Archive for the ‘hiking’ Category


This has been a fun week in Bamako!  This weekend has been especially fun.  Hows about I tell you a little about it, eh?

I got the opportunity to check out a little of the city’s club scene this week, and to be honest I am impressed.  Friday night I got invited out by some new friends of mine from my French class, and I had a blast!  We started off at Le Terrasse for a couple hours, a popular rooftop bar and lounge.  This particular bar is on the top floor of a building, above a separate nightclub.  I had been there once before, but this time they surprised us with a live band!  They weren’t too bad either.  Pharrell and Bob Marley made for some great covers.  La Terrasse looks like it came straight out of the caravansary of the Silk Road.  The place is simple and elegant.  The bar area is underneath a metal roof but extends out onto a balcony overlooking the street.  There, the roof gives way to a tent-like arrangement held up by long wooden poles.  The actual terrace is littered with handmade wooden couches and chairs.  Their red cushions perfectly match the intricate, embroidered, red canvas hanging overhead.  I half-expected someone to come read me my fortune or sell me their precious jewels.  Instead I was surrounded by beautiful, smiling people all enjoying the precious freedom of the weekend.  One of the bartenders was even surprised with a cake for her birthday!  Luckily, since by this time we had moved from the couches on the terrace to the stools at the bar, I got to have a piece.  Sweet.  😉

After pounding back a few Flag beers with my new buddies, we made our way to Ibiza, one of Bamako’s most popular nightclubs.  Now these guys know what they’re doing.  This Lebanese-owned nightclub is everything a club should be.  It is dull and boring on the outside and a grand ol’ tropical paradise on the inside.  Well, not exactly a tropical paradise but there were definitely plenty of neon, blacklight-reactive, tropical murals painted straight onto the walls, not to mention easily the biggest disco ball I have ever seen.  The whole place was a lot bigger than I expected too.  We went past the dance floor and first bar, up and around the back section of private couches and tables, and back down to the other side of the dance floor and second bar.  Just being in the place made me feel fancier.  Of course, it’s not too difficult to feel underdressed wearing a Rob Zombie T-shirt with the sleeves ripped off.  Once I had gotten a good feel for how extensive the layout of the club actually was, I made my way onto the dance floor with the group and danced the night away.  It helped that the resident DJ was actually pretty impressive.  Contrary to popular belief, DJ’ing is not as simple as hooking up your playlist, turning up the bass, and cracking a beer.  A good DJ not only mixes old songs with new sounds to give them a fresh feel while preserving the classic vibes of the original, but s/he also knows how to string those songs together into one smooth, continual beat.  Classical composers used this technique, where though their pieces changed sounds completely from start to finish, the evolution of the changes were flawlessly woven together, creating one giant evolving piece as opposed to a bunch of separate songs.  Our DJ Friday night impressively mixed popular American and traditional African songs with that heavy bass I love, so I was pretty much in Heaven.  Luckily our group evened out to three guys and three ladies so we all had an easily accessible dance partner without having to sift through strangers.  Mine may not have spoken any English, but man could she dance!  If there’s one thing I learned studying English, it’s that words are only one type of language.  Dancing is a language all its own.  The best part about Ibiza: I didn’t spend a dime.  Not only was there no cover, which surprised me, but with the slight buzz I had worked up at Le Terrasse I skipped the bar entirely and spent all my time on the dance floor.  By 4am we were all ready to go so I stumbled my way into a taxi and hoped for the best.  “Derrier de la Citie Ministerial!  Por favor!  Shit, I mean, s’il vous plait!!”  All in all Friday night was a great time.  Those Europeans start things off late (we met up at 11:30pm!) but they sure know how to party.  Even after grandkids.

