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In Memory of Boukary Konate

I saw this picture while reading Boubacar Sangaré’s moving tribute to Boukary. I remember when I first saw the image on Boukary’s blog, Quand le Village se Reveille. It is the perfect picture of him, at peace in the village, learning and discovering things that some have forgotten and many have never known.

Boukary left us on Sunday. After he returned from Tunis, we knew there was no longer a medical solution. We hoped and prayed for a miracle that didn’t come. His passing is devastating for Boukary’s family and all of us that knew him personally. It is also an enormous loss for Mali and the rest of the world.

In this beautiful tribute, Renaud Gaudin speaks of the one-way movement from the village to the city. As Renaud notes, Boukary followed this path, but his migration was not permanent. He always remained in the orbit of the village.

Boukary was endlessly curious about the wisdom bound up in centuries of cultural practice in Mali’s rural areas, and he was generous enough to share what he discovered with us. Boukary taught us Bamanankan, a language whose depths are rarely explored. One ostensibly simple phrase in Bamanankan could delight him for hours. Of course, the phrase was never simple, and Boukary loved nothing more than to explain all the fascinating detail behind its meaning and origin.

Boukary labored to create open lines of communication between the village and the city. He knew that Bamakois could benefit from rural wisdom, and he knew that the villages could benefit from increased access to technology. He promoted the use of a Bamanankan keyboard and trained villageois so that they could tell their stories online. He embraced technology in order to preserve and share the things that technology was supposedly erasing.

Boukary was a teacher in the truest sense. He worked full time at the Education Ministry and traveled to the villages in his spare time. He was always balancing multiple projects. Any normal person would find this schedule exhausting, but it energized Boukary. It was the life he wanted, the life he would have continued. Always learning something new, and always sharing it with all of us.

Boukary, we mourn your passing and celebrate your life and all you accomplished. I know that you are in the village now, and you are truly at peace. Allah ka hinɛ i la.

Here are some memories and tributes shared by others :

In addition to posts written by Boubacar and Renaud, here is one by fellow blogger Fatouma Harbert.

Hommage à notre Observateur Boukary Konaté, grand défenseur de la culture malienne from France 24.


Here’s Boukary on his favorite day of the year, “Mother Language Day” in Bamako, 2012.

When the association of Malian bloggers was just beginning. That’s me, Faty Harbert, Boubacar Sangaré, Michel Thera and Boukary Konate (thanks to Claire Ulrich, who helped me to no end when we were trying to navigate Boukary’s medical condition and who sent me this photo of that special day at the sleeping camel).

Rest in peace, Boukary.

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First off, thank you to everyone that shared and contributed to the fundraiser to get Boukary to Tunis. Unfortunately, the tumor on his liver was more complex than what was revealed by the original scan in Bamako, and they were unable to operate. This was devastating news that we are all still trying to come to terms with. Boukary is back in Bamako now. He is not in pain, and he is being regularly visited by people that care about him. There is nothing we can do medically at this time, but he can still use all the positive thoughts and prayers you can muster.

Earlier this year, Matt and I rode jakartas 4,000 kilometers through West Africa. I wrote about it here:

Part 1: Bamako to Dakar
Part 2: Dakar to Casamance
Part 3: Casamance to Bissau
Part 4: Bissau to Guinea-Conakry
Part 5: Guinea-Conakry to Bamako

A few highlights: putting the bikes on a canoe and crossing a river into Casamance from the Gambia, drinking caipirinhas on the street in Bissau, roads winding through salt flats and villages, mammoth baobab and fromagier trees, monkfish brochettes at Chez Kathy in Kafountine, seeing every bird worth seeing, finding a new family in Abene, cruising on deserted beaches, sand track through the jungle, the dips and turns of the highlands of Guinea, roadside bars and maquis, riverside sunsets in Ziguinchor, etc. etc. etc.

It was the perfect adventure. The right balance of surprise and spontaneity, meeting interesting and friendly characters, and trying not to crash the bike while staring in wonder at the natural beauty of this shamefully undervisited part of the world.

We had such a good time that we are doing the trip again, hopefully many more times in fact. And anyone is welcome to join us. We have launched our website and are currently taking reservations for 8-day, 2-week and 3-week trips. We are also open to doing custom trips on different dates for both individuals and small groups.

