A industry driven by hope, part 1

Once again I found myself travelling before dawn. On pitch dark roads we cruised back to Bamako with a cab drivers who´s car lacked working lights. Somehow he still managed to avoid most of the big holes and the trucks that met us before we arrived at one of Bamako’s busstations.

But nothing is easy when it comes to travelling in West Africa, at least not for me it seems. Once again the bus I jumped on broke down and our travelling time went from 8 to 15 hours. But few bad things can not be turned into something good and we soon realized that the next bus we got on where filled men and women heading for different mines. A perfect time for small talk.

“I few years ago I would never had guessed that I would become a miner. But once you found that one piece of gold and you get that feeling, well its hard not to come back after that,” one man told me.

I asked another who long he planned to stay. First he just smiled at me, then he replied:
“As long as it takes.”

When we arrived at our destination, a small town close to the Senegal border, the sun had set. We found ourself waiting in the darkness, surrounded by nothing more than empty street shops and a raging wind that seemed to want us gone before we had arrived.
We where picked up by my guide´s friend: a man that combines mining with missionary work and spent the night in his house. The village he and his wife lives in lies in a beautiful area totally surrounded mountains that circles around the area like one huge wall.

With the help of our host  we could travel further out into the countryside on mopeds to find an area filled with different mining fields. One driven by a big company, but most by normal men and women that hopes that they will be the one who finds that big lump of gold that will change their lives. But we were soon told that to be here and report from this place, we first had to talk to the village elder and get his permission. The village elder had been sacrificing an animal to increase the chance that the local miners found gold, but should be back by now. And so we went on to meet this man…

Next part follows in a couple of days.


One mans trash…

… is another´s treasure. But to say it here, at Bamako dump site, is to take it too far. More accurate would be that one man’s trash is another person’s survival.

I was on my way back from home from the University of Bamako when I passed this huge dump site just behind one of the university buildings. Out there, surrounded by smoke and the dirt, walks dozens of people, even children, in search for anything of value.

So I asked my translator to stop the moped and we went to say hi to one the women who were searching for plastic bottles among the rubbish.

I have to admit that it feels strange to call it rubbish, since she has been calling it home for almost twenty years now. Her old house fell apart and she´s been stuck here since then. I had so many questions I wanted to ask here, but also very little time. So we decided to come back another day.

There´s no city recycling program, or anything like it, in Bamako. But what does exist is something I call “spontaneous recycling”. That means that you can take anything you don´t want, but that might be of value to someone else, and just put it outside your home. It could be simple things like plastic bottles, or a piece of wood, scrap metal maybe, and I promise you that it will be gone in an hour.

Leave your opinions at home

Bamako, charming as it might be, is still a dirty city. A lot of people wear face masks when they travel along the main roads and for good reason. Exploring the countryside was not only very rewarding jobwise, but a welcome break from all the dust and smog.

Over two million souls lives in this city. No subway system exists, no trams and you cannot call it bicycle friendly. The two main roads go through the city like main arteries. Everyone uses them, simply because everyone has too. But the traffic situation is not as bad as one might suspect, mainly because so many uses the “moto” – or the moped. When cars, cabs and buses get stuck in traffic jams, all on motos improvises to get through. In Bamako it is not the biggest that goes first, but the quickest. If you hesitate you get left behind- in a cloud of smog. (Thankfully I´m not the one driving)

I left together with my guide early Friday morning and as we passed through the city I realized that the citys architecture looks very much like they were inspired by an old western movie.

For two days we met conversed with the locals in the villages south of Bamako, enjoyed Mali’s hospitality and took part in the weekly Saturday market.

Riding off into the sunset

I´m reporting on Malis musical scene to find out what shape it is in today. My second objective is to write about modern slavery. Both these topics led me to the topic of the Griot –and forced me to challenge my own views concerning freedom.