I went on a beautiful hike on Saturday beside the Presidential Palace.  It was on a mountainside, like most of the others.  This one overlooked a stadium and what looked like an Olympic-sized pool.  The sun was especially brutal as I climbed this particular rock, but I loved it.  There’s nothing like the feeling of a nice, solid sweat.  This time I met a great Bavarian gentleman whom I had a long conversation with about corruption and its various faces throughout various countries and regions of the world.  Up until this point I have had a blast hiking with this French group of Hash House Harriers.  These weekly hikes have done wonders for my constant mental entanglement, as hiking has always done for me.  However I hear there is another group of Hashers in Bamako, apparently organized by our friends the Brits!  I hear this group only organizes hikes on a monthly basis, but that’s probably for the best since two hikes every week might start to squeeze my schedule a bit.  Next week they are organizing their hike though, so I look forward to a hot, sweaty, dirty weekend climbing around on rocks and through tall grass.  I may even try to drag Dad and Kari (my stepmom, visiting for ten days) out to get them working their legs a little as well.  Misery loves company, after all.

This week my father, stepmother, and I were also invited by one of my father’s top colleagues in Mali for a home-cooked lunch at his beautiful home.  And boy do I mean beautiful.  Gorgeous, gold, paisley-esque, regal couches and traditional African art made for the perfect background to the wonderful household and family we had the pleasure to meet.  Aside from the wonderful culinary art coming from the mother of the house, my father’s colleague, the father, melted my heart just sitting there with his three beautiful, crazy little daughters as they ran around assaulting each other and climbing all over him.  It was both hilarious and adorable.  Seeing a man be a father is a special kind of beautiful.  Back to that cooking though… when I say they invited us over for a meal, I’m afraid I may have made a bit of an understatement.  This was no meal.  It was a royal feast of which we were not nearly worthy.  There was fresh salad, roasted chicken, crepes stuffed with ground beef and veggies, fried plantains, homemade french fries, and of course beef in peanut sauce over rice.  Chunks of seedless watermelon and a homemade Senegalese millet pudding followed for dessert.  To drink we had water and two traditional Malian juices, one made from ginger and one from what looks like a cousin of the hibiscus plant.  Combined these two juices are pretty much the bees knees.  The whole meal had me stuffed to the max, dreading my impending hike, which I was committed to attending directly afterward.  Most of the lunch was dominated by talk of Malaria and family planning in Mali.  After all, the whole organization my father has come to Mali to run is starting to understand just how valuable of a resource he is, having worked in international health and finance for the past thirty years.  Though of course, in his usual manner, once the food came out my father so eloquently and simply exclaimed, “oh yeah, really, I’m just here [in Mali] for the peanut sauce.”  It is great to see my dad happy with his work.  Even though every day brings him close to a violent rage, the work he’s doing now is meaningful and inspirational to everyone he works with, and his honest love for Africa is undeniable.  He is ecstatic to be here and I am honored to be along for the ride.  Who knows, maybe through all of this a simple English major from Maryland might end up an international finance guru.  (I believe the expression is, ‘LOL?’)  No, I doubt I will follow in my father’s footsteps down the finance route, but I can’t deny that even the talks we have already had on the intricacies of his world have taught me a great deal about practical international development, which I have always had a theoretical passion for.  It’s a big world out there and there is too much to possibly do alone.

We also got a new lamp, and noodles for the pool.  It’s on now.

Okay, that’s enough for the time being I suppose.  I hope you enjoyed my ramblings!  We’ll see what I get into this week.  As for you, may your future plans put your wildest dreams to shame!

Onward and upward,

– Z

P.s. Here’s a nasty remix of a classic Weezy song, because it’s awesome and I heard it again in the shower today.  Yee-haw!!


Hello people of the internet!  I hope this message reaches you through all the tubes.

This was a pretty eventful week for me!  I realized I’m starting to know at least enough French to get the gist of basic ideas.  This is a big step for someone who is usually obsessed with effective communication.  To help I enrolled in a beginner’s french course at the French Institute in Bamako.  It’s not too intense, only four hours a week actually.  Having only been to the first class so far though, I can already tell it’s going to help.  There are only a few other students in the class and the teacher seems like a really friendly guy.  He is Malian and seems pretty open about himself so he includes a lot about Malian life in his lesson, which I appreciate.  Aziz is his name, which I hear means ‘precious’ in Arabic.  He told me he is left-handed for example!  He noticed I was writing with my left hand but sitting in a right-handed chair.  You know, the ones with the little writing surface built in to either arm.  Usually a classroom either has none attached to the left arm or one.  A few of the larger lecture halls at the University of Maryland had an entire column of seats with left-handed writing surfaces attached, bless their souls.  Talking to my teacher about being left-handed in either culture was extremely enlightening.  You see he is naturally left-handed, but ever since he was a child he was made to write with his right.  Whenever he tried writing with his left hand as a child he would be smacked or hit, and ridiculed for being dirty.  He says he was told if he continued to write with his left hand, he would go to Hell.  As a result he is now essentially ambidextrous, though his handwriting is considerably better with his right.  In his words, I am lucky I was not born in Mali.  Maybe when I die and come back I will be.

