Tuesday, August 1, 2017


Dancing in Bamako

Don’t you love the scenes in period films where they dance the quadrille or some other stylized dance so beautifully? I always wish I knew the steps so I could join in.

Driving in Bamako is a little like one of those dances, and I’ve actually learned to enjoy it! For one thing, one is not limited by nuisances such as red lights. Oh, they are there, but they don’t always mean Stop, like in America. Sometimes they mean, Turn left now that oncoming traffic has to stop. Or turn right now that the motorcycles have to stop. (There’s not a blanket “Turn right on red after stop” rule like in America; do this at the wrong intersection and you risk getting a ticket)!

I most enjoy the intersections where the traffic lights are not functioning. That’s where you really learn to dance, edging forward to look for your opening and then plunging gracefully through.

It’s not all as graceful and perfect as it sounds, of course. Remember the scene in BBC’s Pride and Prejudice when Lizzie Bennett had to rebuke Mr. Collins for his missteps? The local minibuses which provide public transportation to the masses, called SOTRAMAs, are the Mr. Collinses of Bamako traffic. They go where they will and as they will. Most of the drivers have not learned the correct steps to the dance (I’m not even sure if most of them have actually learned to drive), and they don’t care to, either. They plunge willy-nilly into traffic as if they didn’t even know it was a dance!

Finally, imagine again that scene in P&P. What if a prankster had released hundreds of cockroaches onto the dance floor, and suddenly everyone had to dance La Cucaracha at the same time as the minuet or the scotch reel? That is what it’s like dealing with the myriad motorbikes of Mali, massing and merging like a swarming horde of maggots, making the dance miserable and maladroit.

If it weren’t for them, driving in Bamako would be perfect. Almost. [To be fair, Bamako traffic was evidently the worst part of my daughter's-in-law trip here last year, so not everyone sees it from the same perspective.]

Monday, February 17, 2014


When we first came to Mali nearly three decades ago, everyone wanted us to take Malian names. We ended up with Yacouba for Jim, which is the local equivalent of his real name (Jim = James = Jacob = Yacouba), and Djeneba for me (kinda sounds like Jennifer, right?).

So shortly into each semester, I challenge my English students at Go Global Mali to take English names. Turnabout is fair play, right? They have been quite good-natured about it, and I confess I have enjoyed “dubbing” them with some of my favorite names.

First, I recommend they do what Jim did – use a cognate if it exists. Equivalents often do in the case of religious names. So Moussa becomes Moses, Issiaka becomes Isaac, Daouda is David, Saran is Sara, and so on. My students don't always want to use these, however, so Adama chose to become Alexander. Can you guess the English equivalents of the following: Harouna, Nuhun, Yaya, and Issa? (Post your responses in the comments or on Facebook, and no spoilers allowed if you have ever lived in West Africa!)

Next, I suggest they try to choose a name which begins with the same letter as their real name – it helps us all remember, and it seems logical. However, there are always those who want to name themselves after a popular TV or movie character. So there is a Jack (Jack Bauer, 24), a Linc (someone from Prison Break, a show I have never watched – would someone please tell me if he's a good guy or a bad guy?!?) and Palmer (Pres. David Palmer, also from 24).

For those who opt to take names using their first initial, I supply a list of choices. And to be honest, this is the most fun part for me because I sneak in the names of family and friends and even my favorite TV characters. So this semester, Kadiatou, whose local nickname is Kady, chose Kate. I think she was thinking of Kate Middleton, which is cool so we call her Princess sometimes, but it also makes me think of my Aunt Kate.

M is a common first letter here, with all the Mohameds and Mamadous and Mahamanes, etc., so I always have to give a fairly large selection of M names for guys, and I was delighted when one chose Marshall (after my cousin of the same name), another chose Moe (our niece Rosanne's husband), and – my real coup – someone chose Malcolm, as in Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly.

One student's name is Cheick, and it was challenging to find names for him. I listed both “Sh” (because Cheick is pronounced with a sh sound) and “Ch” options. I wanted him to choose Charles, because that was my father's name, but I was also rooting for Sheldon (another cousin), Shawn (Psych), and the one he eventually chose, Chauncey (a very good friend from Wilkens Ave. Mennonite Church).

