleep on. …

This was one of the big advantages of living in the village which I miss very much since moving to Bamako. In the village we had a second building with a flat roof where we could sleep on whenever the inside of the house got too hot. The only disadvantage – it is difficult to get down form the roof with all your stuff (mattress, mosquito net, sheets, alarm clock, ..) when you are overtaken by a sand storm. 😉

FANS, SWAMP COOLERS, AND AIR CONDITIONERS: We have lots of fans, but when it gets really hot they just blow hot air. However, they aren’t too bad if your clothes are wet. A swamp cooler is an evaporative cooler or humidifier, common in the American southwest, that blows air through water. …

This is the advantage of living in Bamako where we have 220V instead of just 12V like in the village – I can have an air conditioner and the fans are more powerful. The disadvantage is that the air conditioners are not cheap and use a lot of electricity. For this reason I have one only in my office, but not in the rest of the house. My new home came with a swamp cooler but so far it has only cost me a lot of repairs.

SWIMMING: There’s a great swimming spot on the river about 10 miles out of town and we enjoy going out there, especially when our kids are home. Not far from there is a rocky area with swimming holes and waterfalls which stay quite cool even in hot season, and we love to explore there as well. During Spring Break we sat on a flat rock under a waterfall which was a fabulous experience. …

VACATION: This is the ultimate solution to Beating the Heat: leave town. We save up all our vacation time and head west to the coast of Senegal for the month of May. Interior Senegal is just as hot as Mali, but the coast is quite pleasant (besides the obvious benefit of being close to our children). And in just 15 days from now, that’s what we’ll be doing. …

My personal favorite is the ‘African Air-conditioner’ – similar to Swamp coolers that are based on the principle of evaporative heat loss, the same principle is at work when I cover myself with a wet sheet before going to sleep. Sometimes I have to get up during the night to make the sheet (cloth, pagne) wet again, but in general it helps a lot to cool down the body and sleep well. The same happens when you hang a wet towel around your neck during the day.

Top Ten Reasons to Love Hot Season in Mali:

10. Working late at the office takes on a whole new significance – Free AC.
9. The Malians finally agree with you when you say it is hot.
8. If you have problems deciding what shirt to wear, no problem. You’ll be wearing at least 3 today.
7. A chance to practice your Fahrenheit-Celsius conversion with big numbers like 41 or 46C (106F or 115F).
6. For those of us who have no hot water heaters, we can finally take a hot shower!
5. It’s a great time of the year to do swamp cooler maintenance.
4. Everyday household tasks become an extreme sport.
3. Clothes have that wonderful “fresh out of the dryer” feel when you take them out of the closet.
2. The oven is automatically “pre-heated”, and hey – most food is already pre-cooked.
1. A daily occasion to regale your facebook friends with complaints about how hot it is (just as they are expressing joy that it is finally getting up to 70F!)

from Tim: Top 10 reasons to love Hot Season in Mali (Facebook note)

*) The question is maybe whether hot season has ever left. This years ‘cold season’ was everything else than cold, even for Malian standards. Already in February temperatures often felt like hot season.

A belated ‘Wednesday with words’ – Nadi’s story in pictures

Nadi and her family (Jan 2007)
Nadi and her family in January 2007.
Nadi's madura foot (Jan 2007)
Nadi’s foot three years ago (Jan 2007). At this time we did not know what illness she had since more than 15 years. It had gotten so bad, that she rarely left the house because walking was too painful. Over the last years three doctors who saw the photos confirmed that she had Madura foot. Since then it had gotten worse to the point that the pain kept her from eating. She was only skin and bones when she arrived in Bamako in November 2009.
Nadi after the amputation (Dec 2009)
The French doctors who did the amputation remarked how she improved visibly even just a few days after the surgery.
Nadi after amputation (Jan 2010)
Nadi at the end of January 2010 – the healing of the wound took longer than predicted but in the end it healed well and was “bien matelasser” (well padded) as a colleague of the orthopedic technician remarked. 😉
Nadi at the technician's office
At the beginning of February 2010 – the orthopedic technician puts a cast on Nadi’s stump to make a print of it.
Nadi at the technician's office
Today was her last day of practice at the technician’s office and afterward she went home with two legs. It still needs a lot of practice until the walking with the heavy prosthesis will be smooth but it is wonderful seeing her walk after 20 years of illness.

