Thursday, 6 May 2010

Our Stay in Bamako/ Journey to Dakar

The Road To Kayes (07/05/2010)

At Diema, IB team with Nigerian girls selling who sold us food. photo by Amaize Ojeikere

Today we hit the road quite early. We leave the Tamana Hotel before 6AM. Snow white heads out of Amical Cabral Street and winds its way through the Dossolo Tràoré market which is just stirring awake. A stench overhangs the market trail that is reminiscent of the Iddo Market in Lagos. Traders are beginning to set up their wares.

We go past the Parc National du Mali. Nearby, where a police road shelter is serving as a canteen where early risers are catching a meal on their way to work. The Musee Nationale Du Mali flits past, then the Zoological and Botanical Gardens. We mount the “Presidential Hill” where the residence of the President is located and its walls decorated with a string of orange lights that have the glow of fire from afar off. From this hill you can look down on Bamako.

The road sign shows that Kita is the next major city as we head out of Bamako. A policeman is checking papers. He tells us asks us about certain unstamped portion Snowwhite’s Laisse Passe . We are unaware of that, and say so. The man is adamant. Something should have been stamped. He asks us to follow him to the building to the right of the road. Uche, Emeka and Chriss alight and follow. We wait impatiently for about 30 minutes wondering about the delay. Traders are milling around with trays bearing expensive apples, bread and some locally made cakes. Arab-looking people and when they return, they inform us there had been a suggestion to pay a little cash for the stamp, but this being out of synch with our set principles for the journey, they declined. The alternative is to drive back into Kita to get the document signed. We are glad to do so. We enter Kita and find the station, get the document stamped without ceremony in less than 5 minutes, thank the officers in charge and continue our journey.

Ngalafounga. Taotome. Wolokaro. Didiem. Diema. Segue. Siradou .The expressway is full of sharp bends and the crossing of cattle, sheep, and donkeys. Some have been hit by speeding vehicles and we occasionally, encounter their carcasses on the road. We drive and drive sometimes seeing nothing, save herds of cattle. The heat is immense. Everyone falls asleep except Uche the Navigator, Charles the Provost and I. The vegetation is a terribly scorched wilderness.

At Diema, where we stop to refresh ourselves after about 6 hours of continuous journeying, we encounter a sight for sore eyes: three Nigerian girls aged between 16-25 who run a roadside restaurant business! We has alighted wondering which of the canteens to enter, when someone blurted out under her breath to Charles, “I beg o, Broda, I get food for here o!”

What? Pidgin English in Diema?! We can hardly believe our ears! Everyone is excited. We troop happily into the shack that served as restaurant. It is spick and span, easily the most decent roadside ‘shack’ we have seen thus far. Blue food warmers sit pretty on a table laid with blue nylon “tablecloth”. Flowery blue fabric has been draped around the shack walls lending a cool and calming ambience to the shack. It is unbelievably cool inside. It is noon and the sun is directly overhead.

The proprietor is…. jet black, bubbly and funny. She is the most senior and ‘mother’ to two other young girls - Agnes and Promise. She serves us home style rice (long-grained and parboiled, thank you!) and well-fried stew with BEEF! We are delighted beyond words. But what in the world were these girls doing here in Mali, selling rice and stew, in the middle of nowhere ? They replied us with a question: “Wetin go bring person come here again na? Na money we find come na! Money! Na money we dey find.” These are certainly Nigerians, if that joke about Nigerians answering questions with questions is anything to go by.

They are free-spirited and jocular, quick on the uptake and have lost the traditional shyness that younger people display before unfamiliar seniors. A Malian youth stands by the door winking and pouting silent kisses to the one called Agnes. She gets up, unashamedly before us, throws her arms around him and gives him a peck close to the lips and goes back to her seat to continue the discussions that was interrupted.

According to them, that they were on their way to Spain from Benin City, Edo State when their ‘trafficker” Okey got arrested by the authorities. The proprietor, Jetblack, says her mum paid a N50, 000.00 advances to Okey to help ferry her to Spain. They have no clue whether he is dead or alive and haven’t seen him in the 3 years that they have lived here. After Okey’s arrest, they became marooned in Mali and got to start this food making business through the help of a nameless “good- Samaritan”. They hope to go home in December but only one of them has a valid Nigerian passport. Are their parents aware of their predicament? Yes, said Jet-black, “we dey call them for phone”. We dey lucky o; many people from Naija dey come here o, and them just dey die, dey die!

