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Some Thoughts About this Year and the Next One


Sunset, Niger River, Bamako, rainy season

I am writing from Abidjan. I was also here on this day one year ago. It’s quite a fun place to be on the 31st of December.

In early January 2012, I traveled from Abidjan to Bamako. I went to the Festival in the Desert in Timbuktu a week later, where I profited from close proximity to camels and listened to Tuareg guitar as it traveled far into the dunes. On the bus ride back to Bamako, MNLA launched their rebellion in Menaka.

I was in Bamako for several large rebellion-related protests in early February. The protests targeted the government, but some turned their attention to Tuaregs in Bamako, considering them complicit in the rebellion. Many Tuaregs fled the city over fear of reprisals. But at the Festival sur le Niger, held in mid-February, Mali’s orbit seemed intact.

In the early part of the year, I was back and forth between Mali and Cote d’Ivoire. I started a business with two former couchsurfing costs in Abidjan, a restaurant and catering company that now has nearly 20 employees. We had our first major setback, which we have now recovered — and learned — from, and we have had plenty of smaller frustrations along the way. But 2013 is looking like a big year for us and we are ready to take this project to the next level.

In late March, I flew from Abidjan to Bamako. While in the air, low ranking soldiers in Mali’s army made their way from Kati to Bamako and began what would turn into a coup d’etat. Not long after I landed, the airport was shut and the borders were closed. Curfew in place, I spent the night with my landlord’s family. We ate brochettes and tried to identify where the different bursts of gunfire came from.

The north collapsed not long after the coup. MNLA lost out to armed Islamist groups and the region now flies the black flag, as they say. A separate Abidjan to Bamako trip was delayed when a counter-coup was attempted in Bamako and more recently, the Prime Minister was arrested and forced to resign. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council has tentatively approved a foreign-backed military intervention in north Mali.

Throughout all of this, Bamako has been calm and mostly free of worry for a semi-expat tubabu like myself. But tourists have stopped coming and outside the mining industry, few people are heading to Mali to do business. Journalists now make up a significant portion of visitors.

I don’t have much to say about what has happened in Mali. I have no idea how things are going to turn out. What’s clear right now is that Malians, in both the north and the south, don’t have a hand in their country’s near future, a fact that is deeply sad and frustrating.

This year also involved two visits to the US, one wedding-filled and the other a chance to visit family and to send off my grandpa. On the first trip home, I stopped off in Lisbon for a first-time visit that included lots of Cape Verdean and Angolan food, cherry brandy, and a random reconnection with an Al Jazeera cameraman I met in Bamako.

A few other 2012 memories come to mind: saying goodbye to my former DC residence; becoming the partial owner of a handful of sheep in Mali; drawing camels with 100 people in Bamako; visiting Kita; enjoying Bamako nightlife with new and old friends; and spending another Christmas in Abidjan.

In 2012, my French and Bamana got stronger. I made some new friends, heard some new music, and managed to spend less time on the computer, where the majority of my income still originates. Most notably, I became a partner in a business that began in my former couchsurfing host’s mother’s kitchen and now has close to 200 loyal customers.


Next year is going to be a busy one for the food biz, as we plan on relocating and becoming a more substantial restaurant sur place, while also moving into event catering. Many of our clients have asked if we can cater baptisms, weddings, workshops, etc. We have done so to the extent that we can, but our capacity is limited. Next year, we change this.

I have spent the past two weeks delivering a portion of our plates to clients, to see how we can improve our delivery system and to spend some time interacting with our customers (Faty and David did the same). One thing I have learned is that most of our clients really appreciate our service. It’s clear that they are willing to vouch for us and many of them have already spread the word about what we are doing.

I am very grateful to work with the people on our team and I think 2013 is going to be a big year for us.

In terms of travel, I plan on visiting Guinea and Sierra Leone in the first half of next year. I’m also planning for another stopover in Lisbon on my next trip back to the states. I’m overdue for a visit to Ghana, and I will make that happen one way or another. Other travel plans may be more spontaneous. In between, I will most likely be in Mali and Cote d’Ivoire.

