Archive for February, 2014

Life under occupation

February 26, 2014

One of the many things I was told by people who had been living under the foreign occupation of their land between March 2012 and January 2013 was this little gem from Timbuktu, the city where the invaders smashed up statuettes, broke down the mythical door of the Sidi Yahia Mosque and destroyed holy shrines that had been a feature of the City of 333 Saints. Yes, as one imam testified, Timbuktu was losing its soul to a bunch of halfwits who had brought the poison of the unforgivably poor interpretation of the Koran from the theological wasteland known as Wahabbism into a richly cultured city they did not understand. And what do simpletons do with things they do not understand? They smash them up. What do simpletons do with people they don’t understand? They kill them. Or hack off their hands and feet.

But what they clearly did not break was the people’s spirit. I was told this tale by a young and adventurous chap from Timbuktu, who I met in Burkina Faso. ‘You know how they banned music and smoking and drinking and whatnot? Well we ordered drinks by the crate from Mopti. How it got to us? As it always did, by pirogue. Yes, the river. Did they ever find out? Pfff, of course not, they had no idea how to enter or exit the city. You have to remember they were all foreigners. They knew nothing. To us, it’s home. They only thing they knew about was how to stone people and to smash things up. And they used drugs. How do I know that? Because I saw it…’ His disdain was palpable. Just one little snippet of life during occupation. He finally had to flee and even though Mali’s problems are far from over, he’s probably back by now.

The hunt

February 8, 2014


There is nothing more annoying than waking up in the morning and having to go hunting for a missing item that is essential in creating one of life’s basic necessities. But here I was and there it was not. Nothing for it but put on shoes, presentable trousers, ditto shirt and hit the street.

8am This was going to be easy. The first shop just across the road has it. Always does. Except that it did not. Hm. Where next? Ha! I know a neat little supermarket down the road, turn right and


No I don’t need a taxi, as you can very clearly see, you nut you.

8h15am Lovely supermarket. Really nice place. Neat rows. Well instead of wandering around admiring the neat rows full of stuff I don’t need (unlike some people, I do not treat supermarkets as art galleries or de facto museums), I’ll go and ask that very nice lady who is wearing a supermarket uniform. ‘Have you got…’

‘Sorry, no we haven’t seen that item here for…Asha how long haven’t we seen this for…?’ Anyway. Out the door and


Hello? You don’t have to advertise services I am not interested in, you case you. Honesty obliges: the audio assault by taxi drivers from behind their wheels has diminished somewhat. It appears word has gotten around that the toubabs (those sun-challenged Europeans) don’t like being barked at while walking innocently along the street. I know many Dakarois share my massive irritation but are, as usual, way too polite to do anything about it.

Anyway. I am outside that very nice supermarket and it’s 8h25. Where next? Short of hitting downtown Dakar, which really is ridiculous considering how easy this thing was available only last month, there are two more places to go.

So off we go. On foot.

8h45 ‘Salaam aleikoum’

‘Maleikoum Salaam’

This is the small overstuffed but very friendly neighborhood super. Greetings are in order.

‘How is everything?’

‘We thank God.’

‘Do you have…’

Yes, he does. It’s right there on the shelf. Except that…it’s the wrong size. Quick. A plan, please. If I just walk from here to the Hypermarket (yes, we have those too), that’s a mere 20 more minutes – but wait a minute. Can I really be from home for so long without inviting unwelcome guests? Ever since a laundry list of stuff was taken from my flat last year I never leave without the essentials on my person. Turn back. Go home. Get bag. Load up all work-related items and I am on my rather less merry way to aforementioned Hypermarket.

9h25 Arrival. The guards by now know that no-one, and that means absolutely no-one comes between me and my gear and I rush to the shelf where much-needed item is surely waiting for me. It is. I thought. It’s not.

Wrong size.

So the plan goes into operation. I return to the neighbourhood super that I’d rather give my business to (9h50), grab two packets from the shelf and think: scissors. Scissors? Yes, scissors. Back home (10am). Open up packet. Grab scissors. Cut into the first paper and right-size it. Two hours and eight minutes later I finally have achieved the incredible.

Well, yes, I forgot putting the scissors in the picture.

Well, yes, I forgot putting the scissors in the picture.

Inexplicably, Yoff had run out of coffee filters size 4. The very next day I went back to the same little supermarket to get some cheese and of course, out of nowhere, they had re-appeared. Never mind. BEEP. No thanks. I’ll walk.