“So why una come stay for dis kin’ dry place wey hot like so? Shuo, na money we dey gather na! If we gather am finish, we go come go Naija.” blurted Agnes. “And again, accommodation cheap well well for here”, added Happy.

We know that a lot more has not been said: they are another unknown statistic in the number of those who leave the country sometimes starry-eyed , sometimes hard-nosed, but all victims to the lust for money made, ‘by any means possible”.

Time to leave, so we take photos and give them our posters; some of us give them token gifts of money. They are happy and grateful and ask us to inform them about our next scheduled transit through the village so that they can cook us a delicious Nigerian dish. We exchange numbers, say goodbye and move on discussing human trafficking all the way to the Mali- Senegal border, till we enter Kayes where we meet Joseph and his Calabar wife from whose restaurant we eat yet another authentic Nigerian meal: Egusi and vegetable soup, cowleg, meat accompanied with Eba or Foofoo. Clearly, today is our lucky day.

by Nike Ojeikere

Traipsing Bamako (06/05/2010)

The Tamana is in essence like Bogobiri House in Lagos; only perhaps, larger- with a swimming pool in the courtyard. Its outdoors is shaded by a canopy of leaves from mature old trees; its entire space punctuated by traditional African décor and utilities: sturdy and neat bamboo wardrobes, basket bins, cute raffia lampshades, mirrors, traditional floor accessories that are all complemented by great cleanliness and neatness; a well-appointed kitchen, air-conditioning and good old hot water. What more could we have asked for? We feel at home immediately. The owner and his staff are agreeable.

The morning is cool after the rains of yesterday, and the very green environment of the Tamana adds cool to cool. Bamako seems at peace, the dust and heat of the previous day all washed away. Peace scents the air, but Bamako is not its only beneficiary: we awaken to the day to learn from that peace has come at last upon ailing President Musa Yar’Adua in the late hours of yesterday, March 5th…. RIP.

Still, the news breeds in some, a discourse of indifferent shoulders, raised eyebrows, hard knotty questions; followed by goodly admonitions, cynic laughter, an appeal for understanding and a new look at Nigeria’s future, with exasperated prayers said.

Financial Borders

Adama Bamba and Fatoumata Diabaté, winner of the Sekou Toure Grand Prix at the 2005 Bamako Biennale, appear at Tamana. They are taking us on a photographic excursion. They wait patiently whist we catch up with breakfast, picture-editing, blogging, and general discussions. We change FOREX to the local CFA currency. One of us, Emeka, needs a refund of the Ghana Cedis that he graciously loaned the team to help it evade change hassles. Amaize goes in search of a money changer. How many Euros equal a Ghanaian Cedi in Bamako? The money changer has no clue. He goes off to find an answer and returns soon after. There is no answer. Euros do not to Ghana Cedis in Bamako. What! screams Amaize melodramatically, as he begins to take the man to task about the ludicrousness of his statement: ‘You mean Euros can exchange for CFA but CFA cannot be changed to Ghanaian Cedis? In Bamako? In WEST Africa? Where then is the so called African unity, free trade and movement across the sub-region? That is a great pity indeed!

The poor money changer understands it all, he admits that it’s a sad matter indeed, but thinks the governments of the sub region are perhaps responsible. “There you have it!Blame it on the AU! Or abi na ECOWAS? Said Nik e. Uche Okpa Iroha is concurring with amusement. Amaize continues to gesticulate to make his point, “In fact, that is the topic of the next blog that I will write!” Chriss is laughing, jocularly hailing “Chairmoonu!” “Chairmonnu!” a comic pronunciations of the word “Chairman”.

We go out to town led by the patient Adama and Fatoumata, through the old market adjoining the Grand Marche. Colours are jumping at us from every side. Much of Bamako, and indeed Mali, is painted, dusted or coloured by drab, brown earth tones and though a few buildings do break the monotony with cream or milk hues, the ubiquitous dusty brown colour is the prime hue of the ancient looking houses. But what Bamako lacks in architectural colours,, it amply makes up for in the bright colours of its “things”: gas cylinders come in beautiful colours –red, lovely greens, brilliant blues and even yellow; barrows are painted in bold blues or sweet-sensation green with orange, woven carrier bags in saffron, brocades that are dyed fuchsia, pneumatic machines that are gleaming with vital orange- you name it, if it’s a bright, head-turning colour, Bamako’s got it! We ply the streets, taking photos of things bright and beautiful. We have to ask a lot of permission to take the most mundane items on the market trail. The market people seem suspicious of cameras and love to dodge them….We hop unto the local bus which takes us to the outskirts of Bamako.