One of the other students in my class introduced me to the Bamako chapter of an international group of hikers called the Hash House Harriers.  They organize weekly walks/runs around most major international cities, offering a way for people to meet others and exercise a little.  Though the best part of this group is that after each run everybody gets a beer.  Now that’s my kind of exercise.  I’ve actually run into one other chapter of this group in College Park, Maryland!  I had the pleasure of attending one of their parties at some friends’ house whose landlord hosted.  They seemed like a pretty odd bunch, so of course I must learn more.  Plus I hear there is a chapter that attends Burning Man each year as well!  They call themselves the Black Rock City Hash House Harriers (BRCH3).  That’s definitely one thing I’ll have to check out the next time I go.  It makes total sense actually.  One of the distinctive qualities of Hashers appears to coincide with a Burning Man policy known as “radical inclusion.”  The concept seems simple but it’s actually pretty unheard of.  Basically, anyone can join!  At any event you may have to contribute a few bucks (or in my case francs) for the beer if you want any but besides that they welcome anyone interested in going for a walk.  Even though most people I saw were speaking only French to each other, I already met a few cool people I could actually understand so I’ll definitely go back.  I’ll have to post pictures of my hikes.  This week’s trail was about six kilometers up this gorgeous hill.  The hill looked jagged almost, with big red rock formations coming up out of the tall grass littered with the odd purple flowers.  Occasionally our trail crossed through a small “neighborhood” of only a couple homes, all either hand-made or created from the unfinished ruins of various construction sites.  Many construction projects for office buildings and homes have been cut short for various reasons throughout the city, so while the skeletons of buildings stand unused, people occupy the empty space until the projects start up again.  I am excited to hike with these people.  I am excited to explore the city as well!  There’s so much to see here.  I am excited.

I went back into the market this week.  This time I stuck with Edmond while he got all the soaps, oils, vegetables and meat for the week.  What a trip!  The whole market seems like it centers around this one old building.  An old abandoned, one-story (but with a high roof) church of some kind has turned into the literal meat market, where every piece of sweet, sweet animal is cut, weighed, and sold from its own small counter.  The place is seriously brutal.  In the middle of the room are rows and rows of mopeds, with meat counters along each wall.  All the interesting stuff was by the entrances to the building.  Liver, stomach, heart, pigs feet, you name it.  Everything was laid out in its own little display.  I saw more flies in that one building than I think I’ve ever seen.  Not a rubber glove in sight.  Kids ran around offering to help carry bags for a few francs.  This is where we got our cuts of beef, pork chops, and kidney, which my father loves.  I was and still am amazed.  Surrounding the building in a network of alleyways and streets are the vegetable stands, ran strictly by women and their daughters.  This is where we negotiated for our green beans, lettuce, potatoes, tomatoes and other random goodies.  It fascinates me how segregated by gender the different vendors were.  The women dealt with vegetables while the men exclusively dealt with meat and electronics.  The younger boys begged for coins or offered their services as bag carriers, while the older boys walked the street selling random assortments of belts, hats, bags, and what seemed like everything else you could ask for.  It’s interesting how gender roles play themselves out.  Everyone looked genuinely surprised to see me there.  Like I said before, most people fortunate enough to shop in the usual supermarkets stay out of the street markets.  Of course, the giant clown face on my leg was quite a riot to a few people as well.  All in all it was an extremely eye-opening week.  I wonder where next week will take me.  That’s all for now.  Be well internet!

Onward and upward.