And by the way, my student, Djeneba – the same as my Malian name – picked Jenny. :-)

Saturday, March 24, 2012


It’s Day Four since we’ve been in “hibernation” due to the coup d’état in Mali. This has provided a lot of time for reflection, but also for boredom, so it’s a good opportunity to add to my blog for the first time in six months!

In brief, I was headed to Bamako on Wednesday with the team from Christ for Humanity (Ronda Tyson, Vicki Ray, DeMarco Taylor), after a productive ten days in Kayes, and anticipating three days of training ESL teachers in Bamako. Arriving in Kati, about 15km/9m (one hour) from the capital, the bus offloaded us, saying there was a “little problem.” We assumed this was a mechanical issue, but soon learned that there was a strike or a demonstration on the road between us and Bamako. We hoped to get moving again in a few hours, but instead the bus turned around and headed into the bush for protection in case demonstrators resorted to property destruction. By then, we were the only passengers left on the bus, and were in contact with the US Embassy. We learned that the “demonstration” was actually a failed coup attempt. The Embassy advised us to stay in Kati and found us an American lady living here with her son who was willing to take us in.

In the morning, the mutinous soldiers successfully seized the presidential palace and announced on national television at 4.30am the success of their putsch. The reason for the coup is the dissatisfaction of certain factions of the army with the conduct of the war against the Tuareg rebellion in the north of Mali. Tuareg mercenaries returned from the conflict in Libya with state-of-the-art weapons and resumed their decades-long, on-and-off insurgency. Malian troops are undersupplied with arms and even such basics as food, and their weaponry is definitely inferior to that of the insurgents. [To familiarize yourself with the history of the Tuareg conflict, check out the second hyperlink below.]

Our hostess is a poli-sci major, and her Malian friends come and go, so we spend a lot of time discussing “the situation.” Some obvious questions present themselves:

Malian presidential elections are scheduled in one month. Why overthrow the government when the “end” of the current administration is in sight? One Malian man said, “A month is a long time when you are a soldier lacking ammunition and hungry.” Point taken, but one goal of the new ruling committee is to restore democracy. Exactly how does canceling upcoming elections restore democracy?

Where are the generals? The highest ranking officer involved in the coup is a captain, and the president of the Democratic Committee is only 39 years old. Young soldiers are literally running wild in the streets, confiscating vehicles, shooting rifles in the air, looting shops, and assaulting women. No wonder people perceive that their new leaders are not in control. Speculation is that the older soldiers are loyal to the president, or that they have been arrested.
Unintended consequences include giving an advantage to the rebels in the north, who are making a move southward to take advantage of the instability. Furthermore, the north and east are experiencing the worst famine in over a decade, and for the time being international aid has been cut off.

For these and many other reasons we are greatly concerned for the future of our adopted homeland.
Please click on the third link below, which is the blog I wish I had written!
1. My five minutes of fame (I am quoted in this article): http://www.tunisia-live.net/2012/03/22/malian-military-stages-coup/
2. An explanation of the roots of the Tuareg conflict (written by a journalist we know who attended Dakar Academy): http://www.tunisia-live.net/2012/03/23/the-malian-coup-decades-of-rebellion-and-one-night-of-gunfire/
3. An excellent early analysis of the situation: http://africasacountry.com/2012/03/23/malis-coup-first-thoughts/

Monday, November 7, 2011


I haven't posted to my blog since June and I just found out that this is NaBloPoMa: National Blog Posting Month, when we are supposed to post daily.

Now doesn't that sound a little like NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month (which has been around since, like, forever)? And what a coincidence, they are both being held in November. I guess there are just so many Na....Mo's out there, and so few months, that the organizers couldn't find another month to squeeze NaBloPoMa in!

So even tho I'm not doing NaNoWriMo, I've decided to boycott NaBloPoMa in protest of their lack of originality. Not that it means much since, like I said, I haven't posted for five months anyway! But I just had to get my 2 cents in here.