Missabougou , Pond de Sotiba & the Babilikoroni Bridge

Missabougou. Fatoumata lives here with her parents Mr. and Mrs. Diabaté, a pleasant couple. We meet them, greet them, receive a warm welcome, rest our feet a while and go off to the long walk to the Pond de Sotiba. Mr. Jabate tunes his radio to BBC London and we catch a whiff of news relating to the late President. It is a relief to hear English being spoken with fluency.

The Pond de Sotiba has been created by the after-waters of the Niger River which flows through its natural course to form this Pond where the water does not care to hurry on. Bamako is enjoying a lovely sundown, the liquid evening sun dripping like watery magma. Children are playing soccer in the street. A herd of goats advance and go past. Next follows another herd of cattle. We walk through Missabougou, making photos. We have come to the power generation station that serves all of Bamako. The thundering waters of the Niger are rushing over one another to gush through the dam below. A little beyond, a huge construction collaboration between the Chinese and Malian Governments is ongoing. This is the New Babilolikoroni Bridge. Huge cement pillars rise to the skies like classical Greco-Roman architecture. We then proceed on a long walk across the old bridge, now lacklustre in the shadow of the new. People trudge to and fro. On both sides, glistening jet black rock formations have been sculpted to submission by the gushing River Niger at high tide. It’s a beautiful, sight with the black rocks giving off a surreal appeal as suns’ reflection bounces off the pockets of water collected on its pockmarked surfaces. Emeka notes that this would be a great site to shoot a musical video. Ray- Daniels concurs. The team takes great portraits of itself and the riveting river course, but not without a 9-minute quizzing from a ‘big man’ who is chauffeuring a Chinese construction worker in the back seat of his car.

Portrait of the team at Biblikoroni- pont de Sotiba, Bamako. photo by Fatoumata Diabaté

We walk and talk, awed by the landscape. A tangle of nylons, caught on the branches of nearby shrubs, some, taller than human beings, flutter in the wing blowing across the bridge. It is a beautifully sad sight. We are wondering how the pollution of nylon and other non-biodegradable rubbish , so common across African cities, towns and even villages will ever end?

We trudge on, hungry, tired but cheerful as Adama and Fatimata encourage us along the way. Finally, we see the road. We have probably walked for about 6 kilometer s today. Fatimata gives a cherry goodbye and we hop yet again on a Good Samaritan’s bus- that has no seats - to commence the ride back to the Tamana Chambres. It has been a great day and we have made treasured pictures depicting the invisibility of several borders…

by Nike Ojeikere

From Bobo Dioulasso To Bamako by Adenike Ojeikere

Entente Hotel

Entente Hotel is to the cosmopolitan traveler what an oasis is to the desert traveler. It is a modern, well run hotel in the very heart of the city near the Marche Central ( Central Market) and a short distance from the Town Hall. Its grounds are garnished with lush greenery and beautiful objets d’art and the reception is manned by the friendly but professional Sylvie. Its walls wear a warm but mellow shade of orange. Entente Hotel is a walking distance to the Dioulassabar Mosque built in 1880, the ancient Dioulossabar village and the place of the drums where the guild of drummers ply their art, and where I am treated to a session of brilliant drumming courtesy of Zakaria Sow a card carrying member of the guild, and his friend, Iddris.

There is a lot to document so we spend a good chunk of the day inside Entente. Everything is going well despite occasional disagreements not unexpected in a team of ten, until the soul of the journey finally departs from one of us and she elects to return to Lagos.

Metaphors and Similes

Since “proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten”, and since we are blessed with a good number of local language speakers, and translators, the events of the journey and the Entente hotel begin to breed their own lexicon and the Iyalamiya Theorem and extrapolations begin to spawn.

Iyalamiya- a state moving off track, going off point or off tangent

Gbala-gbala fere oke oburu ala- Something overdone, becomes madness.

Alashe ju: (S) he who overdoes things

Agba nsi nkiti o n’esi: Excrement that does not get packed off will keep on smelling.

