Nadi and her family in January 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.
The French doctors who did the amputation remarked how she improved visibly even just a few days after the surgery.
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. 😉
At the beginning of February 2010 – the orthopedic technician puts a cast on Nadi’s stump to make a print of it.
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.
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.
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:
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.”
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.
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).
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.
Hiebert, Paul G. “Traffic Patterns in Seattle and Hyderabad.” Journal of Anthropological Research 32, no. No. 4 Winter (1976): 326-36.
The rose-ringed parakeet is one of my favorites. Meanwhile I am able to distinguish their voices which sometimes sounds like chatting. They are really cute. They love the dry pods of the tree in our street. It’s like watching big budgies without a cage. On this photo you see the female. The male has a rosy-pink line around the neck.
Heute möchte ich euch zwei weitere gefiederte Besucher vorstellen:
Der Halsbandsittich ist einer meiner Lieblinge. Inzwischen kann ich ihren Ruf erkennen. Ihre Stimme klingt manchmal als würden sie plaudern. Sie sind echt niedlich. Sie lieben die trockenen Schoten auf dem Baum in unserer Straße. Es ist als hätte ich übergroße freilebende Wellensittiche vor meinem Fenster. Auf dem Foto seht ihr das Weibchen. Das Männchen hat einen rosanen Halsring.
Lat. psittacula krameri
Another visitor is the long-tailed glossy starling. These birds are beautiful to look at, with all kinds of shades of iridescent bronzy-green, bluish-green and purple. On the other hand, their voices are less pleasant. On top of it, they decided that the windows of our veranda are a perfect mirror (or maybe their rivals) and so they come all day long to pick at the windows. Very annoying. It does help to stick paper on the inside but who wants to cover all his windows with paper?
Ein weiterer Besucher ist der Langschwanzglanzstar. Diese Vögel sind wunderschön anzusehen – schillerndes kupfer-grün, blau-grün und violet. Ihre Stimmen sind aber weniger angenehm. Außerdem haben sie leider beschlossen, dass die Verglasung unserer Veranda ein wunderschöner Spiegel ist (oder vielleicht ihr Nebenbuhler) and darum kommen sie den ganzen Tag und pecken an die Fenster. Sehr nerfig. Es hilft wenn ich die Fenster mit Papier von der Innenseite verklebe, aber wer will schon seine ganze Veranda verkleben?
Lat. lamprotornis caudatus
Even though I live near the center of the capital, there is a bird’s paradise in front of my window. It’s a big city block full of trees and shrubs in the middle. Right in front of my window is “my” tree and every day I receive many visitors on this tree. In the morning when I spend time fellowshipping with the Lord and reading my Bible, sometimes every minute a different species of bird stops by. They are wonderful reminder of God’s care and provision, even though it can get distracting at times. 😉
There are so many that I can’t introduce you to all of them in a single post. Here is the first installment. Since all my windows are screened it is hard to get a good shot at my visitors, I will use images that can be found on the web (with the link to the original page).
Obwohl ich in der Nähe des Stadtzentrums wohne, befindet sich direkt vor meinem Fenster ein Vogelparadies. Es ist ein Häuserblock wo nur am Rand Häuser stehen und innen alles voller Bäumen und Sträuchern ist. Direkt vor meinem Fenster steht “mein” Baum und jeden Tag empfange ich jede Menge Besucher auf diesem Baum. In der Früh wenn ich Gemeinschaft mit dem Herrn pflege und meine Bibel lese kann es passieren, dass jede Minute eine andere Vogelart vorbei kommt. Sie sind eine tolle Erinnerung an Gottes Liebe und Versorgung, aber manchmal können sie mich auch zu sehr ablenken. 😉
Da es so viele Besucher gibt, kann euch nicht alle in einem einzigen Eintrag vorstellen. Das ist also der erste Teil. Da alle meine Fenster Moskitogitter haben, ist es sehr schwierig gute Fotos von ihnen zu machen. Darum werde ich ausnahmsweise Fotos von anderen verwenden, die ich im Internet gefunden habe (mit dazu gehörigem Link).
This is one of the most frequent visitors – the Common Bubul * Das ist einer der häufigsten Besucher – der Graubülbül oder Berberbulbul.
Lat. pycnootus barbatus
One of my favorite guests are the Grey Woodpecker and his wife. His wife does not have the red cap * Einer meiner Lieblingsgäste ist der Graubrustspecht und seine Frau. Seine Frau hat keine rote Kappe.
Lat: dendropicos goertae