I call on would-be novelists and lukewarm bloggers to unite!

Friday, June 24, 2011


I just finished Barbara Kingsolver’s fascinating book on her family’s year of eating locally, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I was happy to be challenged about the food choices I make, based on how much fuel and energy are expended to get my food to market.  There is also the issue of supporting local farmers, instead of those in another region or another country.

Initially, I was patting myself on the back, because most of the produce we buy is local. We can even eat bananas till they come out the whazoo (a food Ms. Kingsolver’s family must pass on since it comes from the tropics). But then I remembered those Moroccan apples in my fridge. Morocco is on the African continent, but it’s two countries away from here. Oops.

There’s also a section of our market here which sells produce trucked in from the Malian Region of Sikasso.  Is that local? It’s in Mali, but it’s about as far from where we live as you can go without entering Côte d’Ivoire.  It’s about 1000km from here – that’s 600 miles. Now Ms. Kingsolver suggests a standard of 100 miles for those living in fertile areas, such as southern California, or in her case, Virginia. But she used to live in Tuscon – a very Mali-like climate – and in that case she suggests 250 miles.  So even by that standard, I should avoid the Sikasso section of the market.  Hm.  On the other hand, a lot of the vendors in the local section buy their goods in bulk in the Sikasso Market, so I may end up buying them anyway, but paying more.  (I also just calculated the distance my apples had to travel: almost ten times the generous limit for Mali or Arizona!).

But, really, fresh produce is not the issue here. We are strangers in a strange land, and as such we like to splurge on imported goods so we can eat like back home. It’s not even much of a splurge (except for cheese). Cans of veggies, jars of jam, containers of applesauce can all be found in my pantry, most from the European Union, and fairly reasonably priced.  How about coffee: at least our instant coffee comes from the neighboring coffee-producing country of Côte d’Ivoire, but our “real” coffee is shipped from there to be processed in France, and then back here.  Double jeopardy on hydrocarbons!  (To be fair, you can buy ground Ivoirian coffee here, but as my daughter, Danielle, says, it tastes like ground peanuts. The Ivoirian instant actually tastes better than the Ivoirian ground coffee).

Still, I have not even touched on the biggest food import problem in West Africa.  What if the local people wanted to eat locally? They are pretty much good to go as far as produce is concerned, and few are rich enough to buy imported canned goods and cheese anyway, so they don't miss them.  Even the sheep and cattle butchered here are all local (we see the cows being led to the slaughterhouse every night on foot). But the center of the Malian diet is RICE. Where does that come from? Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, the USA…   Definitely NOT local.

How did people become so dependent on a food they do not produce?  First of all, some rice is produced in Mali (Sikasso again, where it is more tropical than savannah, and has a greater rainfall), but it costs more than imported rice, and there is not enough of it for everyone if the whole population decided to start eating it. 

Are there alternatives? There are several, the primary being millet.  The problem is that all of the alternatives are more labor intensive than rice. Rice is Fast Food! All you gotta do is pick over it a bit, wash it and cook it.  Millet needs to have the husk pounded off, then winnowed, and then it needs to be milled. It’s a lot of work. Malian women already work much harder than Western women in food preparation. Who can blame them for wanting to simplify their lives a bit with the convenience of rice? Furthermore, although rice is more expensive than millet, it goes farther. Say you can get 2 cups of cooked rice from a pound (pulling numbers out of the air here). A pound of millet only yields 1½ cups cooked. So not only do you have to work harder, you have to prepare more of it. At certain times of year, the price becomes almost equivalent. And finally, most people like the taste of rice better.

