Sunday, March 27, 2016

Bamako "Firsts"

Arriving at post just two nights before a long weekend begins is just plain good strategy. Having gotten this good advice in time to plan, I managed to arrive one evening, go to work to start "checking in" and getting myself set up at the embassy, and then have a four-day weekend. Yahoo!

Three days into that long weekend, I'm just about over jet lag, although my stomach started fussing a bit today. My desire to eat is finally on schedule and my sleep is mostly pretty good (particularly now that a neighbor gave me some cheap-y black-out curtains to tide me over until Amazon delivers better ones).

Rather than a blow-by-blow of each day's activities, I thought I'd describe a few of my Bamako Firsts:

- First surprise in Mali: my alarm is what woke me my first morning, but as my eyes fluttered open and shut, I was surprised to hear lots of birds chirping away. I didn't see any birdlife until taking a walk around the embassy grounds later that day: tall white birds dotted the grass, and I have since heard that other beautiful types can be seen around the embassy regularly. There is no reason this should have surprised me, but I did not, somehow, picture Mali as a bird place. Au contraire!

- First daytime drive: seeing the Niger River while going over it is both impressive and not. It seems to change color depending on time of day, from slate gray to an almost fake-looking aquamarine tone. The parades of "motos" (motorbikes) that zip and cut and trail along is not quite Hanoi-level, but at peak morning/evening times, it comes close. I've yet to see entire families on a bike, but it is interesting seeing people in all types of wear, at all ages, riding or driving the motos. The colorful splashes of some men and women's local-wear is fun to see. Also, Bamako is far greener than I expected, with rainy season still to come.

- First Bambara lessons: this is the more widely spoken local language, though most people seem to speak French too (at least, among those I've met so far). Certainly at the embassy and at restaurants Westerners frequent, French is the common tongue. However, the embassy driver who took me from the airport to my apartment the first night told me that learning Bambara is the number one way to start learning about Mali and Malians. To that end, I practice with every guard I meet. At the moment, my vocabulary consists solely of "Good morning (In-nee so-go-ma)," "Good afternoon (in-nee kleh)", and "Good evening (in-nee soo)." I can also respond to these (n-say for women), though I'm not sure what that means.

- First grocery shopping trip: I went to Shop Rite, which has another name but is called this by everyone. It was impressive! Fairly Western style, with lots of Kirkland brand stuff presumably from Costco. Mostly Westerners but a few Malians were shopping there during my trip. The prices seemed comparable to the U.S. on many things (pistachios being completely outrageous, for example), and cheap for others. There's also a fresh fruit and vegetable stand just across the street from it, where I got two mangoes (delicious and not yet in full season!), three onions and an avocado for the equivalent of $3. Eggs are not refrigerated and the fresh fish section was "impressively without flies" according to someone shopping with me. I will not go hungry here.

- First lizard: While waiting in a car at a gas station, I saw something slither across the asphalt about thirty feet away. It was large enough to be seen, with a long and sinuous body and tail. I've heard about these lizards, which are found frequently in embassy housing (but not, so far, in the apartments).

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed this "first impressions" tour of Bamako. Beginning to get the feel of the city. Keep the impressions coming!
    (and I'm keeping a list of the Bambara phrases you are picking up ... maybe you will eventually post a recording?)