I took an early morning stroll in our district, Faladié, this Sunday morning.
We were supposed to have a late night last night; it was the wedding reception of the brother of Pusso, Cheikh. However, Sarah, my daughter, had come down with a stomach bug and as it didn’t seem to be getting better, I felt I should stay with her. Of course, it was a disappointment, especially as I had planned to wear my new bazin. But I was also happy to repair a fault that had haunted me a bit for many years by staying by Sarah’s side. When Sarah was 10, I took her with me to the Sinai Desert. We were in a kind of tour group – not the kind riding around in air-conditioned tourist buses – we slept in tents and rode in Jeeps and went off the beaten track, but we were all foreign tourists and always in the care of guides. There was a group of French who didn’t speak English; Sarah enjoyed serving as their interpreter. One night we were on the coast and some of us wanted to leave the campsite to go to a restaurant on the beach. It was late and I wanted Sarah to stay in the camp, in the care of a French family. She didn’t want me to leave her, I decided that I should not give in to her and left her, hysterically crying and protesting, with the French. In retrospect, I realized that if there is a reasonable place to have separation anxiety the middle of the Sinai desert is probably it. Only a parent can understand … mistakes like that stay in your mind forever. So I was glad, some 20 years later, to stay by my daughter’s side this time all evening long. She recovered the next day, participating in the continuing wedding party at the house and even joining a dance in her honor after the griot had sung and chanted her praises … and, after a fashion, mine (“vous n’êtes pas un clochard” – you are not a beggerly bum, Malians love to tease).
So, contrary to plan, I had an early night and got up very early in morning. I went out to buy freshly baked bread. Enjoying the coolness of the morning air, I decided to extend my excursion and took a long stroll around Faladié. I crossed the principal avenue, Rue du Gouvernor (The Governor’s Street), and walked around the tranquil residential neighborhood in that section of Faladié. Faladié could be called a middle class neighborhood, with the caveat that it can be misleading to try to compare relative economic levels of different sectors of society in Mali with a country like the United States. There are some large and fairly elaborate houses in Faladié, many of the inhabitants have professional jobs, and many, if not most households have a maid. The roads and public infrastructure, however, are poor, as elsewhere in Bamako, and the shops stock the same items sold everywhere in Bamako. It isn’t a neighborhood of chic boutiques. Space is plentiful in Mali, and basic building materials and labor is cheap so the average house is really not bad at all if one does not consider the deficits of poor infrastructure.
The first thing that struck me as I began my stroll around Faladié was the sight of maids, up and down the street, in front of the houses, sweeping. A traditional broom in Mali is a bunch of long bristles knotted together, without a handle. It is a durable and highly effective device for sweeping, but it is necessary to bend over to sweep the ground. As the brooms went whoosh, whoosh in unison I had a mental image of a film, I think it may have been Mary Poppins, where all the maids in a London district are out in the early morning, sweeping the stoops, singing and perhaps executing a dance step or two. I don’t mean to suggest that the work of a maid is so joyful … or that it is not … I just relate the association that came into my head. The residential streets in Faladié are dirt but it rained recently so it wasn’t dusty at all. There were some water puddles and mud here and there, but it wasn’t difficult to walk comfortably on the roads.
A ubiquitous kind of shop in Senegal and Mali is a small building, one might envision it as a sort of large shed, which opens fully in the front. Various products can be sold from these kiosques, it may be food, shoes, vegetables, clothing, groceries, telephone cards, pottery, and so on. On larger streets these kiosques may line the road, mixed in also with larger, more substantial commercial establishments we would call shops. In the residential parts of Faladié there are also kiosques here and there, often at intersections, but not with the same density as would be found on major roads. They are simply the local shops serving the immediate vicinity. Most of the shops were not yet open, but some of the kiosques were starting the day, with the merchants laying out their wares or cooking in front of their stall.
