Meet the Staff – Patrice

patrice

To anyone who has stayed at The Sleeping Camel, one of the first faces you see smiling away from behind the counter is Patrice. Patrice is 35 years old and luckily for us he is bilingual. Cameroon has both English and French speaking areas so he grew up speaking both both. He is currently trying to learn Bambara as well.

How long have you worked for The Sleeping Camel Hotel? I started here in January 2011

Where were you born? Douala

Where did you grow up and what was it like? I grew up in Douala and my childhood was very good. I am the oldest of 7 children. I have three brothers and three sisters. My father worked in a bank and my mother worked for Cameroon Electricity.

How long have you been in Mali? I arrived here in July 2009

Why did you come to Mali? I was playing football in Burkina Faso and I was approached by a Malian businessman to come to Mali and play football. When I got here he abandoned me so I ended up getting a job on a building site.

Have you been back to Cameroon? Not since I left, no.

If you could invite 5 people to a party, who would they be?
1. Eto’o
2. Rihanna
3. Beyonce
4. Barack Obama
5. Desmond Tutu

What qualities do you value in a person? Honesty, intelligent, humble, hardworking, sincere.

What do you do in your spare time? Lots of sleeping, watch tv, play football, go to church on Sundays, sometimes go to a nightclub.

If you could go on a holiday anywhere in the world, where would you go? It would depend on the opportunity I have, but, no dream for a particular place.

Playing Golf in Bamako

For those people that need to get their fix of Golf whilst visiting Mali you only have two real options. There is a small but well maintained par 3 course in the grounds of the Hotel L’Amitie and there is a driving range situated at the Palais de la Culture in Badalabougou.

Golf Club de L’Hôtel de L’Amitie

golfcourse

This course is very well maintained and it has a nice 19th hole at which you can enjoy a drink afterwards but it is quite expensive for a par 3 course. To play 18 holes on a weekend including club hire and caddy fees will cost you 31 000 CFA (€47.25). There are 9 grass greens on the course as well as 18 tee offs so you can, in quite a confined area, bang out 18 holes in a relatively short time.

This is a break down of costs for 18 holes -

Green fees – 15 000 CFA (Monday to Friday) & 18 000 CFA (Weekends)
Club Hire – 10 000 CFA
Caddy - 3000 CFA (You must take a caddy. I assume that this is to ensure you have a clue as to which green you should be aiming for and to ensure you don’t start smacking balls into other golfers wandering around the course)

For those people that want to test themselves against the best that Bamako has to offer they do welcome non-members in to some of their weekly competitions. The cost to join is 3 000 CFA plus the above mentioned green fees etc.

Palais de la Culture Golf Driving Range

drivingrange

The driving range is located in the grounds of the Palais de la Culture in Badalabougou. It is a simple affair but it is well run and the manager is very helpful. He is quite knowledgeable in the dark arts of golf. Even complete novices should soon find themselves hitting the ball rather than air or the ground and he is happy to offer you a few pointers.

There is a good selection of clubs that you are free to use. The fact that it also only costs 1 000 CFA per 50 balls means its a great way to have a bit of fun in Bamako without breaking the bank. If you fancy yourself as a bit of a golfer then it is better to go in the morning as he lets you unwind with the driver. This then gives him time throughout the day to find the balls that may well clear the back fence of the range. In the afternoon you have to be a little calmer but there are a few greens for you to aim at so it is still good fun.

The range is open from about 6am until about 18.30, usually 7 days a week….

Books about Mali – Monique and the Mango Rains

If you are interested in Malian life and you are looking for something to read that will give you a greater understanding of Malian culture then you would be hard pushed to find a better book than Monique and The Mango Rains.

Monique and the Mango Rains is a non-fiction book written by Kris Holloway. Kris was a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali between 1989 and 1991. The Peace Corps program in Mali commenced in 1971 and since then over 2600 volunteers have been involved. Unfortunately, due to the issues facing Mali in 2012 the program was suspended in April 2012 and at this stage it has yet to be recommenced. The Peace Corps program in Mali was focused on assisting local community members in developing essential public service sectors with their primary focus being in the areas of education, the environment, agriculture, health and business.

Mali suffers from one of the worst levels of maternal and infant mortality rates in the world. Monique was a midwife and her and Kris’ story is not only a story of friendship but also a fantastic insight into the intricacies of Malian culture. Perhaps its greatest message however is portraying the strength of human spirit. Together, they learn from each other and also from the battles they continually face as ordinary people with limited resources trying to improve the lives of the people in their remote and under resourced community.

The following passage is from the publisher

Monique Dembele saved lives and dispensed hope in a place where childbirth is a life-and-death matter. This book tells of her unquenchable passion to better the lives of women and children in the face of poverty, unhappy marriages, and endless backbreaking work. Monique’s buoyant humor and willingness to defy tradition were uniquely hers. In the course of this deeply personal narrative, as readers immerse themselves in the rhythms of West African village life, they come to know Monique as friend, mother, and inspired woman.

Monique and The Mango Rains is available from Amazon in the US and the UK and also on Kindle

Bamako – The Film.

Last night I finally had the pleasure of watching the film ‘Bamako’ by Abderrahmane Sissako. I have often been told how wonderful the film is but due to it being shot in a mixture of Bambara and French I had always neglected to watch it. The reason I feel the need to write about it is that a lot of themes encountered in the film are very relevant to life in Mali today. I apologise unreservedly to Abderrahmane because I did receive the film through Africa’s version of Megaupload.com (a USB) but I promise I am going to buy a copy on Amazon and send it to Bill and Clare in the UK so they can see it as well.

