Mali

Bamako City  3

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

The Marché Rose is an enormous street market situated in the middle of Bamako near the Grande Mosquée, featuring hundreds of colourful clothing stalls, every kind of hardware you could possibly wish for and a selection of fetish stalls with varied displays of animal parts in different stages of decomposition. So hot, we had to keep in the shade as much as possible,
we followed one of Alaghi's Fula friends, who knew a trustworthy moneychanger, through the crowded passageways, ducking under all kinds of sharp edges which threatened to impale us.

Factfile 22: Industrious members of the Fula tribe often provide the backbone of most West African business communities and are often moneychangers, both official and unofficial. Quick-witted and extremely clever when it comes to working out exchange rates in a myriad of different currencies .. equipped with a small and well-used calculator .. and very honest.
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Whilst it is potentially quite dangerous to stand in the corner of an open market, both parties with banknotes in hand, carefully counting the amounts given and taken .. the same rules seem to apply as those at taxi garages. Unknown to you, but amongst the people close by, are friends of  the money changer providing security .. probably a lot of others who would like to help themselves as well, but who are fully aware that they would suffer severely if they tried.
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In my experience, many West Africans will tolerate and rarely interfere when overhearing any form of 'fairy story' told to a potential buyer, or seeing trickery when it comes to bargaining and other types of streetwise dealings which involve an idiot being parted from his money.
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However, if they see someone physically robbing another .. be the victim a brother, a sister or a complete  stranger of a different colour .. they will deal out most savage punishment to the offender. Sometimes one has to intervene and save the miscreant from too much damage !
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 I would not advise anyone to openly exchange money on the 'black market' .. indeed in some countries it is illegal to do so. But when the local community exchanges money in this way as a matter of course and you are with a trusted friend, not a bumpster you have only known for
5 minutes and who has offered you a deal 'too good to be missed' .. I have found it a good way to get a better rate than the official bank rate and have never, as yet, had any problems.
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In Africa, received money is always counted and the amount verified in front of the giver, even if you are the best of friends. It is never considered rude to do this and in the scenario above, it is always best not to change very large amounts ( especially considering local values, which may be very different from your own ) at one time. Open areas are much safer than dark  alleyways and securely zipped inner pockets are essential to foil the attention of pickpockets.

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

Clothing

Instruments*

Mahogany**

Weaving***

Having bargained for an even better rate of exchange than I had hoped for .. honest they may be, but you always have to try for the best rate possible .. we headed off to the Centre Artisinal / Maison des Artisans. Built in the Sudanic style by the French in the 1930s, this is a centre for displaying the many different kinds of local craftsmanship. Not just for selling the products, but with the craftsmen and women actually making them on site. Our visit was for photographic purposes only and whilst the prices for the many beautifully made musical instruments* and carvings were reasonable, the size and weight of some of them, especially those made from Mahogany ,** made them impractical for us to buy and carry on our journey.

A static exhibition of weaving *** looms in a building at the centre of the market, showed the wide variety of patterns of cloth and Mali blankets .. old and new .. which can be produced.

Our visit over, we walked past the minarets of the Grande Mosquée .. rising majestically above the trees .. and taxied our way back to the Hotel Naboun, past one of Bamako's interestingly decorated junctions *, to collect my bags and transfer to another more comfortable and friendlier residence.  Following the recommendation of Eric Hanssen, a Belgian friend, fellow Beads-L member and bead enthusiast, who has lived in Bamako and worked in Mali for some time .. I had booked in at the modern and comfortable Triskell So guest house for the night.

On the same new development area as the Burkina Faso embassy and run by the charming Michelle .. it was much like a comfortable European private home, notably with comfortable chairs to lounge in .. especially on the open-sided and nicely shaded first floor terrace.  Numerous dogs and cats added to the homely atmosphere and everything was professionally managed. CFA 21,000 for the night, inclusive of a large breakfast, with seemingly unending supplies of food and coffee. Such was the contrast to the hotel, it was almost surreal to be surrounded by her happy holidaying French guests, in a totally European environment.

Later, having been invited to join Eric and some of his friends at The Savannah restaurant ..
a popular meeting place for ex-pats .. we learnt about living and working in Mali and what sounded like a very pleasant Toubab's life there. Not only were we generously treated to all our drinks and food, but we also were driven back to the Triskell So by one of Eric's colleagues .. in executive style and air-conditioned comfort .. with a car radio that worked !
Only then did I realise that this was the first time I had been truly cool in days.
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Our grateful thanks to you all.

Factfile 23: Personally, I dislike having air-conditioning in West Africa .. as when outside temperatures are very high .. the difference hits you far more, every  time you emerge from the cool back into the heat. Generally when inside, as long as there is a fan circulating the air, it is possible to survive .. albeit by not moving as quickly as you would do normally in Europe.
Whether your blood does actually become thinner to compensate .. as is popularly said ..
I really don't know .. but eventually your body does become more accustomed to the heat.

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

The Grande Mosquée

Junction*

Hotel Mande**

Eric's Barbecue***

The next morning, taking our bags with us for the start of our onward journey to Sévaré, we went to the Hotel Mande ** One of Bamako's most picturesque hotels on the north bank of the river Niger .. offering views of Bamako from its terrace restaurant, which were superb.

Eric .. who lives nearby .. had kindly offered to meet us there, introduce us to his family,  share a barbecue*** lunch and show us his bead and stone collections. We were treated to a delicious array of locally-caught fish, fresh salads and ice cream .. plus given a lot of useful contact information for the places we were intending to visit. Fortunately, living near many sources of ancient beads .. both Eric and his wife are extremely knowledgeable and have collected some fine specimens during their time in Mali. Alaghi and I were green with envy !

Having planned to try for a late afternoon bus to take us to Sévaré overnight .. we sadly left Eric (?) to do the washing up and caught a local taxi to the Sévaré bus station at 4.00pm.

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