If this kind of trip sounds like your thing, head over to ScootWestAfrica.com and have a look around. If traveling with us is something you would consider, but you can’t make any commitments yet, sign up to the email list on the site (or right below this paragraph) and get updates on new trips, dates, etc. We would love to ride jakartas with you in the Casamance this winter.



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Dry Your Water

If you’ve been reading this site for a while, you have probably heard me talk about Boukary Konate. I first met him in 2011 after communicating with him online for a number of months. We ate 50 cent brochettes in Bistro Bafing and talked about Bamanankan, the most widely spoken language in Mali.

Boukary is a teacher. He labors tirelessly to promote the languages and cultures of Mali. He authors one of the only blogs written in Bamanankan. Several years ago, he launched a website to chronicle rural life in Mali with images, stories and video: “Quand le Village se Reveille” (When the Village Wakes Up). He has also made important contributions to Global Voices and Afripedia.

Prior to his illness, Boukary would go to work for the Education ministry during the week and then travel to the villages on the weekend, documenting and learning about rarely explored aspects of Malian culture and then sharing them with Malians and the rest of the world. He introduced the internet to certain small rural communities using a rig he put together with a laptop, solar panel, car battery, and a 3g USB key. Needless to say, he is an enormous asset for his country and the world.

Right now, Boukary is not going to work, and he is not visiting the villages. He is seriously ill. After being misdiagnosed for two months with an ulcer, Boukary found out that he has Hepatitis B and that his liver had suffered significant damage. We have now learned that he has liver cancer. We are frantically trying to figure out the best way forward – the path that will help him survive and not traumatize him unnecessarily. In Mali, this is not easy. If the tumor on his liver is operable, it is not an operation that we can do here. The liver specialist at the country’s largest public hospital has said he can go to Tunis.

Now we have to help Boukary make a decision. He is incredibly weak, but he is still lucid, and he doesn’t believe that it’s his time. Many people are trying to help. Friends and family here, and abroad. I started a fundraiser and within a week, over 40 people donated and we have now received almost double the requested amount. Boukary truly has a global family, and it’s clear that he has touched people around the world.

The other day when I went to visit him, he was tired and in no mood to talk. So we sat together for some time. When I got up to leave, I told him “i ji ja,” an expression in Bamanankan that is used to wish someone courage. His eyes widened and he began to speak. He asked me if I knew why that particular expression was used for that reason? I didn’t know. He explained that the literal meaning is “dry your water,” but that the cultural translation refers to something deeper: we are all made of water, and “i ji ja” is a way for us to say “take control of what’s inside you.” We can also think of it as “dry your tears.” And that is how you wish someone courage in Bamanankan.

Boukary is bed-ridden and seriously ill, but he is still a teacher, and we are still learning things from him. Please keep him in your prayers and wish him courage.

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We arrived back in Mali from our jakarta trip at the end of February. I haven’t posted much – or at all – since then, and I don’t have time to write something significant so this post will be mostly visual.

Andre turned 8-months-old yesterday. He is standing up for a few seconds at a time now, and every day you can see the synapses multiply. For me and Bintou, watching him grow into a happy child has been pure joy. But we’ve now entered into a new phase called EVERYTHINGISFAIRGAME. For example, Andre is currently enamored with a neon green dustpan, so enamored that he wants to eat it. As I understand it, this phase lasts for several years? I anticipate many brushes with cardiac arrest once he starts walking, no less running, but at the same time, I can’t wait for this new adventure.

Family aside, 2017 has had its highs and lows. We lost a friend in a car accident. I will write more about it at a later time. Mali continues to unravel, with insecurity and poor governance leading the way. A hotel and restaurant, Le Campement, was attacked on the 18th. It was Father’s Day, and Bintou and I were actually considering going there on that particular day. We decided we’d rather avoid the crowds. Six people were killed and many others injured. The bars and pool areas were burnt to the ground. Meanwhile, our good friend Sophie is shutting the doors on her hotel in Djenne, which she started in 2006. It was difficult to read her final post about her time there. We have expanded the bar area at our own restaurant, but we are now once again turning to security, looking into armed guards and other measures to add to what is already a quite secure space overall.

