Posts Tagged ‘beer’

The Corona Chronicles, Bamako

May 24, 2020

Part seven – Le dépôt

 

This is a Malian institution and I happen to live near one of its finer specimens. Le dépôt can vary in appearance: from a dark den hidden behind a clump of trees to a fully-fledged garden with an on-site food service and tables and chairs. You go there to get your beers and before the Corona Curfew you could sit down at a rickety steel table and talk with fellow punters.

The dépôt is, basically, family. From arrival to finding a place to sit under the trees would take quite a while. Because you must greet everyone who is there. There’s the elderly man with a very loud voice who likes to insult everyone – all in good cheer, mind you. It is part of an old tradition that is designed to release possible tensions and ensure that good relations are maintained. It is, very emphatically, not to be taken seriously. A specific kind of humour, like a glue that holds society together and that is a necessity in a city that grew from barely one million to three times as much in the space of thirty years.

Tucked away in the back of the garden you would often find another elderly man (yes, we have quite a few of those…) who had somehow managed to wrench permission from the owner to park his motorbike inside the premises. A very special privilege. Mostly on his own, with the occasional friend dropping in (greetings, handshakes – now forbidden, how are you, how is the day, how is the family, how is your health all the way from the entrance to the back of the garden). He’d sit there, beer on the table, his face hovering over a collection of notebooks, until, fed up with whatever he‘d been doing, he got up and leave. The special privilege extended to his being allowed to start and profusely rev his bike until ready to go. With him, a perfunctory nod with the head and a few words would suffice. We’re all different, at the dépôt.

 

Will they be back, now the curfew has been lifted? Oh yes, they are already slowly trickling back in, elaborate greetings and all.

 

And many will insist of the whole ritual. If you forget to greet someone (how are you, how is work, how is the family, I hear your little daughter was ill how is she now, how is your own health…), be assured that you will be reminded of your egregious oversight on your next visit.

‘You don’t remember me?’

‘Why, of course I do, you’re always here.’

‘Well, yesterday, you forgot me. You know that’s very bad…very bad…’

‘Sabali (pardon me), mon frère, I must have been busy…’

‘Yes! You were busy greeting the other people – but not me…’

‘I will not do this again. What do I do now?’

‘Oh, nothing. It’s alright.’ (Just make sure you do not neglect me on the next occasion…)

And all is right with the world again. Discreetly send a beer his way; he will know who this is from…

 

Strangers are welcome here. Which is how I fit in. There are just a few requirements that you must meet: consumption is not optional, you must be on your best behaviour (this is a society that greatly values politeness in public places), and…you must pay for your consumptions. The very hardworking and highly accommodating staff are totally uncompromising when it comes to money. Beers arrive daily and tomorrow’s purchases are bought with today’s revenue.

This particular dépôt also has a habit of attracting musicians. There are live venues nearby and frequently you would find a maestro parked on one chair, his guitar on another, beer or something else in one hand, the other loosely draped around the back of the chair where “my wife”, i.e. the guitar, had been placed. No country on earth places a higher value on music, especially live. The lockdown has dealt a devastating blow to the live music scene from which I hope it can soon recover. On story has it that a maestro had left his guitar in on of the nearby music venues, thought better of it, recovered his guitar, returned home and discovered the next day that the place had been consumed by a fire. He was distraught for a full two weeks, only by the thought of what would have happened had he not followed his best intuition…

 

Not everyone is back yet, to the chagrin of the staff, who have been holding the fort for all of the six weeks the curfew lasted. You were allowed to pick up beers during the day but…round the back. It almost felt like a clandestine operation, performed with the two young men in their green overalls working there, whose faces spelt gloom whenever you asked them how business was going…

‘Just very slowly…’

‘Will you close when it goes on?’

‘No, the owner runs this place; we are not renting.’

That was obviously a concern. Your landlord does not care when your business goes down by 80%. There is another big worry, though: the woman who ran a roaring trade with her food service and who had given birth only days before the curfew hit. She hasn’t been back and no one seems to know where she is…

It still is eerily quiet in the depot, even when the clientele is slowly coming back in. One reason for this is simple: the television is off and stays off. There’s no football, English Premier League being the staple here. The televised roar of the crowds, now silent, would only be surpassed by the nearby mosque when calling for prayer. Drink and faith: there’s no hard and fast rule. I once watched in wonderment as an elderly man, who looked like he had come straight from prayer, sat down on a barstool savouring the beer he had just ordered. Malians overwhelmingly want to guard that live-and-let-live attitude.

 

‘Soumalemba….’

