September 20, 2015

Wow-termelons and Sacred Arch

Dear Family,

It's nearing the end of September in Bamako, and the weather is staying relatively cool (upper 80s) with some days of intense heat.  We’ve been here nearly 8 months, and our air conditioners have stayed on for that whole period.

The rains come every other day, falling torrentially for about 30 mins.  Since the sewers are open, and overflowing with flip flops, plastic bags, remains of rice and bean dinners, broken chairs etc, the rains flow along the roads which become like rivers, and the trash is spread out further and further into people’s dwellings.  Mosquitoes are also pretty bad at this time – we feel bad for our guards who bear the brunt of the stings -- and we try to provide them small relief by buying them anti-mosquito creams, coils and insect-zapping lamps.  Alas, nothing seems to stop those voracious bugs...

A few nights ago, we participated in a fancy dinner hosted by an American and his Malagasy (from Madagascar) wife.  We sat in a beautiful garden, at tables with white table clothes, enjoying Samosas, calamari in ginger curry paste, Coco Chicken, and vanilla ice cream.  It was unusual, and lot of fun to get a flavor of that distant, exotic island.  We were also entertained by dancers performing typically Malagasy dances and wearing Malagasy clothes with weaved baskets. 

Two weekends ago, we got a group together and hiked to see a huge arch rock formation about an hour's drive from Bamako.  It is a sacred place where the king of the city of Siby would predict the futures to warriors wishing to determine the outcomes of their battles.  Our group consisted of our friends, their small children and our pregnant colleague, so we took our time.  Along the way, Malian children held our hand, cleared the pathway from vegetation and kept us company as we sat to eat our picnic.  We didn’t make it to the waterfall, but will organize another outing to see it soon.

A few days before that, we took a 2-hour trip in a covered pirogue around Bamako, and got to see huge mounds of trash burning along the river banks, fishermen drying their nets on bushes, women washing their clothes and children with the same batch of soapy water, and a large wooden boats dragging sand from the river’s bottom to make cement.

We’re definitely adapting little by little.  Dorothee tries to separate work and personal life, though some of her American colleagues are not as successful.  She recently made cardamom ice cream and chocolate ice cream, and is looking forward to making coconut ice cream soon.

Adeel is teaching himself how to swim in our tiny pool, and developing a website to display items for sale from the expat community.  We’re hoping this project will make us Billionaires one day, but in the meantime, it’s been fun to learn a new coding language.

We miss you all.  Dorothee will spend a quick week in October, but otherwise, we plan to spend a couple of weeks in DC over December and January.

Dorothee & Adeel 

 Adeel contemplates life as we drift along the Niger river in Bamako (please note the indigo shirt he got tailor made)

 Arch of Siby, sacred places where warriors got their futures told

 There's nothing better than home-made ice cream in Malian weather

 Hashing in a beautiful place close to our house.  Double bonus for a small waterfall, and practically no trash bags around

 Our friend Sekou making us cavity-inducing sweet Hibiscus tea

 Another fancy tailor-made Indigo shirt

 Starfruits are in season, and grow just outside my office window

Obstacle course to overcome before arriving at a fancy resort/restaurant.  Thank god for Landcruisers --- other cars would be swallowed alive

Trash burning and nets drying on the side of the Niger River

Wow-termelons are also in season and grow to the size of small toddlers

Eid in Bamako, South Africa and Future Visits

Dear Families,

It's been a while since we've sent you an update, so here it is! Dorothee and I have been doing well, and are getting well acclimated to Mali at this point. We've made lots of friends, and are continually involved in many routine activities such as trivia nights, hashing, brunches, getting tailor-made clothes, and so on.

Last month (June) we spent a week in South Africa, and a week in Namibia, and then Adeel a few days in Kenya (due to a canceled flight). 

