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.

Moskito nets

Today in one month is World Malaria Day. It was established in 2007 by the WHO and took place for the first time in 2008. So this is the second time it takes place.

Several organizations have started their announcements and action plans:

to only name a few.

Last year the project “One million faces against malaria” asked Facebook members (who heard about it in time) to exchanged their profile picture with a black square for one day with the goal to “raise awareness of malaria and SHOW THE WORLD WHAT ONE MILLION FACES DYING OF MALARIA EVERY YEAR LOOKS LIKE.”

The video from World Vision shows how mosquito nets could prevent the death of so many children.

Several organizations completely focus on providing more mosquito nets, such as:

It is true that there are more than one million children who die each year from malaria (which is already less than when I first arrived in Africa in 1993 when the estimate was two million), the majority are under five years old. This means one child dies every 30 seconds in Africa. Still too many!

So sending mosquito nets to Africa is great, isn’t it? Well, I have mixed feelings about it. One (minor) reason is that I know from experience that the mosquitoes are most active during dusk and dawn, but few children are sleeping during this time. Most children stay up and play until late at night. Nightfall is when the family sits outside in the court yard to eat their evening meal together. Smaller children will fall asleep during this time or shortly after, next to their parents who will sit and talk for a long time into the night. Maybe the parents will use a cloth to wave away flies or mosquitoes but it would be unnatural to separate the small children from the rest of the family, by putting them under the mosquito net inside the house where they would be all alone. Only when the mothers go inside to sleep, they will take their small ones with them. Upper class urban families might have additional smaller mosquito nets, that can be used to protect children sleeping alone. I have seen them on sale in the capital but never anywhere else. It is certainly a good thing to sleep under a mosquito net, and I do it myself, but it is wrong to give the impression that this might prevent children from ever getting bitten by mosquitoes.

And there is another reason:

Ben and Eddie, quoting an article from the Wall Street Journal, raised the issue if sending nets to Africa does not ruin the local businesses that could produce these mosquito nets and therefore perpetuates a cycle of dependency from the West.

I certainly agree, that swamping a region with 100,000  free mosquito nets would have this effect.I am just not convinced that this is what will happen. I have seen the distribution of free mosquito nets in our village. They were usually given as an incentive to pregnant women, encouraging them to come for their pre-natal check-up at the maternity, get their shots and give birth there. I don’t know how these nets had been financed but they certainly did not come in huge quantities drowning out the local production, more like supplementing it. It’s hard to say that this will now suddenly change because of the above mentioned action days, etc.

However, I agree that this principle is at work in many other ways, that “pouring huge sums of money into situations is not a way to achieve goals; not for governments, nor for Christian missions,”  (Eddie) because the situation in developing countries is very complex as I have pointed out before. We often do not understand how touching one part of the “mobile” can unbalance the rest of it and will have unintended side effects. This is were sound anthropological research plays an important role. Also, it helps to be in it for the long run and work on our cultural integration, so that we might have true friends that will give us honest answers, instead of  telling us what they think we want to hear or what helps them “milk” us better.

The author of the WSJ article, Dambisa Moyo, suggested that cutting off the flow would be far more beneficial. I am not convinced of it.

Eddie summarizes his post by “Stimulating local initiative and ownership takes longer, costs less, is much more effective, but is far harder to do.”  And one commenter suggested the use of local supplies and work forces for the production of mosquito nets. I fully agree with both of them.

You know you’ve been in Mali too long when…

Most of these have been posted on a Facebook group with this name. I edited some and added my own:

You know you’ve been in Mali too long when…

…you are personally offended by short skirts.

…you reuse Ziploc bags until they literally fall apart and after washing them you stick ’em to the wall to dry.

…you get excited when the thermometer reads only 40°C/104°F.

…you LOVE mangoes (in any forms- bread, dried, juice, whole…).

…you have multiple uses for your Air France eye mask.

