Mali

Bamako City 2

Currency = CFA
£1 = CFA 1000
US $1 = CFA 520
1 Euro = CFA 656
March 2004

Arriving at the sprawling Golonina Market containing the bead stalls that we had quickly toured the day before, I launched into some limited wheeling and dealing with the many bead sellers.
I say limited because they really did justify the reputation that Bamako bead markets have for maintaining extremely high prices by preying on bead-buying tourists .. flying in on short trips with pockets full of Dollars and Euros and little care for what they are paying. Good luck to these vendors .. business is business after all. Amongst the many new tourist items they really did have some exceptional stock .. but most of them were much too expensive, even after considerable good-natured haggling, for me to afford to buy. A few eventually did come down to more realistic prices; i.e. under my normal retail selling price when others were way above it .. so I bought a few interesting and unusual
items and some antique leather purses from Niger.

As with previous bead-buying excursions to new areas .. I do realise that it takes a considerable amount of time to build up a rapport with such traders .. unlike with my usual suppliers who now appreciate that reasonable prices bring long-term rewards from me regularly buying in the future.

Generally surrounded by traders keen on making a quick killing from a possibly stupid Toubab and constantly being confronted with bumpster tourist speak, was a tad annoying to say the least ! This, despite having Alaghi with me .. who most of them knew well .. and who was doing his level best to calm their enthusiasm. He knew full well that they were trying to overcharge me, but African business etiquette would not allow him, as a fellow African, to dissuade me from buying or directly comment to me on another dealer's too high prices .. at the time anyway !

Factfile  20: 'Bumpster tourist speak' is the same in French as it is in English .. "Hello my friend, excuse me, can I speak to you" ( usually shouted from across the road where he is lounging in the shade .. or said from behind your back as  you have passed by .. intended to make you stop and turn around ) and followed by a load of bull ending up in "I have a small problem" and the usual request for money. Large markets usually have many touts who sidle up and  blatantly interrupt the conversation you are trying to have, in an attempt to lure you away to another trader where they can hopefully gain commissions on whatever you may buy. This coercion works well on shy and inexperienced  tourists and can even be fun to endure when you are holidaying. But when you have heard it all a thousand times before, are attempting to concentrate on bargaining with experts, who are trying to get you to pay 10 times the going rate in a new country and currency that you are not familiar with .. it can all get a bit too much !
-
 This type of pest is not to be confused with the genuinely friendly, the severely disadvantaged or handicapped people one often meets in West Africa. In most cases these people will not impose themselves on you with a false smile and fake story, these are the people that deserve our help.

I left most of the traders without doing any business, saying that I might return later after a few days visiting some smaller villages and especially after comparing their you will not find it any cheaper than this prices. Confident that I would indeed be able to buy the same and better at a lot cheaper prices. I was not to be disappointed and they lost out on any business from me.

Only a few photographs were taken, as it is difficult to convince new traders that although you are a serious bead-buyer .. you also like to take pictures which will have mutual benefits in the future, without confirming their belief that you  are only just another tourist to be fleeced.
I did photograph a Tuareg trader, with an eye for promotion and an attractively laid-out
shop, selling some beautifully-made silver and wooden items. Opposite was a shop selling second-hand plastic containers, with an alternative display .. somewhat more difficult to show as attractively !

 Back via the Smith Internet Café ( @ CFA500 per hour ) to the hotel for a tasty meal of liver, onions and chips ( CFA 3900 including a beer and coffee ), managing to organise some very dusty clothes to be washed in the laundry opposite ( CFA1100 ). Before sleep, watching TV in my room was a short affair with CNN and 4 other channels, all showing football .. I don't like football !

To see these pictures in conjunction with reading their appropriate text ..
Read on until you come to a
Link * then click on the thumbnail with the same number of *s

Tuareg Shop

The Zoo*

My New Friend**

The Museum***

Next morning we were tourists .. visiting the Parc Biologique de Bamako .. the Bamako Zoo
and the Musee National de Mali .. the National Museum of Mali.

With a large signboard outside the
zoo* .. depicting pictures of lions, elephants, giraffes and many other species .. Alaghi was quite excited as he was going to see a real live elephant in the flesh, for the first time. The admission fee of only CFA500 was either a real bargain, or perhaps should have warned us that this wasn't going to happen.