Other projects for 2013 include: taking on another language; a new website; a collaboration with two Malian sister photographers on a mobile photo studio in Bamako; and some work with a dance studio. I also have big plans for my ping pong table, which is being housed at a friend’s in Bamako. If all goes well, you may see custom ping pong tables shipped from Mali in 2014.

Oh, and my sheep. I hope to have a lot more sheep in 2013. I hope Maimouna stays healthy and becomes a matriarchal figure in the herd. Or is it flock?

Also for 2013: learn more about sheep.

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{ 19 comments… add one }

  • Monique December 31, 2012, 9:27 am

    Such an inspiration Phil!, your selfless attitude and actions from that good hearted place. Your ability to keep creating despite set back and challenge. Assisting others to think and to grow, to act and to taste success.Thank you Phil, you are a bright star keep it up and Happy 2013 may it bring many more camel drawings of joy to you and many.

    • phil January 6, 2013, 6:03 am

      Monique, it’s been great to have your support!! Happy 2013 to you as well and I hope that we will reconnect at some point this year! Are you heading to any of the festival in the desert dates?

  • Jeremy Branham December 31, 2012, 10:39 am

    I love Lisbon so jealous you get to make a stop there. Good luck with more sheep and best wishes for 2013. I may include this in my 2012 round up of posts. Love reading all your stories from Africa!

    • phil January 6, 2013, 6:04 am

      Thanks, Jeremy. Let me know when you make it over here and you can visit the sheep. Free camel drawing lesson included.

  • John January 1, 2013, 1:48 am

    Great update Phil. Many happy returns for 2013.

    • phil January 6, 2013, 6:05 am

      Thanks, John. Hope to see you at some point in Abidjan!

  • Will Jackson - The Bearded Wanderer January 1, 2013, 2:21 am

    I agree with everything Monique says. It’s a joy to read about your projects, experiences and insights. I look forward to more in the coming year. Good luck to you and everyone in your life.

    • phil January 6, 2013, 6:05 am

      Thanks, Will. Wish you the best in 2013 as well!

  • Kay Johnson January 1, 2013, 5:57 am

    Thanks for this Phil – and a Very Happy New Year to you too. Love also to Clyde. Keep us posted . . . Regs. from Kay & Lili

    • phil January 6, 2013, 6:06 am

      Thanks, Kay. Clyde says hello to Lili!

  • Dulcie January 1, 2013, 12:12 pm

    Thinking of you and everyone else in Abidjan after this horrific disaster…hope you’re safe and ok

    • phil January 6, 2013, 6:06 am

      Hey Dulcie,
      Horrific indeed. Very sad and totally preventable. Hopefully, they will learn from this one as they haven’t from any in the past…

  • lesivoiriensontdutalent January 2, 2013, 4:01 pm

    Happy new year to you. May all your undertakings turn into success.

    • phil January 6, 2013, 6:07 am

      Thanks! to you as well!

  • Benjamin January 8, 2013, 10:22 am

    Happy New Year my BRUDDA!!! My New Years Resolution invloves a trip to West Africa for a visit (it’s long overdue). Let me know when might be the best time to make this happen man. For now, I’m thinking August would make the msot sense for me.

    SE Asia was a wild ride man, great trip. Somehow manged to stay relatively heartburn free. Considering the overdose of chili pepper, mint, rice wine, and local spirits, quite the accomplishment.

    Sending a whole lotta love your way buddy.

    Make sure you can find a place in Abidjan to watch #18 and the Dever Broncos win the Super Bowl.

    Also, it’s getting close to the time when we need to start planning Brazil 2014………

    Irie Ights,

    • phil January 8, 2013, 3:16 pm

      check your email benny 🙂

  • Kay Johnson January 8, 2013, 12:10 pm

    Hmmn ! Never mind Clyde ! WHO is BENJAMIN ??? lol LILI x

    • phil January 8, 2013, 3:19 pm

      Benjamin is someone you should know!!

  • LIly March 26, 2013, 12:24 pm

    Hi Phil, I’m a fellow blogger who is just finding out about your site and delighted to read about West Africa for a change, a place where I spent my childhood (Abidjan)! I’ve been debating returning (not sure where yet but to Africa). Looking forward to reading the rest of your posts.

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