Now, once you hear this deep bronze voice coming from behind one of those rickety tables, freshly installed, you know that things are going back to normal. ‘Really cold,’ the words mean, and it is a little ritual greeting between me and a corpulent man with a beaming face, who has made this place his second home. Former driver, in or near retirement, and determined to have a good time of it – and he has just drifted back in, too.

Maybe the old depot from before the Corona Curfew, is on its way back after all. But we will not be complete until our friend, one of the few women who has managed to become part of this place, is back with her soup and meat business. And her new child strapped to her back.

 

We have, on this day, 1030 COVID-19 cases confirmed, 65 have succumbed, 597 have recovered. From the Ministry of Health.

Night out

April 15, 2011

Cold beers! A delight in a place without electricity. Few consumables are more repelling than tepid (or worse: warm) beers.

And so the evening begins in the one restaurant in town that actually serves not only cold beers but also beef and potatoes and various other local and French delights.

And it is here that I meet Mahmoud. He enters with another colleague and immediately zeroes in on me with a story about a lost relative somewhere in Europe and that I should be the one to find that relative.

Sure. Have another beer.

He then tells me that he knows a place that is by far (by far!) the best place in town. Money is not a problem he says. Of course not – I will be paying. He insists, almost violently. So we agree to go to the best place in town – for one drink.

But not after a wild and unstable ride across the sand roads of his town, on his motorbike. It is indeed a miracle he manages to keep the thing from straying into a garden, a house or an animal. But we do arrive at the very best place in town. Where he will continue his drinking spree.

The best place in town is a low-ceiling den next to a rather grandiosely named “Night Club”, where the beer is (you guessed it!) warm. But Mahmoud has a solution to this problem: he switches to whisky. The television is belting out Ivorian happy-go-lucky music: the conflict there is reaching a decisive phase and a bunch of artists has decided to record a song entitled ‘Ca va aller’ – Ivory Coast’s national catchphrase.

Mahmoud is engrossed in his whiskey and he does not see me leave. This town is small and the next port of call is a smallish bar, run almost entirely for the benefit of the students and lecturers of “The Institute”. It is a training centre for vets with a fairly large and vibrant student populaton. We have a lovely little time sitting around a plastic table, talking about the imminent downfall of Laurent Gbagbo in next door Ivory Coast, The Institute, The Netherlands “where you have so much good cattle” and Life After The Institute – which, quite frankly, worries them. Where are the jobs?

It’s a question left hanging in the air when I make my way back to the hotel but before getting there, a sound catches my ear. It comes from the Bar Manding. Fiery percussion, high-pitched singing and a frenzied keyboard that mostly reminds me of the organ frequently used by legendary rock band The Doors. But then on steroids. The band does manage to drown out the sound of the generator. I enter a big square hangar where they are  playing next to a motorbike and assorted industrial debris. Over a royally disgusting warm beer one of the band helpfully explains that this is a general repetition for a Big Launch tomorrow and I am heartily invited. With ringing ears and slightly nauseous I leave the hangar half an our later, on my way, finally, to the hotel.

Which is half-lit. No, actually, just a quarter lit. In the cavernous dining hall, there is an island of light and here I find myself discussing life, politics and the universe with the manager, over a few bottles of not exactly cold but still acceptable beer. A tiny generator outside struggles to light up even that small space. Ah, the melancholy of once-great hotels that still try and keep up past grandeur…Africa is littered with them. And I love them.

One final stop. Next door to the hotel is another night club and since I just got to know the owner from a business exchange earlier this afternoon, it would be nice to pay him a visit.  

“Entry 10,000 Francs,” I am told. That’s a euro and a half for one, maybe two final drinks as I do begin to discover a slight and rather disconcerting wobbliness. It’s after midnight and really really dark. But inside there is upbeat popular Guinean music. It’s produced by the bucketload and I like it: they basically have one band in a studio somewhere in Conakry, which plays two or three standard tunes. They then put different singers in front of the band – and a new hit is born.

The barman comes from Cameroon. And yes, he studies…at The Institute. He likes it here. There is not much conversation as the music is very loud. Hey – this is a nightclub. You’re supposed to watch, be watched, drink and….

‘You must dance with me,’ she says. She is pretty and copiously blessed by Nature. I am reminded of the old Shakespearean punchline about drinks provoking the desire but taking away the performance. Time to make my way towards the exit.

Now I stroll with great calm and dignity towards the hotel, meanwhile feverishly hoping that I am not going to be chased after by the she-person who just accosted me at the bar. Or Mahmoud on his motorbike.

The hotel door is invitingly open. In a few hour’s time, the’ sun will once again shine its light on a dazzling display of mountains and valleys. I only have to open my bedroom curtains. Meanwhile, Dalaba, Fouta Djalon, Guinea, will most certainly party on without me.