The Griot is a group of people that exists in several countries in West Africa under different names. It has been explained to me that traditionally a Griot family often serves a family of higher status, a bond that has existed for many generations. The Griots serve in many different ways: by keeping track of a family´s history, as praise singers and story tellers at weddings and other public events. But it is a lot more to it and this short resume won’t make it justice, so see it more as an introduction.

They also serve as sort of a family’s lawyer, as a mediator when there is a family feud and as advisors. They get parts of their payment by begging and demanding things from the family or the person they serve. They also get donations when they praise family members at weddings or entertain the family’s guests with music and speeches. In general people try to give them what they want because you do not want to risk that a Griot to turn against you, especially since they probably knows more about your family history than you do.

For me this first sounded absurd. That you work as a paid flatterer and have to beg to get paid. But the more I learn the more I realize that you should not be quick to judge the Griots role in society.

History and family is very important in Mali. A Malians last name can tell you where the person comes from, what his or hers family lines are. “Do you belong to that family? Then you are my slave!” is a common joke.

To an outsider being a Griot might look like choosing a life of servitude, but many take great pride in that they get the opportunity to master their family trade and in addition contribute to society. Many see them as key figures in the Malian society.


The man in the middle is a Griot and a musician. The one to right is the father of the child and lives in the same village. He is not a Griot, but know both how to play and make one of the traditional drums.


South of Bamako lies the village Kirina. It is said to be the birthplace of Mali and almost entirely consists of Griots or related groups. Suitably, a musical school has been built just outside the village and there youngsters go to learn to play traditional instruments on days that the regular school is closed. (They go to primary school three days a week and the music school can afford to be open for three days also). It gives the kids something to do and focus and, as well as keeping their culture alive.



Thug life? Naw, more like asthma prevention

We spend the night with a man who had to leave his home in the northern part of Mali. We ate together from the same plate with our hands, as you do here. Drank sweet tea and discussed the present and the past.
He and his family fled from northern Mali because of the war and they managed to bring their cattle all the way to his present home. He do not think he will be able to go back any time soon, or ever.

Protected by the mosquito net I slept like a baby in his garage. Until a goat sneaked and we had to chase it out. But that is a story for another day.



Another side of Bamako

I would not exaggerate if I said that I got a few warning about travelling to Malis capital Bamako. During 2014 many argued (mostly from abroad) that the city was possibly the only safe heaven in the country. But then came 2015 and no less than 3 acts of terrorism struck the city.

So when I got here I expected to be greeted by a city where many lived in fear. The realty could nog have been any more different. I live in a poor neighborhood were people find their entertainment among them self or at a local place. Many of the people who lives in my neighborhood has probably never set their foot inside the Radisson Blu Hotel (who were stormed by insurgents last November), neither at the uptown nightclub were a man started shooting in May last year.

Of course, these are horrible acts and it must have been terrifying for everyone who happened to be at these places. But the threat of terrorism does not seem to concern the majority of the population. For them “life have to go on”, and the daily struggle continues. (Mali is ranked 179 on UNDP:s development index. Syria is ranked 134)

What I have found is a city that feels safer than central Stockholm or London, despite poverty and lack of street lights. People are in general very friendly and go to great effort to help you to the best of their ability.  As a journalist who doesn´t speak French or Bambara this makes a world of difference.

So from now on culture will be brought into my safety evaluation.


Sidenote: The best way to get around Bamako is on a “moto”, in other words: a scooter och small motorcykel. My guide and fixer owns one and we go back and forth around the city to meet people. To make those little trips even more interesting I have started to try to take street pictures while we rush down the streets. I call it “MotoPhoto”.

It takes quick reflexes, a good eye, a lot of luck and I´m really bad at it. So of the 50 pictures – or so – that I have taken, this one (the one above) is the only one I like so far. I think it shows the Bamako friendliness quite well, and that the V-sign is quite international.


(I will write these posts quite spontaneous  and only quickly look through them. So please have patience with my typos)