…you no longer tremble at Bamako traffic.

…you run outside to see it rain.

…your clothes dry on the line in 10 min.

…you know somebody who has called Jorge Busch or ATT from Armee’s taxi.

…you’ve been offered at least 6 cows and 3 camels as dowry.

…you’ve been asked more than once to become a Malian man’s second or third wife.

…you had Malian women offering their husbands to you because they have pity on you for not being married.

…you find ants in your drink and think… huh, more protein.

…you never stop sweating.

…you have forgotten what real milk tastes like.

…your javel (chlorine) bottle is always at hand.

…you catch yourself saying… Yum- rice and sauce.

…you are cold because it’s only 20°C/68°F and its just too cold.

…you are getting excited when a lizard or gecko is crawling up your room wall because at least the flies and mosquitoes are getting eaten.

…you see a guy carrying a bench or a pile of chairs on his head, or on the back of a moto (moped), and you think nothing of it.

…you received a live chicken as gift from people and knew what to do with it.

…you accept to share a glass of tea the size of a shot with a shop owner.

…you think nothing of a man walking through a gas station selling this tea on a silver platter.

…you don’t notice when the traffic crawls in four lines where there are only two lanes and a bike lane.

…you are not surprised to see two adults and two children riding on one moto.

…you are not shocked when you pass five speed bumps in a row and the sotrama driver doesn’t even slow down.

…you are used to seeing a mud hut next to two large satellite dishes.

…you are content with sitting on one buttock only when riding on a sotrama because the apparentie (driver’s assistant) stuffed more than 20 people in the back of the minivan.

…you are always prepared to stop your car in the middle of nowhere because a herd of cows needs to cross the road.

…you know that it is unwise to offer a lift in you car to women with a calabash on their heads.

…you find it perfectly normal when two finely-dressed women are talking to each and one carries a bag of onions on her head.

…you don’t expect the bus to be air-conditioned because it says so on the outside.

…you know that a non-air-conditioned bus will be cooler than an air-conditioned bus because you can open the windows.

…you hold your paper cash notes from the corner.

…you know that you can’t return from a trip without giving everyone you know a cadeaux (present).

…you get excited when Azar’s got a new stock of cat food.

…you have seen someone with a leg of raw meat from some unfortunate creature strapped to the back of their moto.

…you travel without a toothbrush because you can always find a stick from a nem tree.

…you think of a religious sacrificial object when somebody uses the word “fetish.”

…you shudder away from kissing sounds.

…you realize how boring your dreams are when you run out of mefloquine (malaria prophylaxis).

…your feet are dirty and cracked and stay that way for the first three weeks back in your home country.

…you wonder where all these toubabs (white people) come from when you go home.

…you can’t help saying “toubabou, toubabou, toubabou” when a white person walks by.

…you order Coca light instead of Diet Coke when back home.

…you get back home and realize that you forgot that there is such a thing as a weather forecast.

…you have an instant shock reaction when somebody back home pays or gives something with his/her left hand.

…you have been back home for many years and you still say doni doni (slow slow, little little).

Feel free to suggest more if you know you’ve been in Mali too long because you …

Aid to Africa: What An African Woman Thinks

One of the blogs I read “What An African Woman Thinks” has an interesting summary of several articles about the debate Aid to Africa:

On AppAfrica, Jonathan Gosier used a well-known tale to make a point. He suggested that people look at Africa like it’s the land from the Wonderful Wizard of Oz:

“It’s a strange land, in some far away place; far away from Auntie Em’s farm in Kansas. There are many oppressed people, people who need a brain (an metaphor for better education), people who need courage and confidence, and people who need a little love. There’s plenty of evil witches to slay in Africa (pick your poison, actually) and often plenty of ‘men behind the curtain’ (The Wizards) who dictate what the politics of the continent really are.”