Africa has numerous countries with vibrant film industries and I recently travelled to Burkina Faso to attend Africa’s largest film festival Fespaco. Due to the language barrier, most African films I have watched are either Nigerian, Ghanaian or star Leon Schuster. In saying that, I have sat through numerous Nigerian films and whilst it is wrong of me to put a brush through the world’s second biggest film industry I am the first to admit that I have rarely seen a Nigerian film that could hold my attention for the entire film. The exception being if I am stuck on a bus in which the dvd player and tv are both functioning at the same time. No matter how bad I think the film is, the volume is usually so loud that the only way you could not follow what was happening was if you slipped into a coma. Though sometimes a coma is preferable to reality as my old mate Phil eloquently describes in detail when writing about one of his delightful bus trips from Bamako to Dakar.

Now I know that I live in Bamako and perhaps me proclaiming my love for a film about my adopted home town might be a bit rich to some but quite honestly, this is an outstanding movie. I assume that by watching ‘Bamako’ with English subtitles I am missing a few of the nuances that only a native speaker can pick up. Whilst the subject matter of the film is brilliant, it is quite often the things happening in the background that made me smile.

The film has a few parallel stories running together but the primary focus is the human cost of globalistion. The main story is based around a trial in which the plaintiff ‘African Society’ are claiming that the IMF and the World Bank are responsible for holding impoverished African countries back. It is incredibly well written and some of the arguments put forward by the Malian ‘witnesses’ are compelling. The film also touches on the risks taken by immigrants attempting to find a better life in Europe as they feel they are incapable of achieving the same in their home country. There is also a mention of how terrorism is a curse that affects Africa as well as the west and that Africans want to fight terrorism. However it is nearly impossible when the continent is cursed with such extreme poverty. All of these points are extremely relevant today.

I mentioned earlier about the things that happen in the background that really grabbed my attention. Nothing says Mali quite like watching a court scene where a highly emotive argument is being put forward by an immaculately dressed and forceful lady whilst in the background a young girl is collecting water from a well with a rope and bucket. Or how a lady dying Bazin, when on hearing something she disagrees with in the trial decides that even though there are lawyers, judges and protocols in place she still barges in and voices her opinion regardless of the fact that she has nothing to do with the trial. No matter how serious things get in Mali, life still goes on. The staff at The Sleeping Camel Hotel proved this during the coup. Even though the military were tearing around town and shooting what little ammunition they had into the air the staff to a person still turned up to work. The scene where the lead counsel for the World Bank has just purchased a pair of knock off Gucci sunglasses before getting charged by a ram whilst chatting up his girlfriend on the phone is priceless. Who hasn’t whilst wandering aimlessly around Bamako’s dusty back streets unwittingly stumbled into the path of someone’s prized Tabaski sheep?

The film premiered at the Cannes Film festival in 2006 but after the turmoil of the past 12 months and the sudden realisation to the west that Mali’s democracy was a sham it is enlightening to see the very thought of democracy was denounced by one of the directors protagonists in this film several years ago. The following is a transcript of his speech and whilst I am relying on the translation provided by the subtitles, it is an incredibly strong indictment on the realities faced in Mali long before the system totally collapsed in 2012.

‘Today in Mali or other countries, if you fall ill and you have no money, you’re dead. Everything here concerning democracy or elections is nothing but a show, a big show. We occasionally go to vote but it’s as if we were never there. This external legitimacy of power remains in place today, many intellectuals have accepted it, but I won’t judge anyone. But each one of us had a moment of clarity and then made a deliberate choice. Either I fully support the ideals of my people or I sell them off, as many of our governments do. That’s their share of responsibility in this. I think I should have stayed there. Perhaps it was better for me than coming to work for a corrupt Mali administration that has no responsibilities. We end up asking ourselves, “Why do we receive a salary? For a job we don’t do.” All of a sudden, we regress in relation to goals we had or that we were attaining before. They’ve taken everything from us. I didn’t realise that poverty, albeit imposed poverty, could change human nature to this extent. But today, I may be allowed to assert that when I step out into the street, believe me, I don’t meet other Malians. I see everything in Mali but Malians. A man who is hungry, a man without health care, a man who is never educated and left in total obscurantism, is a man who will negate himself and be in denial. He’s a man who will become alienated, lost and depraved.’

This truly is an outstanding story and I honestly implore you to make the effort to get your hands on this film (legally so as to support the local film industry).

As an aside, the film inside the film was an absolutely brilliant distraction. Some children are watching a movie in one of the scenes after a day of litigation and suddenly Danny Glover appears on their TV screen in a féaux western – ‘Death in Timbuktu’. Danny Glover was an executive producer of ‘Bamako’ so props to Danny for his support of a film that so clearly supports the Malian film industry.

In parting, when the lead counsel is wrapping up and recommending a penalty for the World Bank he states. ‘We can’t throw Wolfowitz in the Niger, the crocodiles wouldn’t want him.’ Brilliant.

Lets Jam – Music Can Unify Us

Most people who have visited Mali leave with the sense that they have experienced something special. The amazing scenery and a melting pot of cultures living together in relative harmony. The ancient Saharan trading routes drew people together and one of the greatest benefits of this was that Mali developed a dynamic music scene that is hard to beat anywhere in the world. The following are a few examples of people from far away places discovering that no matter where you are from – Music can unify us.

Tinariwen & Kiran Ahluwalia (Indo Canadian)

Damon Albarn (UK) & Afel Bocoum

Eric Bibb (US) and Habib Koité

Amadou & Mariam and Manu Chao (France)