Traipsing Bamako by Nike Ojeikere

Posted: May 6, 2010 at 11:36 am

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, May 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!

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

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.

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…

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