Another really hot day saw us sweating profusely, but hopefully walking up the tree-lined entrance with its green but seemingly empty enclosures. Peering into the undergrowth, we couldn't make out any animals at all and thought that they were probably resting in the shade, hidden by their marvellous camouflage. A few signs depicting what we should  have been seeing were hanging on the railings, but it wasn't until after mounting numerous steps that we found a few small concrete pens with any actual wildlife. Some contained monkeys begging for handouts from the visitors, another had a crocodile in a small concrete-lined puddle and one contained a scruffy and sick-looking lion cub .. evidently we missed seeing a few more lions.
 
In the middle was a large open space full of young school children, being lectured to by their teacher outside a closed café, under the shade of some enormous mango trees. The sight of a Toubab seemed to be far more interesting than whatever their teacher was saying .. earning them a group telling-off for turning to look at us, giggling and not concentrating on her words !

Further exhaustive exploration up and down steps and into blind alleys .. revealed precious little, apart from a goat or two, some scraggy-looking horses, a donkey, a pelican, a few gazelles and a vulture. We did find a lonely chimpanzee, in one of a block of new concrete pens, which were much larger and tidier than the others. My new friend** slowly reached out between the bars and gently shook my hand. Having nothing other than a mint sweet to offer him .. I succumbed to his charm and gave it to him ! I do know it is wrong for members of the public to feed zoo animals, but I couldn't resist .. hoping that one small piece of candy would not be too great a risk to his health .. and he certainly seemed to enjoy this treat.
So, children .. contrary to my actions .. I should say that it is most unwise for you to do either or both of the aforementioned things .. especially with crocodiles !!!

Factfile 21 : Although not kept in  ideal conditions, most of these animals looked well-fed and cared-for in fairly clean pens. Set in a large area of greenery, with trees and a stream running through the naturally landscaped enclosures .. the zoo had obviously seen  much better days.
Not, I think, a candidate for the WWF ( the World Wildlife Fund not the wrestlers ! ) or other similar organisations to get unduly upset about .. but an ideal opportunity for a caring philanthropist to invest a reasonably modest amount ( by international values ) to regenerate what could be made into an important resource for preserving Mali's and West Africa's diminishing wildlife.
The nearby excellent facilities of the National Museum show just what could be achieved.
-
* If you know of such a person, with more  money than they could possibly spend in a lifetime, who wishes to be remembered for a truly worthy cause .. please tell them about Bamako Zoo.

UPDATE JANUARY 2010

Information on a wonderful new Website the
Worldwide Zoo Database
is that Bamako Zoo is undergoing major renovations with an opening date of September 2010

After a request by Roman who is the owner of the Worldwide Zoo Database, I revisited the zoo in November 2009 to take some more photographs for inclusion in his Bamako Zoo page. There were some new buildings and improvements had been made, but many more are necessary.
 The pictures I took can be seen
HERE as well as on his Website

 On leaving to walk the 200 metres down the road to visit the National Museum ..
Alaghi overheard a disgruntled visitor complaining about the misleading sign outside the zoo entrance and the non-existent species, also asking why they had the skinny-looking horses and donkey, when horses and donkeys were a commonplace sight throughout the region.
I prefer not to believe it when the attendant answered: "Well, the lions do have to be fed !"

Obviously no expense had been spared in building Mali's National Museum*** ( entry fee for non-locals CFA2500 ). Set in a large area of well-tended gardens, the sand-coloured and fully air-conditioned exhibition halls offered a refreshing coolness. There was a superb exhibition of Malian textiles in one hall .. showing an incredible range of patterns in cloth both old and new.
In the room opposite were many photographs of Malian people, dating from the advent of the camera. Intrigued, especially by the early black and white pictures, Alaghi enthusiastically explained the nuances of their dress and housing .. and which tribal groups they were from.

The other main hall was full of ancient farming implements, weapons, the famous Dogon doors and Y-shaped ladders, carvings and stonework .. plus a few beads and ancient spindle whorls.
All in all an excellent display of the country's technical development, although unfortunately for my photographic records, the halls were so populated by numerous and smartly uniformed guards that any attempt to use my camera to photograph the exhibits, was immediately halted.

After lunching well in their restaurant, we headed back to the city centre and the Marché Rose.

RECT