The first half of the year has had its moments, though. After our jakarta tour, we’ve had plenty of trips on the river and even a hop over the border to Burkina Faso. While some good friends have left Bamako, others have arrived and there always seems to be someone passing through. My mom finally made it to Mali, and she had an excellent visit. We took a trip up to Segou and went around to our favorite spots in Bamako. While she would have enjoyed a trip to the arctic circle in winter as long as Andre was present, I was glad she got to see where I have been living for the better part of a decade.

I continue to work on my Postcards from Timbuktu project with Ali, and Matt and I are getting ready to finalize our scooter trips (side note: if you are interested in joining a trip, go to ScootWestAfrica.com and sign up to the email list at the bottom of the homepage. We will soon be making an announcement about dates and different trips). Hopefully, I will have a chance to post a bit more often on this blog as well.

Here are some photos from March-June. DISCLAIMER: most of them are photos of Andre.

Andre found chocolate and this is what happened.

Chilling

You been smoking something, Dre??????

Andre the nomad

At Campement a couple of months before it was attacked.

I don’t know if this photo is the before …

… or the after

Andre’s first waterfall. In Banfora, Burkina Faso.

Andre’s first dip in a waterfall. He was not so impressed.

Bob testing out his allegedly waterproof phone. This was an excellent day.

Bintou and a very phallic rock formation at the Sindou Peaks near Banfora.

Squinty

Bintou made her top and Andre’s. She is getting quite clever with her creations these days.

With friends on the roof of our boat

Inaugurating the new bar

A couple weeks later…

Hyacinthe, known to many as Eddie Murphy, is now working with us. This was an enormous coup as far as I’m concerned. Instant client favorite.

Here’s to an excellent rest-of-2017.

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This is the fifth installment in a series of posts about our scooter trip around West Africa. If you need to catch up: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

We were on our way to Doucki, a village in the Fouta Djallon, a region of the Guinean highlands populated largely by Fulani. We had long heard tales about the natural beauty of the Fouta, and while we were running short on time (or I was at least), we were excited to explore it.

hassan-bah-fouta-djallon

Simon from the Little Baobab had referred us to Hassan Bah (pictured lounging on a rock above), a guide based in Doucki. Somewhere after Labé we phoned Hassan, and he indicated where we would need to turn off the paved road in order to make it to his village.

The unpaved road deteriorated almost immediately after we turned onto it. What started as loose gravel and sand turned into an up-and-down staircase of jagged rocks. I crept along in first gear trying to avoid a puncture and further damage to my already displaced foot brake.

Every now and then we passed through a village and asked if we were on the right road. We also asked how much further it was to Doucki. The answer was always the same: “Tchieeeeee!!! Doucki?? C’est loin !!!!” (It’s far). It was almost as if Doucki was moving away from us as we drove towards it.

So we were driving these jakartas on a staircase of rocks and the distance to our destination was ostensibly increasing. Otherwise, it was a very enjoyable ride. Every time we stopped in a village, we received warm greetings and had funny conversations with residents who were confused and intrigued by the strange contraptions we were riding.

It was getting dark when we arrived in Doucki. Hassan welcomed us and showed us to our bungalows, which were built with thatch roofs that nearly touched the ground. This feature of Fulani architecture helps maintain a cool interior, but it makes it treacherous to get in or out if you are over four feet tall.

We had a delicious supper of sauce arachide (peanut sauce) with fish and rice, and oranges for dessert. We then chatted with Hassan and made a plan for the following day. Hassan was a character. He often spoke in acronyms. As in, “DIR” (dinner is ready) or tomorrow we are going to go on a “KAH” (a Kick Ass Hike). He had spent time with Peace Corps volunteers many years ago, and they helped him come up with his highly marketable hikes, such as “Chutes and Ladders” and “Indiana Jones.” They also seemed to have taught him (or perhaps it was some of the many tourists that visit him) a good amount of vernacular English that you normally wouldn’t hear from an older Fulani man living in the highlands of Guinea.