South Africa was great. Dorothee's aunt, Penny, was gracious enough to allow us to stay for a week at her place, and she even lent us her car for the week! Adeel was happy to meet the rest of the Bonds, and felt welcomed to the family. Penny hosted a Braii (a South African BBQ) for us, which was spectacular. Adeel went to the hospital because he was increasingly becoming deaf, and after getting his ears de-waxed, could miraculously hear again - Johannesburg seems to have good healthcare. Otherwise we explored Johannesburg and the surrounding areas. We shopped (we missed going to proper shopping malls), visited the Lion And Rhino Park, saw the cave of human kind (where some of the world's earliest hominids are found), completed a bike tour of Sowetto, visited Satyagara house (where Gandhi used to live), saw the apartheid museums (which shocked Adeel because the events were so recent), had a lot of good South African Cuisine, and much more.

Namibia was great as well.  Along the Skeleton Coast there are sand dunes as far as the eye can see. We saw tons of critters in the dunes, and were surprised that the desert hosted so much life! Adeel climbed and coursed around the dune in dune buggies, while Dorothee met with her colleagues from Peace Corps. There was a lot of eating, working and socializing there as well, and it has taken us nearly a month to get back to our pre-vacation weight! Namibia and South Africa both reminded Adeel of America or Europe. He was surprised to find parts of Africa so developed.

Last week was Eid. We first celebrated with a colleague of Dorothee, and ate riz gras, french fries, goat meat and locally made yogurt. We then went to visit friends who own a restaurant. The Malian husband built a smoker in the front of the restaurant, and after feeding a fire for hours with wood, we had wonderful roast lamb with 20 other people as our Eid dinner!

Next week Maman/Christine is arriving to spend a week with us, and we are both thrilled. We've planned out lots of activities for her (Dorothee has a long list in her phone). We'll be sure to send you all some updates and photos of what we'll be doing! We're also hoping that Ammi/Abida will come visit us soon as well. We'll plan out lots of good things for then too!

Anyway, we are both arguing about how long or short the email should be. Dorothee thinks it should be much shorter, but Adeel thinks it should be longer. So we will compromise and stop here :)

Hope everyone is doing well, and we look forward to hearing from you too!

Lots of love,

Adeel & Dorothee

Shopreate and Other Wonders of Bamako

Dear Family,

Hope all is well. We decided to take our Sunday to do our monthly update on our blogs, Facebook, and with our families. So here's our monthly update! 

We have been doing well. Dorothee has adjusted a little better now, and is getting more sleep. Her work has calmed down a bunch, though she is expecting about 30 volunteers in June. Adeel has taken to Mali like fish takes to water. He is enjoying it thoroughly. His work is going well, and he keeps himself busy socializing with Malians and expats, and working out. He is learning French, and Bambara. All the neighborhood Malians know us well and always greet us, and go out of their way to teach Adeel Bambara.

It is hot here right now! We are at the peak of the hot season. Even mosquitoes don't survive the heat and are few in number. Most noteworthy consequence of the heat is that the chicken eggs that Adeel eats daily have shrunken in size. We keep ourselves cool by hiding under the AC, or taking a dip in the pool.

A couple of weeks ago we ran out of gas for cooking in our kitchen. Dorothee was wondering if this was a common issue with the gas company... until she realized there are no gas companies and our kitchen is supplied with little gas tanks by the side of the house! We had just run out of gas, and couldn't cook for a couple of days until we got them refilled.

Adeel has been growing his hair out. It is currently the longest it has ever been in his life. He is striving to tie it into a "man-bun". That is his greatest ambition at this time. It is at an awkward phase right now where it cannot be tied, and is just all over the place unless copious amounts of gel is used.
Dorothee's ambition has been to grow edible plants. She recently purchased some at a community event sponsored by the US embassy. She has basil, citronella, green onions, and spinach, and hopes to acquire more. The gardener has planted them and tends to them well.

We have been to many Malian concerts recently, usually at the French Institute. We're generally enjoying life, but missing you all very much,

Please send us some news!

Adeel and Dorothee

Hmmm, papayas...

Carrying stuff seems to be the lot of many women here.  The little kid on the back peeks from behind his mother to see what's happening ahead

 Amazing Malian music concerts at the French Institute

 Taxis give themselves inspirational names.  This one chose the dubious name of Adof (sic) Hitler

Shopreate is an amazing food store where we can find many of our familiar foods,  It's just opened a second floor and we're able to find even more products...

