Mali

The Return Journey - Bamako

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

Breakfast in the Mande Hotel was a mammoth and tasty affair, buffet-style .. with all you could eat from a selection of cereals, fruit, yoghurt, cheese, ham, bread, different jams and coffee.
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I had just finished when Alaghi arrived with a fellow countryman from Niger, who had brought a bronze elephant for me to look at. I am definitely no expert when it comes to recognising old bronze from new .. but this one looked a bit special. The bargaining was long and difficult .. his first price was much too expensive for me and my last price was too low for him. Alaghi was having to translate every word for  me .. when I stated many times, that I honestly did not understand bronzes and was not willing to risk spending a lot of money on the off-chance that it was as old and as valuable as the seller thought. Half an hour later, we sadly decided that neither of us was going to meet each other's price .. so he and his elephant left.

Alaghi was disappointed beyond extreme, possibly because he had a commission due on a successful sale .. friends are friends but business is business, after all .. and eventually badgered me into reconsidering my opinion. He did not understand bronzes either, but along with my own gut-feeling .. he also thought it was a lot older and much more special than those we had previously seen. So, fully 15 minutes after the elephant's owner had left .. Alaghi sprinted up the road to find him .. and the bargaining recommenced. Another 15 minutes later and we had agreed on a price. Whereupon the seller, previously a Dogon-only speaker, began speaking very good English and the deal was concluded with smiles all round !

Factfile 30: Many ruses and ploys, normally accompanied by light-hearted banter, are used by both sides, when wheeling, dealing and bargaining in West Africa. I cannot tell you the many different ways of getting a reasonable price, experience is the only way to learn .. but one thing I never do is lie, or try to take unfair advantage, because the seller professes not to speak my language. In many cases, the seller understands perfectly well any derisory remarks made to colleagues in your own tongue and probably knows a lot more about the item's actual value than you do. It is a type of game .. but an honest approach, whilst both sides are trying their utmost to achieve the best price possible, usually ends up in an agreeable deal and a new and enduring friendship of mutual respect for the next occasion you meet.
The fact that the bargaining will be nearly as intense in the future, is just the 'African way' !

I have yet to have this elephant properly identified, but some expert information, already to hand, suspects it to be an old and rare piece originating from the Old Ghana, which bordered the Djenné area. The early Asanti and Akan peoples allowed for the most powerful animal figures to be made exclusively for, and used only by, the Asante Henne ( Supreme King ).
The use of elephants being quite unusual and more often made in the form of chairs for royalty.
If you have any more information on this beautiful item, I would be very glad to receive it.

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

Elephant

Treasures*

A foggy day**

Market***

News of our original presence in Bamako had filtered through the grapevine and an appointment had been made with a travelling dealer, who arrived with a bag full of treasures* at non-tourist prices. The rest of the morning was taken up with selecting many of his best items, friendly bartering and arranging to meet him when we next returned to Mali. Most of these items have been sold or are still offered for sale on AfricanTradeBeads.com.

It was a very foggy day**.. with the previous night's mist not lifting at all. Similar conditions evidently covered an area right across West Africa as far as Dakar in Senegal, for two days.
Business done, we hailed a taxi and drove to the Kayes bus garage to organise our transport.

Hundreds of people were milling around as we found our way through to the Kayes transport manager's office .. set in the rear of a very dark shop. His truck was travelling that day, but not until 6.00pm .. and as that would mean at least a 5 hour wait, we decided to see if there were any alternatives on offer. As is usually the case, other eyes had been following our progress and their owner had swiftly worked out what we would be looking for, approaching and pointing us in the direction of a Kayes bound  bus .. and the people, who he said, were running a new service.

Friendly, smiling and sounding utterly plausible .. they showed us around a fairly modern truck-based unit .. quoting the same price of CFA 12,500 and saying that they would be leaving at 4.00pm, whether full or not .. even agreeing to my request to sit in the cab alongside the driver.
That day was to be the inaugural trip of their new service and we would certainly be well looked after .. and yes, the vehicle had just been fully serviced. Would we like to buy our tickets now, thereby reserving our chosen seats and return at 3.30pm ? Despite our recent pleasure at the  organisation of Bittar-Trans .. a sixth sense warned us both that it sounded too good to be true.

Declining to part with any money, but promising to be back at 3.30, we returned to our waiting taxi, buying a replacement new, larger and stronger sports bag on the way ( CFA 3000 ), as the zip had self-destructed in mine .. and went back to the Hotel Mande for lunch.

By 3.30pm, we were back at the garage. The truck was still there but there was no sign of the people supposedly managing it, nor did anyone know anything about them .. apart from saying that the truck was certainly not going to Kayes, or anywhere else for that matter !

Luckily, we hadn't parted with any money in advance towards what was probably a scam, so we returned to the original transport manager and bought two tickets from him. After seeing our bags safely loaded on top of the large horse box-looking wagon that was to be our transport,
we wandered around the surrounding
market***.. or sat in the shade trying to keep cool with soft drinks and bottled water, whilst being entertained by a myriad of colourful characters.

Every other person was trying to sell us something. From masks for dust protection, to hats,  gowns, blankets, torches, food, drinks, fans and everything else that could be physically carried to a customer. A nice touch was the sales pitch of Buy one, get one free, from a young boy selling Chinese-made padlocks .. I  wonder which tourist he got that idea from ?

My camera unfortunately still with a smeary len) was busy as usual, recording the local flavour and entertaining all the locals who wanted to be photographed. Watching as Alaghi stopped one man, who was walking by carrying nothing but a pair of scissors and turned out to be the local travelling chiropodist .. another man filling up large earthenware communal water pots, for everyone to freely help themselves .. and saying "No thanks" a hundred times over, to a constant stream of traders offering goods .. all passed the afternoon hours until we eventually departed sharp on 6.00pm African time .. which was well after 7.00pm actual time !

RECT