Hassan was a lovely man, but some of his tricks as a guide, like obsessively pointing out rocks that looked like animals, wore on us. On the other hand, it was easy to see that he was a pro and that he would be quite charming to a group of tourists.

fouta-djallon-guinea

Our early morning “Indiana Jones” hike began on a plateau. We walked through clusters of bungalows, past avocado trees and coffee plants. We arrived at a clearing with impressive views of the valley below. Despite gusting winds and uneven terrain, I decided to try and fly Oumou the drone. This was misguided. I had to land her on the small rectangular rock where Matt, Hassan and I were standing. Once I put her down, a gust of wind started pushing her forward. She tilted 45 degrees and snapped off two propellers into the rock. I then sliced my hand trying to grab the drone (even more misguided).

We descended into the valley where we walked through the dark and cool channels that ran between towering slabs of rock bursting with ferns and vines. The Fouta is truly a spectacular place.

fouta-djallon

Sorry for the poor pictures. I will blame low light and my camera phone.

indiana-jones-guinea

The hike was deservedly called the “Indiana Jones” hike. There were caves, climbing vines and several narrow passages that would give you a panic attack if you were claustrophobic.

We got back to Hassan’s place in the early afternoon. We planned on eating lunch before heading back to Labé. There was one complication. During the night, my rear tire had gone flat. It surely took a puncture on the wild ride leading into Doucki. Thankfully, Matt had all the needed parts and changed the inner-tube without issue.

patching-tire-puncture-guinea

We once again set out on the road from hell, arriving in Labé several hours later. We pulled into the tranquil Hotel Tata, where we were quickly soothed by cold beers. Tata herself showed us to our room, which was clean and comfortable.

Back at the bar, we met up with Conrad, a German who we had somehow crossed paths with on the road to Doucki. His wife was from the Fouta, and he had lots of interesting things to say about Guinea and international development. For dinner, Tata made us some of the best pizza we have had in West Africa. It turns out that she spends the rainy season (low season for tourists) in Italy each year with her husband.

After dinner, we hopped onto moto taxis and went for a cruise around town. The moto taxi drivers wore fluorescent orange vests, and they rode bikes that were considerably more robust than our measly jakartas. Their bikes also had a more effective suspension system in which the front of the bike is more or less independent from the rear, which is perfect for the roads of the Guinean highlands. As a passenger it was like riding on a millipede that goes 70 kilometers per hour.

We raced around town in search of cold beers. It was not an easy mission. Labé is not well electrified and the refrigeration of beers is understandably not a top priority (Labé and the Fouta are largely Muslim). We went into one bar where we scored lukewarm cans of Faxe beer. Faxe is some kind of Danish beer that has a viking man as a logo. It was revolting.

I do not recommend this beer

Eventually we ended up at Albatross, one of the main (one of 3) nightclubs in town, where we found mildly chilled cans of Guiluxe. The club was dead and wasn’t likely to get going for several hours. Matt “dipped the lights” (he went back to the hotel to go to sleep) as he would say, while I lingered and chatted with the manager and DJ for a bit. Afterwards, I hopped on a moto taxi to go back to Hotel Tata.

After about 15 minutes of riding, I looked around and realized we were on the road that was leading towards Pita and that godforsaken road that goes to Doucki. I told the driver to stop so I could pull up Google Maps. There isn’t much electricity in Labé, but there is 3g. In many places in West Africa, mobile technology and communications have leapfrogged basic infrastructure. Sure enough, we were about five kilometers outside of Labé. After a frank discussion with the driver, Google Maps lead us back to to the hotel.

The next day, we began what would be a three day marathon to get back to Bamako. We did not know what to expect from the roads. We heard varying tales from “pas de problème” to the dreaded “bombé” (see this post to understand bombé). In any case, we prepared for the worst.

The worst never came, and while the road was sporadically unpaved (it looked like it had been stripped in anticipation of new road work), it was an absolutely gorgeous drive out of the highlands. We blazed ahead towards Dabola, stopping for lunch at a large traffic circle, the crossroads to Mamou. I ate a questionable lunch of sandy riz-sauce. The sauce was tasty, but there was a bit too much gristle for my liking. The two women cooking and selling the food were a joy, though.

In Dabola, Matt somehow found a hotel that had hot water and air-conditioning. They also had a bar and a restaurant, where we enjoyed a few guiluxes and massive plates of poulet braisé with chips and the house made chili sauce while somehow watching 6 nations rugby on the hotel TV.

The Guinean Franc is not a strong currency (you can look up the history, France played quite a sinister role in that affair), and you can only withdraw about 30 euros at a time.