Into this land, enter Dorothy, the well-meaning but naïve Dorothy. She lands in Oz, catalyzes what appear to be positive changes, and then flies away, back to whence she came. When she returns, it turns out it’s not holding together very well and her actions/collaborations have had unforeseen consequences. But, Dorothy doesn’t live in Oz. She whizzes in and out of there and it’s the Munchkins, the little people, the inhabitants of Oz whom she so wants to help, who have to deal with the consequences.

According to Gosier, there are “Too many Dorothys in Africa’s Oz’.”

His advice:

“Just remember, nothing happens in a vacuum and we should be careful of where we drop our houses.”

(read the rest)

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Supyire NT

It was a very special day. A few weeks ago I attended a special celebration – the dedication of a New Testament. This is the culmination point of more than 15 years of work from a team of people coming from many different denominations and nationalities. Together with 50+ people I travelled on a bus from Bamako, among them people from many different organizations, mission organizations, churches, government agencies. During the ceremony on the next day many different people spoke greetings and expressed their joy about the newly translated New Testament into their mother tongue Supyiré, a Senoufo language. The climax was when the New Testaments were brought in – accompanied by people in traditional costumes, a choir and two balaphones.

Es war ein ganz besonderer Tag. Vor einigen Wochen nahm ich an einem speziellen Fest teil – die Übergabefeier eines Neuen Testaments. Das war das Ergebnis von mehr als 15 Jahren Arbeit von einem Team von Leuten aus verschiedenen Denominationen und Nationalitäten. Zusammen mit mehr als 50 Leuten reiste ich mit einem Bus aus Bamako an – darunter waren Leute von verschiedenen Organisationen, Missionsgesellschaften, Kirchen und Regierungsstellen. Während der Feier am nächsten Tag brachten viele verschiedene Menschen Grußworte und drückten ihre Freude über das nun fertig übersetzte Neue Testament in ihrer Muttersprache Supyiré, einer Senufo-Sprache, aus. Der Höhepunkt war als die NTs herein gebracht wurden – begleitet von Leuten in traditionellen Gewändern, einem Chor, und zwei Balaphonen.

Education gap * Ausbildungs-Diskrepanz

Thanks to Ben I came across the following statistic on how many years the richest and poorest in developing countries go to school. Mali is the last one on this graphic.


Durch Bens Blog entdeckte ich die folgende Statistik. Es geht darum wie viele Jahre the Reichsten und Ärmsten in manchen Entwicklungsländern zur Schule gingen. Mali ist am untersten Ende der Graphik.


I find this graphic very shocking but reflecting the reality of everyday life in Mali.

According to the graph, the poorest 20% of Mali attend school less than one year (in average)! I have no problem believing this. I even know a few small business owners who are successful but nevertheless illiterate. Things are changing but there are still a lot of schools taught in French to children who never hear a word of French in their everyday life. Many remote villages don’t have a school. So this is not surprising.

However, I am surprised that even the richest 20% of Mali don’t have more than 5 years of schooling in average.

Read the full story: The Economist


Ich finde diese Grafik sehr schockieren aber anderseits spiegelt sich darin auch die tägliche Realität Malis wieder.

Laut der Graphik gehen die Ärmsten 20% Malis durchschnittlich weniger als ein Jahr in die Schule! Das wundert mich nicht. Ich kenne sogar einige erfolgreiche Kleinunternehmer, die Analphabeten sind (nicht Lesen und Schreiben können). Dinge sind dabei sich zu ändern, aber es gibt noch viele Schulen wo Kinder in Französisch unterrichtet werden, obwohl sie in ihrem Alltag nie ein Wort Französisch hören. Viele abgelegene Dörfer haben keine Schule. Insofern erstaunt mich diese Statistik nicht.

Anderseits bin ich überrascht, dass selbst die Reichsten 20 % Malis nicht mehr als 5 Jahre in die Schule gehen (im Durchschnitt).

Birds’ paradise 2

Let me introduce you to a few more of my feathered visitors:  Parakeet

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