≡ Menu

Where I will be for the rest of 2017

Andre became a US citizen earlier this year. A single parent – a US citizen – can confer citizenship even if the child is born abroad.

Bintou’s path to citizenship is a lot more complicated. In fact, it’s not even something we can do from Bamako. We would have to travel to Dakar. For now, we decided to go for something that was ostensibly easier to obtain, a tourist visa. It turns out that few things make consular officers more skeptical than a non-American citizen applying for a tourist visa while in a relationship with an American citizen.

It’s a visa application that is routinely rejected. The assumption is that once in the US, Bintou will try to change her status and, with her foot already in the door, she will be able to skirt around the exhaustive immigration process that should have happened in Dakar. In other words, the US government does not believe we will return to Bamako.

The online application and in-person interview were straightforward. The interview itself lasted about 5 minutes, during which time I was not allowed in the embassy and was held in the small building where bags are scanned. Along with the application, we brought a mountain of supporting documents, including those tying me to a business and Bintou to her school. Already presumed to be guilty of cheating the US immigration process, we needed to make the case that our lives were in Bamako and we really just wanted to visit my family and friends before returning back.

After a two day wait, we returned to the embassy to pick up Bintou’s passport. I was once again held in the bag check area. Bintou’s anxiety was through the roof, and mine wasn’t much better. Of course, it was not the end of the world if Bintou got denied. Life would go on in Bamako, where we are happy to live. But it would mean that my family, including grandparents who are physically unable to make the trip to Mali, would not get to meet my wife and son.

After about 20 minutes, Bintou strolled out with a blank expression on her face. She handed me her passport. I tore through the pages and landed on a 5 year multi-entry tourist visa for the US. Well done, cherie.

So off we go. Here is the plan:

10/10 – Cleveland
10/27 – South Bend
10/30 – Cleveland
11/1 – NYC
11/4 – Bamako

Not long after we return to Bamako, Matt and I will be heading to Senegal to begin our jakarta trips. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, have a look here: Raise your hand if you want to drive a Chinese scooter down the coast of West Africa.

The website is also live at scootwestafrica.com. See you in Casamance? If all goes well, New Year’s on the beach in Abené. An ka taa! (“let’s go” in Bamanankan).


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.

{ 1 comment }

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.


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.

{ 1 comment }

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.


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.


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.

{ 1 comment }