Houses in Mali might more properly be called “compounds”. There is typically a wall that surrounds each property, maybe 7 feet high, enclosing, in addition to the house site, a front patio, perhaps a courtyard, separate storage and cooking structures, a space where livestock may be kept and sometimes parking for an automobile. Addresses are given by the “porte” or door number, and, indeed, what one sees in walking along the streets are walls with doors in them. Many houses are two stories, so you may also see the upper level of the house. It was explained to me that houses often are expanded to add a second story when children marry so there is room for them to live with their spouses and children in the family domicile.
Bamako is very green, this part of Faladié is very calm in the early morning, there are many trees overhead, my stroll could not be more delightful. I walk past a large walled complex, a hotel with a sign proposing its air-conditioned rooms, restaurant, and swimming pool. It looks like a charming building, though probably empty since the civil conflict in Mali last year and Ebola in nearby countries decimated the tourist trade. There seem to many schools, kindergartens, and créches (nurseries) in this section of Faladié, also enclosed by walls but often with scenes of children or playful animals painted on them.
There are lizards everywhere in Bamako, sometimes very large lizards, maybe a foot long, sometimes with strange coloration like one that I saw that had a dark green body but a brilliantly white head. There are also a lot of birds. That, and livestock like chicken, goats and sheep kept for consumption and flies and mosquitoes and you have almost all the wildlife I’ve seen in Africa. Sarah and I joked that everyone will expect us to have seen lions and elephants so we thought we’d had better to the zoo in Bamako before leaving so we could dutifully report that we had seen the required African wildlife.
I don’t know how it happens, but you do often see livestock that seem to be wandering about on their own here and there on the streets. I pass three friendly dogs, playing with each other, perhaps they are also minding the sheep standing in the road.
I walk pass one house, or perhaps it is a government office building or even a caserne because there is an armed solider standing in front. One occasionally sees, in front of some of the fancy houses, someone sitting in front, presumably a guard. They usually look quite bored and one has the impression that security situation in Bamako is not that much of a problem. There was a person, described as an Islamist but possibly simply a deranged person, that shot up a bar popular with expats in Bamako last year, killing several. Despite this, it is hard to think of Bamako as a dangerous place. People here are easy, friendly. As someone obviously a foreigner, I thought I might possibly encounter some harassment in Senegal and Mali – I have experienced this in other countries – but it hasn’t been the case at all. Of course, at the market, it is caveat emptor for everyone so there I voluntarily subjected myself to the sales pitches and wiles of vendors and was certainly pitched to and fell victim to wiles, but everywhere else has been completely cool.
A housing complex, “cité des logements pour 80” housing complex for 80, consisting a several small apartment buildings, providing what we would call mixed density housing in the United States to Faladié. The cité sort of follows the walled paradigm, the buildings are surrounded by a wall, though the walls do not fully enclose the complex giving more of a feeling of openness. The is a shop in front which offers video production for marriages and baptisms. I pass a soccer pitch, a group of teenage boys are intensely engaged in an early morning game. I hear singing, loud singing, coming from maybe 2 blocks away. I walk past a mosque, silent, another block further on I see the singing is coming from a Pentacostal Church, services in English and French and Bambara. The church is already packed but more people are driving up, everyone dressed in their finest, suits, fancy African dresses. The doors are open, inside people are standing and clapping and singing loudly, joyously.
I make my way back to Rue du Gouvernor, stop at the bakery and buy two large baguettes, still warm from the oven. I noticed on other days that the saleswoman seems to have difficulty with my accent, so I hold up two fingers when I tell her I want two baguettes. I’m hungry after my walk and really want to grab a piece of baguette but force myself to wait until I get home. I find our porte, walk through the patio into the house. Everyone is up and busy cleaning the house to get ready for the wedding party. Sarah is still lying down, but she is feeling better. The dining area is inaccessible so I sit with Sarah and tear off some pieces of baguette to eat. So good. It is a good morning in Faladié.
You can get in touch with Michael by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org