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Traffic patterns

In a class on Folk Religion we read Paul Hiebert’s article on “Traffic Patterns in Seattle and Hyderabad”. His comparison between Seattle and Hyderabad made me smile because after having lived in two African countries and visited several others, I knew exactly what he was talking about.

Hiebert writes about the traffic in Hyderabad:

The first impression many Americans have is that Hyderabad traffic has no order. Obviously, this is false. So many people could not travel with so few accidents if there were none. Why, then, do Americans jump to this conclusion?

I am familiar with this kind of frustration when things don’t work like we think they should. Even if the official traffic rules in Mali are patterned after a Western example (France), there are often cultural rules that come into the mix.

Global Road Warrior has the following information for business people coming to Mali –Mali: Road Conditions

Driving conditions in the capital of Bamako can be particularly difficult and dangerous. Few traffic signals function regularly, and drivers often do not follow the rules of the road. In particular, the small, green, van-like buses called “bashays” pay no heed to oncoming traffic, and bashay drivers are known to change lanes unexpectedly without looking. Please exercise extreme caution when driving in Bamako.

Over the years of living in Mali and navigating the traffic in Bamako, I discovered the following principles:

1) Egalitarianism – everybody gets a chance

When you come to a crossing from a non-priority street, after some time of waiting, you have the right to go, priority or not. This is often indicated by stretching out your palm towards the oncoming traffic on the priority road. When I saw this for the first time, I  got really upset. I had priority and this was a violation of the rules. Plus, the person seemed to behave like a policeman but wasn’t one, and I thought: “Who the heck does he think he is?!?!” Once I understood the principle, I could see the advantage as I am, too, sometimes coming from a non-priority street, and if it went according to the rules, I might have to wait “until the cows come home.”

2) Cow path mentality – go wherever there is room

This leads me to the second principle. Most people in Bamako are more influenced by village life, than town life. Most grew up in a village or have spent a longer time with relatives in a village. Also, this kind of village mentality does not easily change and is passed on to second and third generation of town folk. I know from experience that there are few clearly marked roads in a village or between villages, and even less tarmac roads. So when the rain makes a stretch of road unusable, this is not a huge problem. People just find another way to get around the spot. By the end of the rainy season there are many different ways to get from point A to point B. The paths of cow herds moving up and down the country vary even more. Wherever there is no obstacle, you can go, and when there is an obstacle you just find a new path.

How does this now apply to the traffic in Bamako?

It’s simple – you go or drive wherever there is room. If there is a line of cars on the right side of the road, waiting for the traffic light to turn green, and nobody is coming on the left side of the road, you will of course use this “empty space” to circumvent the obstacle. This applies especially to bikes, motorbikes and pus pus (push carts). When you want to go over the Niger river on the new bridge, you will arrive on a kind of cloverleaf intersection / ingress ramp to join a two lane street. During rush hour these two lanes easily turn into four and a half lanes, as cars and motorbikes keep pushing their way in (four with cars, a half one with motorbikes).  Amazingly, this does not happen when there is a policeman in sight.

3) Negotiation – establishing relationships at every crossing

The third principle does not only apply to Bamako traffic, but to many other areas of Malian culture. Who gets to go and who has to wait is a matter of negotiation, not of rules. You have to make eye contact and try to discern the other persons intentions, which is often communicated by hand gestures and/or head movements. When I discovered this principle (thanks to a discussion about traffic with Ibrahima), at first I was annoyed. Is it not so much easier and more efficient to follow rules instead of negotiating at every crossing who gets to go? You can go much faster on a priority road, when you know that everybody sticks to the rules and nobody will step or drive into your way who shouldn’t. Plus, it is so much less stressful! This is certainly the normal reaction of a Westerner and rather ethnocentric. Interestingly, Hiebert quotes an experience from 1974 in London that showed that traffic lights and marked lanes do not guarantee more effectiveness.

On the other hand, negotiating your position in relationship to others is very much an overarching principle in many areas of life in Mali. So it is only natural to also apply it to the traffic. In a way it is a more people oriented approach, while rules easily diminish other people to objects.

