This is my Journal. After having worked in Sénégal for 8 months, then 1.5 years in the Democratic Republic of Congo; I have now returned to Washington D.C.

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

April 06, 2015

Dairy in Africa

One of the things I was dreading about going to Mali, was the lack of dairy products.  Being 1/2 French, cheese, milk, crème fraiche and all derivatives thereof are nectars of the Gods to me. 

In Senegal and Congo, I remember not being able to get fresh milk, and the cheese seemed to be way beyond my budget...

Though I haven't yet attempted to buy the milk in plastic bags yet, I have been surprised by the quality of yogurt "Mali Lait" makes.  Frankly, they are good -- in fact, they are much nicer than the ones in the States.  Lightly sweetened with sugar, strawberry, vanilla, or plain, they have a nice rich texture to them, and taste fresh.

Today, I bought Nido Powdered Milk and experimented with making dairy products at home.  Daunted by the task at hand (I had a pretty unsuccessful try about 10 years ago in Senegal), my Father-in-Law makes his own Greek-style yogurt and has assured me several times that it couldn't be simpler.


I will post my attempts at making various dairies with recipes, but in the meantime, check out this Palak Paneer I concocted using powdered milk:

Straining the curds and whey through a coffee filter (I didn't even know what those where and why Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet, eating and seemingly enjoying them)

Tada, Palak Paneer (although, in the interest of honesty, this is an Indian dish, so you know there's 23 steps with hard-to-to-find spices before it gets to the completion stage...Fortunately, our air shipment with spices, arrived about a week ago)

March 26, 2015

Things to do in Bamako: Les Mercredis du Patio (Concerts at the French Institute)

Every Wednesday evenings, the Institut Francais holds concerts in its little restaurant.  Yesterday, we went to listen to Djeneba et Fousco, a group from Kayes, a city in Western Mali.

Even though I was exhausted (I have been averaging about 5 hours per night for the last three weeks -- the antimalarial gives me bad insomnia), it was great to be back listening to West African music.

This is a panorama of the evening.

Update from Bamako, Week 3

Dear Family,

Hope you all are doing well. We wanted to send you an update about our life in Bamako. This is our third week here, and we are starting to discover the lay of the land. Though we live in a pretty sheltered neighborhood, with a small pool, we often have to venture out to super markets located in crowded neighborhoods. More than once, we've gotten lost on tiny side roads full of broken down cars, goats, and kids playing. 

We cannot do all our grocery shopping in one place. We usually have to go to a couple different small supermarkets to find everything, which takes a lot of time every week. Luckily, we find fresh fruits and vegetables at outdoor stands at very good prices. Right now mangoes and mandarins are in season, so they're plentiful and delicious. Adeel cannot find chicken breasts all the time, so he's learning to snap them up and freeze them if they're ever available.

We bleach our vegetables in one gallon of water and one capful of bleach--and have learned not to wear our best clothes when doing that (see picture of Dorothee's ruined shirt).

Bleaching our fruits and vegetables

Dorothee's shirt

The fruit stand where Adeel shops

Our pool

Adeel soaking in the pool after a hot day

A palm tree with coconuts in our back yard

In the dusty streets (whether paved or not), we frequently get accosted by people trying to sell us scents, toys, kleenexes, and plant hammocks

Unpaved roads are plentiful

Women dressed in boubous riding motos are a common sight in Bamako

Thankfully, we do find chocolate croissants and other sweets at local patisseries and boulangeries

Some sweets at a bakery that also serves excellent Lebanese food (Le Relax)

Adeel trying to play an African musical instrument at Mali Chic store

Streets are littered with trash--this is a really deep sewer that is completely filled. Where will the torrential rains of the wet season go?

Even if it takes a lot more time to source and prepare the ingredients, we are still able to cook the way we like.

Miss you all,
Adeel and Dorothee

You Got Mail!

The nice thing about being in Africa this time around is that:

1) I'm not an intern and thus receiving a real salary
2) I've moved here with my husband so I have an instant friend
3) I have access to mail services at the Embassy!

We have access to a military post office here in Mali...  It essential works exactly like a post office back home, but with delivery by plane to the Embassy mail room. here I come!

The drawback is that sometime, addresses get muddled.  Take for example a medication that my husband bought online.  He ordered it about 3 weeks ago, and it seemed to have gotten lost somewhere along the way.  Until today.

We found out it got delivered by accident... at the USS Bonhomme Richard!  An amphibious Assault ship!

Ya, that was definitely the wrong address.

March 08, 2015

We've Moved to Mali!

My husband and I recently moved to Mali!  Here's our first email to the families:

First Impressions
It's been a week and we like Bamako so far. Bamako is a bustling small city, full of motor cycles, women in Boubous, road-side vegetable stands, and kids trying to sell you prepaid cell phone cards. We are getting situated and have found some local grocery stores, which all seem to be owned by the Lebanese. Though costs are relatively low, our groceries have been double what they are in the States. We will get used to it soon!