Amaize then takes over as the bus comedian and begins to bug us with the Iyalamiya Theorem, clarifying and interpreting the events of the night against this background, with additions and subtractions from a few others: When relating with people, you must be careful not to constantly manifest Iyalamiya, otherwise, you will manifest, gbala-gbala fere oke which will inevitably lead to Agba nsi nkiti o nesi. Laughter erupts in the bus but is bitter-sweet…

Moving on to Mali

It is 5th of May, a sunny Bobo Dioulasso morning. We have breakfast, say our goodbyes to our newly made acquaintances, and are good to go. We take the Marche Central road, and derive out of town. We get to Bama, move on to Samadeni where the earth is all dry and dusty. Cows cross the road suddenly, then sheep, then goats causing our driver, Mr. Sam Solomon, to slam a little too frequently the brakes. I observe a road sign depicting an incline with 6 degrees imprinted on it and I become amazed all over again how easy it is for a driver in Nigeria to do inter state travels for years but never be able to interpret road signs- having never seen them before on our expressways! If I were blindfolded and taken to any expressway outside Nigeria, and asked to guess my location, the road signs would be my marker that I am certainly not in Nigeria. They are the visible signs that would indicate that we have crossed borders even if invisibly.

We come to the border post at Kouri. We waste no time more than necessary. The officers recognize us and there is no tension at all. We make a gift of our posters and cards. They bid us fare well with friendly au revoirs. The blue-yellow Diarra Transport bus that we met at the border is still doing its own checks, its numerous passengers milling around under a tree. It has certainly made all the difference that we came in our own private bus. Last year when our bus, the Blackmaria broke down in Accra, and we had to continue the journey to Bamako by public transport, the processing time was certainly much longer.

Kafo Jiginew signboards begin to appear by the roadside and indicating, for sure, that we are in Mali. Tandio. Ourikela. Houcicoma where we refuel the van. We enter Koutialla and it is time for lunch: short grained mish-mash rice doused with groundnut soup and a fiesta of fried onions, with chicken or fish. Many are only able to eat the meal accompanied by a paste of hot red peppers. Chidinma cannot eat much of the meal. Amaize goes to get some garri and groundnuts from our van. Chriss eats the meal with relish-as usual. We hear our driver Mr. Sam speak a smattering of French to convey his order. We are thrilled by this development. We congratulate him on his successful crossing of the language border.

Bankou, then Benguele with its aesthetically pleasing well finished mud houses and on to Falema . It is Baobabs galore, nature’s sculpture of hardy trees. Then we reach Segou with its tankers, trailers, and “Northern Nigeria’ traditional architecture. It could well have been a Nigerian town, only that a black and white sign at the end of the road says that Bamako is to the left.

Segou is the first well-planned town that we have thus far come across since departing Bobo. Its street lights stand on silvery parade in the town’s main trunk road, becoming smaller as one views the line up down the horizon. I recall the teaching of perspectives in my fine art class in secondary school. Parallel to the Segou Road, the River Niger runs along its course, as if in competition with the road, then it recedes and the horizon metamorphoses into scorched earth. The trees too are distant, as if afraid of the road.

Masala moves into view; India flits past my mind. The sky is postcard blue with puffs of silver lined clouds. The vegetation becomes wiry with a profusion of stunted trees and aggressive looking bushes. We drive on and on for stretches of kilometers wondering when Bamako will show. At Konobougou, life bursts forth again: markets, donkeys, cucumber, men lounging under trees, teenagers strolling in the streets, women are also about their business…

Region de Koulikoro says a sign, and then Fana and we now proceed on what seems an endless drive on the road to Bamako. We pass Korokoro, and Kasala and finally, the most welcome sign of all signs says District de Bamako. The time is 5.50PM Bamako time.

We meet up with our friend the photographer Adama Bamba and roost at the Tamana Hotel, off Rue Amical Cabral, (aka Rue Princess) near the famous BlaBla restaurant. A heavy Bamako storm stirs and pours down a little later to give us a most welcome, welcome.

Looking Through These Windows Called Invisible Borders... by Chidinma Nnorom

I have heard and read about it, but now I see it clearly. It has been a very wonderful experience for me so far, going through these roads, crossing the ‘borders’, and meeting the people in these lands.

In Ghana, I see a very different people and environment, very kind and loving, despite an ugly experience we had with the students of KNUST. “Freedom and Justice” they say, is their watchword, and I cannot deny that I enjoyed a part of that. Entering the French colonies, I see a very strong influence by the French on these people, and it really tells on their way of life and persons, at the borders: they tend to be so difficult, but what more could it have been? Why were we colonized? We have to face it, build the borders or break them. The choice is ours.