I don’t know what the solution is for my Malian friends.  They are all addicted to green tea from China, and there’s no way they are going to give that up.  I don’t even have a good solution for myself! I am going to ask for Malian rice at the market from now on, because I can afford to pay the higher price.  There are also some Malian produced jams, which although expensive, I will try to buy to support the local industry.  I could also make more jams myself.  But what about my applesauce and cheese and coffee and canned corn and Moroccan apples and powdered milk? That’s a hard one!  I guess the important thing is to be as conscientious as possible, making every effort to buy locally, even if it’s not practical to do so 100%.  Wish me luck! (And read the book – I highly recommend it!)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Quote of the Week

As much or more than any theological concern, biblical teaching on end times should be approached with humility.
Matthew Dickerson
Christianity Today online

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

An Open Letter to Dove World Outreach Center

Dear Pastors Jones and Sapp,

Congratulations on the headlines you have created around the world this week. Not only did you burn a Koran but your actions led to the death of UN workers in Afghanistan, many of whom were not even Americans. May I ask what this has accomplished: has the Gospel been advanced amongst Muslims because there is one less Koran in the world? Are the Muslims of Gainesville beating down your door to know how they can be saved? It seems your actions were worse than futile, they were damaging to the work of the Gospel and to the lives of God’s servants. 

I am not denying the responsibility of the Taliban and Islamists who actually perpetrated the recent acts of murder and terror. There is no doubt that they will answer to God for this, and let’s hope they will also be held accountable by the legal authorities of their nation (if they can catch them).

But there is no doubt that your actions instigated this new wave of violence against Westerners in Central Asia. There is no doubt that you have placed at risk every American working in any capacity in the Muslim world. Worse, you have compromised the Gospel witness of thousands of Christian workers seeking to share the Love of Christ all over the Islamic World.

What right do you have before the Living God to jeopardize the work HE has called Christian men and women to do in HIS name for HIS glory? They may have chosen to risk their lives for the Gospel, but it is not your place to exacerbate that risk.

How can you justify putting such lives in peril in the name of Freedom of Speech, while God’s real servants and true believers put their lives on the line for the Gospel, and while your nation’s military serves in Harm’s Way in the Muslim World to protect that freedom?

Missionaries have enough work to do responding to the theological arguments of those who deny the deity of Christ, who believe the Bible has been changed, who do not believe Jesus died on the cross, and who argue for the superiority of Mohamed. But those conversations eventually lead to meaningful conversations on spiritual things and a sharing of the Gospel. Now, however, Christian workers have to waste time explaining why a church which supposedly believes what they do would commit such an egregious act, and convince people that they would never do the same. It takes a long time to build trust with a Muslim and you may have cancelled the work of years for some missionaries.

I examined your church’s website to see the extent of your missions outreach, especially your outreach to Muslims. And I found nothing. How can a church which has the name “World Outreach” in its name have no world missionary program? How can “an apostolic church with a world vision” which is so concerned about the evils of Islam be doing nothing about that evil in the manner prescribed by Jesus: “Go ye and make disciples of all nations”???

On the home front, what is Dove World Outreach Center doing to reach the 1,500 Muslim residents of Gainesville? Is there any campus outreach to the 600 Muslim students at UF? Have your members been trained to reach out to their Muslim neighbors in ways that are respectful, culturally appropriate and pleasing to the Lord, not alienating?

Have either of you, Pastor Sapp or Pastor Jones, ever had a normal conversation with a Muslim? Guess what: they are people like you and me, with many of the same concerns: how to make ends meet, raising their children to be men and women of faith and morality, whether their team will make it to the Series. Evangelical Christians often have more common ground with observant Muslims than with our American neighbors, who may be only nominal Christians or practice no religion at all. Instead of a hostile approach focusing on differences, why not try to “love your neighbor,” and extend hospitality and friendship to them? Through such relationships, you will eventually have the opportunity to discuss your religious differences in an atmosphere of trust.

There is no way to undo this pointless, egregious act. But you can move forward by first repenting before the Lord Jesus Christ for your damage to the work of the Gospel, and then apologizing and seeking forgiveness of those whom you offended, making it clear that the Lord whom you claim to serve would never have acted in such a manner. Finally, you can focus the efforts of your church from now on to reaching your neighbors and the world with the Gospel of our Loving Lord and Savior, who gave his life for sinners, of whom you and I are chief.

Sincerely yours,
Jennifer A. Bowers