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Tuesday
Apr082008

Bamako in a Day

1773977-1109729-thumbnail.jpgPretty much all visits to Mali begin and end with Bamako, Mali's capital city.  The city is home to over 2,000,000 people and displays the hustle and bustle common in any capital city.  One look out the window, however, and I knew I was not in the Western world.  Motor scooters were the preferred form of wheeled transportation and donkeys the un-wheeled; kids playing soccer on the same field as livestock; streets lined with makeshift market stalls; and Mosques.

Bamako is the country's largest and most developed city.  There appears to be strong commerce in the capital city, albeit few I asked could explain what business it is that is taking place.  Our exposure to commerce is limited to tourist-focused establishments such as the Artisanat -- the city's bustling craft market -- and restaurants.

 For the culturally inclined, the National Museum of Mali is a must-see stop.  Here, one learns the basics of Malian history through artifacts.  Items on display range from earliest human implements from the region, all the way to modern examples of the country's impressive fabric artistry.  While the country grows cotton, it exports it to other countries (Europe and increasingly China) for the making of textiles.  Once loomed, however, Mali re-imports the finished goods to produce impressive dyed and printed fabrics.  These fabrics, many finished by hand with wax, are exceptionally beautiful and coveted for making clothing.

Antelope Headdresses, Bambara TribeThe Museum trip will also start to give you a sense of how very connected the Malian people are with the land and their environment.  During a tour of ancient artifacts, for example, our guide explained why you see so many gazelles and antelopes portrayed.  To this American, the answer seemed obvious: Duhh!  Becuase they ate 'em.  Not so, although he did admit they are quite tasty.  The real reason, he explains, is because God sent them to the people to teach farming!  (Um, excuse me.  Farming?  Take a moment to think about this idea before moving to the next paragraph...)

Gazelles and antelopes taught farming because, as they run, they churn up the dirt under their hooves, then poop in the depressions.  And, as everyone knows: poop + hoove marks  = trees.  Because there's seeds in the... well, you get it, I'm sure.  The broader point, however, is quite intriguing.  When was the last time you stopped to notice, much less analyze, how exactly the plants around you came to be?  Shouldn't you?  The early Malians perceived the grazing of an Antelope as an act of God.  No matter your spiritual path you're on, you must respect the intense connection that early Malian animism brought to these humans. 

We ended our day by returning to the Hotel L'Amitie, a modern hotel catering to foreign visitors.  By the plethora of outside signage on the building, it's clear this hotel has changed hands many times, most recently to Moumar Khadafi, who has rechristened it "Hotel Libya".  The Hotel experienced only one brown-out during our stay, making it a clear 5-star leader in the region!

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