Our house is very nice, but it is a little too big for us. We have two floors consisting of 3 full bathrooms, a master bedroom, 3 guest rooms, 2 lounges, a dining room, and a small pool. We have already gotten a gardener and maid, whom we pay out of our own expenses. But the house comes with around the clock guards that Dorothee's employee covers [husband Adeel is teleworking from Mali with a tech company based in Virgina.]

Security Situation
As you may have heard, in the early morning of March 7th, heavily armed assailants attacked a popular nightclub (not near our house fortunately), killing and injuring several Malians and 2 expatriates (a Frenchman and a Belgian). This is very unusual for Bamako. Dorothee is used to these types of incidents from her time in Congo, but is a little out of touch on safety and security issues, having spent the major of the last 8-10 years in the United States.

Daily Life
Dorothee walks to her office from our house every day, which is a total of 8 minutes by foot...  Adeel works at home, and has been able to do his work so far without issues. He is waiting on getting better Internet installed at the house, but it may not be all that much better! We went to a taco dinner just last night, and we look forward to trying more local food in weeks to come.

---Some Photos---

Our second day in town, we went to a great restaurant by the Niger River

Adeel was greatly relieved to find many different forms of recognizable meat

 This is Dorothee's Office...

... Just kidding!  This is Dorothee's Office (with Dorothee hard at work)                                    

The street that leads to our house

We have a dryer, but our maid insists on drying our clothes this way

Crossing a bridge over the Niger river

A very big lizard (behind the chair) - Adeel insisted on including this photo.

Stuck in a traffic jam!

September 27, 2014

Watching Turtles Nest

The village of Tortugero is renowned for its 22 km of beach where turtles from Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama come to give birth every year. The season for birthing is nearly over, but we took a tour and managed to see a few of them "doing their thing."

The village has become really good at ensuring that humans don't disrupt the process too much.  Groups of 8 to 10 people follow a guide to the beach, and a spotter will show them various turtles at different stages:
  • Walking from the sea to the beach (we are not allowed during this process as humans can easily spook out turtles who will rush back to the sea without laying their eggs)
  • Digging a deep hole in the sand (same restriction as above)
  • When the turtle is ready to lay, she will go into a sort of trance and concentrate on nothing else but pushing her eggs out (that's where we can start observing the process.)  A turtle can lay up to 150 eggs, depending on her age. Our guide Gina, mentioned that at times, she'd observe a turtle that would only lay 2 eggs: "plop plop it goes -- and it's a bit disappointing to witness" she said
  • Then the turtle will cover the hole with her back flippers, dipping her tail in the nest to check for completeness.  When that's done, she will use her powerful front flippers to throw sand over her head and to land behind her, forming a soft mound of sand.  This is to camouflage the nest, and misdirect predators (humans, dogs, jaguars, birds) away from the real source of eggs
  • Exhausted, the turtle will then go back to sea
She will do this 7 to 8 times in the season, laying upwards of 1,200 eggs -- which is actually an evolutionary mechanism to insure that at least a few baby turtles make it to adulthood.  In fact, only1% of eggs will survive to be full grown adults.

Here's a great video about the whole arduous process of making baby turtles, from Brad Nahill:

Turtle watching starts at around 8:00 pm and can go until midnight depending on the recommendations of the guides and turtle spotters

We weren't allowed to use cameras (even the flashlights emitted a soft red light to be less invasive to turtles), but in the morning, I could see hundreds of turtle tracks from the sea to the vegetation along the beach.  Sadly, many of the nests seemed dug out, the turtles shells were either split open or surrounded by flies. 

September 26, 2014

Tortugero - Between Canals and the Sea

Tortugero is a small village, renowned for its beaches where 3 different kinds of turtle lay their eggs from the May to August period.  At this time, some of the baby turtles have hatched and are moving between the sea and their nests daily.

Tortugero is fairly isolated, so to get there, we took a bus from our last place to the Port of Moin in Limon for 1.5 hours.  Then we hopped on a small boat and rode along the canals of the National Park for 4 hours to the village.  Here are some of the scenes we saw along the way...

We got stuck in a shallow bed of the canals.  This cow made us feel a bit silly sitting in 6 inches of water.

 A rather large crocodile

 A small and less aggressive caimen

Our lil' boat
Our hotel room contained a much nicer type of crocodile

In a mix of capital and lower case letters, this nicely penned sign says "Free information about tours.  My name is Caster Hunter Thomas this name is onto the Lonely Planet I ofer canoe tour tortle walk in the trail going to Moin Cawita E.X"

The road to the National Park.  There are no cars in this town.  This is the only paved road there, and it's less than 1 mile long

A vinegar solution of carrots, cucumbers and a hot, sweet pepper from Panama.  Great for spooning over rice!