Hiebert calls the two approaches immediate and mediate transactions:

Marked lanes, stop lights, and signs controlling space introduce a particular type of order to traffic, an order based on mediated transactions. In immediate transactions players calculate their moves by observing the actions of the other players. In mediate transactions they calculate their moves not directly on what others are doing, but on their relationship to a third mediating agency (Figure 1).

Hiebert001

Hyderabad traffic seems to have a lot of similarity with Bamako traffic. Similar to my remark above, Hiebert also concludes that:

The introduction of mediate transactions tends to standardize and depersonalize interaction. In immediate transactions a player is related directly to other players. …. In mediate transactions a player responds to an impersonal matrix. The result is a measure of standardization and of depersonalization. The difference between the two types of transactions is roughly analogous to that between tennis and golf.

Of course, there are many more aspects that come into play: the fact that the majority of road users is probably illiterate and has not learned in school how to behave in different traffic situations (I am not even sure whether thosse that go to school have had any kind of road safety education or not); people riding a motorbikes do not need a license and therefore had no instruction on traffic rules; most participants have no idea that a truck can’t stop as fast as a pedestrian; women have the tendency to cast their eyes down and not look men into the eyes, which some also do when crossing the road; few have heard that it is wise to also keep the road users behind oneself in mind, e.g. when moving to the middle of the road or avoiding an obstacle; there is a patron-client thinking that makes the richer person more responsible than the penniless road user, which means that even if it is not your fault, the one with money gets to pay the bill; Western traffic rules were made for situations were bikes are a minority – in Bamako cars are several times outnumbered by bikes and this creates whole different dynamic.

All of this makes Bamako traffic a challenge for everybody, but even more so for expatriates.

Ref:
Hiebert, Paul G. “Traffic Patterns in Seattle and Hyderabad.” Journal of Anthropological Research 32, no. No. 4 Winter (1976): 326-36.

Wednesday without words

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Wednesday without words

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Bamako (movie)

Did you hear about this film that is named after Mali’s capital Bamako and takes place in a court yard of this city? Well, I had heard about it and now I finally managed to see it, thanks to Blockbuster Online. It is a very interesting film. The film’s main languages are French and Bambara, but the DVD includes English subtitles.

The product description on Amazon summarizes it well:

An extraordinary trial is taking place in a residential courtyard in Bamako, the capital city of Mali. African citizens have taken proceedings against such international financial institutions as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), whom civil society blames for perpetuating Africa’s debt crisis, at the heart of so many of the continent’s woes. As numerous trial witnesses (schoolteachers, farmers, writers, etc.) air bracing indictments against the global economic machinery that haunts them, life in the courtyard presses forward. Melé, a lounge singer, and her unemployed husband Chaka are on the verge of breaking up; a security guard’s gun goes missing; a young man lies ill; a wedding procession passes through; and women keep everything rolling – dyeing fabric, minding children, spinning cotton, and speaking their minds.

It is the court yard where the filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako grew up. The film basically includes three stories lines woven into each other – the trial, the everyday life in the court yard and the television movie “Death in Timbuktu”. They seem to be completely independent from each other and still are happening in the same place. It makes me think of two transparencies being laid on top of each other.

Sometimes it seems as if they don’t even notice each other: The court carries on, while a teenager passes between judges and audience, carrying a child back and force, women come to the central water faucet and noisily fill their buckets right next to the court audience, the singer demands her little brother to close the back of her dress standing in between two rows of the audience, etc.

Then there are times when they do acknowledge each other: The court pauses when a wedding accompanied by the loud and throaty praise song of a griotte (female praise singer) comes into the court yard; there are megaphones outside the court yard, so other people can listen, but when they want to talk among themselves, they switch off the megaphone; several people seem to listen but then there is no indication in their faces.

Included on the DVD is an interview with Gita Sen (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era). She beautifully underlines that this coexistence is part of the message of the film: The policies of international institutions and the economic system of the West since the time of the slave trade negatively affect life in Africa. At the same time people carry on with their lives as if nothing has happened, and it is the women who bear the brunt of the load.

It is a movie that needs to be watched several times.