After Dabola, we blasted towards KanKan, the third largest city in Guinea, and a center for Mandé culture in the region. The road had deviations every two kilometers or so, but it was not bombé. Eventually we were on a flat, paved road. We were out of the highlands and inching back towards the Sahel.

espresso-guinea

Early morning pit stop on the road to KanKan. Espresso and biscuits served by a friendly guy from Sierra Leone.

In Cisséla, we were flagged down at a police checkpoint and “fined” for having expired carte grises. They weren’t expired, so we effectively had two choices: (1) go with the police to a station somewhere, argue our case, hope to win, and get back on the road many hours later or (2) negotiate. We chose to negotiate. As we negotiated, the police stopped every passing vehicle and motorbike. These guys were on a mission. By the end of it, we were all good friends, and we had a piece of paper that we could flash at every police checkpoint until the border. In nearly 4,000 kilometers of overland travel in West Africa, this was our first interaction with crooked police.

poulet-braise-kankan-guinea

In KanKan, we stopped for refreshment and a delicious lunch of poulet braisé.

Our spirits were high when we left KanKan. We had a pouch of cold guiluxes, and we planned on having a relaxing evening at a bush camp of our choosing. Of course, my rear tire, which was previously punctured in the Fouta, went flat as we were rolling out of town. There was a service station nearby, and I walked it over there in hopes of changing the inner-tube. We quickly received offers of help, but unfortunately the dude that ended up patching the inner-tube did not do a good job. The tire blew less than a kilometer after we got back on the road.

I walked the bike to another service station, but this one was either long abandoned, or it had never been finished. The sun was setting now, and a bush camp was increasingly out of reach. A man named Cheick Kone received us at the abandoned service station. He was the guardian tasked with watching over the property. While this would be unsurprising to anyone that has traveled in West Africa, I have to say that Cheick was exceptionally generous, helping us get a new inner-tube from a nearby village and inviting us to pitch our mosquito nets next to his.

Matt once again labored over my rear tire, this time in near darkness. Afterwards, he tried to take a bucket shower, but he was repeatedly harassed by a flock of chickens. In the meantime, I managed to run over Matt’s phone while moving my bike. Somehow it still functioned, but I felt quite poorly due to the amount of misfortune I was bringing to the table.

At last, we cracked open a few beers and enjoyed the evening breeze. I then slept like a log, so much so that I did not hear my tire explode. When I woke up, the tire was once again flat, and Matt mentioned hearing it pop sometime in the night. Cheick immediately volunteered to help. He raced to his village to get a new inner-tube, and we were able to get on the road only an hour and a half or so after sunrise. We gave Cheick a bit of a cadeau as we said goodbye, and then we sped off for Siguiri.

barber-shop-guinea

Time to get cleaned up before we arrive back home.

approaching-niger

That’s our river! This was our first time seeing the Niger this far from Bamako.

niger-river

catherine-catering

When people say “catering” with a French accent it sounds an awful lot like “Catherine,” so this sign is understandable.

cactus-fence

Cactus fence to keep out the goats. Spotted throughout Mali near the Guinean border.

We grabbed lunch in Siguiri, but didn’t linger for long. We were already caught in Bamako’s orbit, and we were both excited to get back home. We cruised through the border and made a beeline to Siby, where we made a brief pit stop at Hotel Kamadjan. We arrived back in Bamako during rush hour. Of course, the 20 minute ride from Sebenikoro to Badalabougou was probably the most dangerous part of our trip. But we were soon in the courtyard of the sleeping camel, amongst friends, and I was soon at home with Bintou and Andre.

We’ve since been back for a couple of months. While there is nothing better than being with Bintou and Andre, cruising around West Africa on a jakarta is a close second, and I look forward to many future expeditions. We are in the planning stages to launch different versions (some weeklong trips, two-weeks, and longer) of this trip for travelers at the end of this year into early 2018. If it works out, Bintou and Andre will travel to Casamance and we will base ourselves there for a couple of months as Matt and I run the tours.

If you are interested in these trips, you can join the email list at ScootWestAfrica.com. You can also check out this video that Matt made with footage from the trip:

We plan on putting up a few more videos in the coming months as we release more information and the trip dates. Stay tuned 🙂



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