June 06, 2015

Fresh Chairs

Getting chairs recovered in Africa.  Fast and cost effective.

Step 1: dismantle chairs with son on porch

Step 2: sew fabric and piping for chair seat

Step 3: bask in results

Step 4: arrange around the table and invite friends over for brunch

Fresh Lettuce

I was craving fresh lettuce for weeks, and complaining to Adeel about it.  So he went straight to the source -- a lettuce field...

And he bought three humongous bags.  Which, if we ate lettuce exclusively, could feed the both of us for weeks.

From Adeel's Facebook Page

May 17, 2015

Bouillie, Dried Mangoes, and Cashew Apples


Malian dishes vary from region to region, but the staples are normally rice, millet, sorghum and fonio (a fine-grained cereal found in Africa). These are served with sauces of fish, meat or vegetables. Grains are often used to make porridges; for example, many Malian’s eat bouille for breakfast, a sweet milk and cereal dish which is a little like runny rice pudding.

 Tiny balls made from a mixture of different grains, drying in the sun

When the grains are dried, they are gathered and...

... packed in various plastic bags for easy shipping

 It is then cooked with water, and sugar and powdered milk (if available) by the women, and presented to the men for eating, for special occasions

Dried Mangoes
When produced on a large scale, mangoes are desiccated in large ovens.  Steps are illustrated here:

 Achat/Recolte --> Transport --> Murissement --> Triage --> Lavage --> Epluchage --> Tranchage/Coupe --> Mise en Claie --> Sechage --> Claieage --> Triage/pesage --> Conditionnement

 Drying Ovens

The finished product (ginger powder on the left, dried mangoes on the right)

Cashew Apples
Did you know that cashews actually came in this form?  People in the village tend to eat the fruit, and throw out the top part, which is the cashew...  Given how labor intensive it is to have to harvest cashews, I now understand why they are so expensive!

Chickens and Heat in Mali

We've been here nearly 6 weeks in the height of the hot season.  It's been a bit rough to go from -10c in Washington DC to almost 110c in Bamako.

Apparently, it's rough on the local chickens here too.  The price of chicken (whole, breasts etc) is a lot higher than beef.  This is something we were not expecting, especially since we expected cows to be more difficult to take care of than a few chickens running in the dusty side streets of neighborhoods.

People tell us that the chickens just don't do well in this intense heat.  As a result, there's less of them around than during the rain season.  Adeel also buys a lot of eggs on a weekly basis.  Every morning when he makes his omelette or hard boiled eggs, he exclaims with great surprise "these are the smallest eggs I've ever seen!"

Our eggs are colored with what we hope are speckles of mud (or chicken poo?)

Evolution of a Man Bun

I told Adeel early on upon our arrival that I really like Man Buns.  This is a prime specimen for example:


Adeel has been a great sport and indulged me in my preference.  He's been working diligently on growing his own man bun.

Back in January 2015, with our niece Zoe

March 2015, the hard Middle Period

The only way to deal with this hair is to slick it back, Used-Car Salesman Style

Now it's long enough to wear with a headband, basking in the glorious rays of the afternoon sun

I cant wait to see what next phase awaits us!

April 12, 2015

Finding Our Way Around Bamako

 Adeel, being cool

 Mobile hand-washing stations set up in nearly all restaurant, following the Ebola oubreak

 Our eggs come with extra chicken goo and feathers

 Goats and donkeys roam free in the city

 Hashing (a running and walking group) is a great way to visit those rarely visited places in Bamako

 A cute little Malian child.  He was excited to see us.  
He even offered his hand to Adeel for a handshake

 About 45 minutes from Bamako is Le Campement, a simple but elegant "resort" in a remote neighborhood

 Plastic bags and trash litter the Bamako landscape everywhere

We found a neat little marketplace close to our house. Although hygiene wasn't the best, and the vegetables have to be bleached and washed several times over.

 Pirogue along the Niger River

 A typical menu at a Malian Restaurant

 Our local Chinese restaurant.  The Chinese have really settled into Africa (where they were non-existent 10 years ago), giving us more dinner-time choices

Live chickens for sale

Dorothee and Adeel enjoying sodas after a hard walk