Mali #3: Bamako

My friend and I flew from Uganda to Bamako, Mali via Nairobi, Kenya. The flight was 6h40min from Nairobi which initially surprised me. The land looked parched and the sunlight halted by Saharan dust as we landed. We disembarked the plane on the tarmac and felt the rush of 33ºC and dry air on our skin. A small airport, we navigated it smoothly. After a dubious visa experience, we met our friendly guide, Jean, who spoke only the smallest amount of English. (Mali is a francophone country.) 

Shek, Abdulli (both our drivers), and Jean (our guide) - picture taken in Pays Dogon

L to R: Shek, Abdulli (both our drivers), and Jean (our guide) - picture taken in Pays Dogon

He took us to Jess’s apartment on quite well-maintained roads compared to Uganda. I took in the new architecture of the environs, the yellow, red, and orange colors of the land, bushes thirsting for water. Immediately I noticed that women were driving the motorcycles, which I would never see in Uganda. At one of the first stoplights, I noticed a catatonic man randomly. The cars were older, classic compared to ones on the Ugandan streets.

Bamako street with Mercedes yellow taxi

Bamako street with Mercedes yellow taxi

 We arrived at Jess’ apartment, colorfully decorated, and we waited for her to return from Point G where she works.

In front of Jess' apartment - Sally reading

In front of Jess' apartment - Sally reading

Being New Years Eve, we knew we would be going out. People don’t go out in Bamako until 1AM generally, so we were in for an especially late night. Mitra and I fell asleep at dinner but awoke again. We visited some of the local hotspots and brought in the New Year in style in one of the most unique, international NYE celebrations I have had. We even had Lebanese mafia in Bamako at one of the clubs. The city was ALIVE at night in general but especially on NYE.


Jess and Jenn on NYE photo by: JH



Jenn and me on NYE photo by: JH

Time out: Jess is the Fogarty scholar at the Mali site. She put together a phenomenal trip for us in Mali. Furthermore, she was sick most of the time with different ailments, and still managed to lead us, translate for us, and remain even-keel all the time. We are indebted to her. Her blog can be found at:

On New Year’s Day, we slept in. I awoke to some music from the mosque next door to Jess’ apartment. The men there were very kind to us when we met them after Jess introduced us and said hello. We had lunch at a Lebanese-owned café, where I had a nice omelet and pain au chocolat, the latter to which I am addicted. The streets played lively West African French music, and I found it friendly like Uganda. We spent the afternoon at a hotel pool lounging and had one of my favorite dinners in Mali at Le Pili Pili – a Côte d’Ivoirean restaurant. The kedjenou (seasoned meat and vegetable sauce/broth) was phenomenal (recipe at: I awoke the next morning to muzein of the mosque and an extremely dry mouth and nose, something I would experience every day for the rest of the trip. And, in fact, 3 people in our group of 9 developed bloody noses in the morning during our time there.

Mitra and I headed to the Musee National to learn some more about Mali. First, we had a nice French-inspired lunch where I tried my first jus du baobab. Made from the Baobab tree, this drink had a taste incomparable to any fruit juice I have ever had and it was, as my friend Chris Deal would say, delish. We headed into the textile/masonry wing first. We were prohibited from taken pictures unfortunately, but I saw the evolution of textiles there, the introduction of indigo coloring (known among the Tuaregs and Dogon particularly), and other archaeological finds.

Malian textile/history wing of Musee National

Malian textile/history wing of Musee National

Next, we visited the West African contemporary art wing. I really liked the Côte d’Ivoirean art which utilized sand, fabric, stone and rich colors on a canvas-like background. I bought a small painting from an artisan in Mali that is not abstract in nature but similar in terms of media. The other paintings heralded from Senegal, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Togo (fascinating bead work mosaic-like art), Congo, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Haiti, Ethiopia, and Mozambique. Much of it took forms I had never seen, so I am glad to have had the opportunity to see these different approaches and perspective to contemporary art in this region. We met one of the trip members, Sally, at the musee and then Jenn (Fogarty scholar in Zambia) and Jess met us at the museum entrance.

We headed next to the Grand Marche. The main market included everything – art, jewelry, food galore, basic home items. The colors and antiquity of the place held a certain charm, certainly feeding a haunting, Western romanticism of such places. We left the market to see the traditional medicine stand. Known as the “fetish market”, adherents of some African Traditional Religions can purchase hedgehogs, monkey skulls, and dead parrots among other things you and I would never see in local Whole Foods. I spoke with a vendor there a bit but did not take a picture per a recommendation from the guide book. Some of the animals are black market and endangered, so I was purposefully reticent in expressing my fascination with the market and the items’ meaning and uses.

Tailor in foreground (Grand Marche)

Tailor in foreground (Grand Marche)

Side note on Bamako: this city is very expensive. Jenn, who goes to Columbia University for medical school in New York City, pointed out that Bamako’s prices are akin to those of NYC. Most dinners were ~$10+ equivalent. One night I paid the equivalent of $7.25 for a can of widely available Perrier – soda was only slightly better at $4.25 equivalent. There are clearly 2 starkly different worlds in Bamako when it comes to food with no middle ground. The wealthy and everyone else. Needless to say, I liked everything I had in Mali, whether it was basic food that most people ate or the nicer French and imported food and drink that were easily obtained in Bamako.

We had dinner that night at Rose de Sable eating wonderful tangine compliments of Dr. Sakai, an NIH researcher in Mali. After going out for a little bit, we prepared for rest. The next morning, we would leave for Segou and start our amazing journey northward towards Essakane…


One Response to “Mali #3: Bamako”

  1. Jenn Says:

    AMAZING post so far! I need those pics like I need to join a salt caravan with 3 toureg men and 500 camels. MISS YOU! xxxooooooooo p.s. did mitra get her dogon chair to uganda?

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