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Back in West Africa


Kids of Koutiala


 ( All Blog Post Photos:  © Bartay )

I went out for a walk the other night to cool down and ran across these kids playing. Bonsoir! Ça va? After getting one of them to finally high five me, they all came over and wanted to high five. We high fived, we low fived, we fist bumped, they wouldn’t stop shaking my hands. Finally they wouldn’t stop crowding…. so snap!

I’ve been back in Mali for almost two weeks now and it’s the height of the hot and dry season. It’s been averaging over 109º every day and they’ve been having these very strong winds coming down out of the Sahara. You can see the dust forming large rolling low clouds and when you get in them you’re expecting the wind to cool you. The wind is about 15º hotter than the air, it is a very unique feeling.

This is the beginning of an extended trip through Africa; I’m working for the IDRC (International Development Research Centre) out of Ottawa as well as HKI (Helen Keller International) out of New York. I have been working for them both here in Mali and then I’ll be off to Burkina Faso to work for them both. Then after the first week of May I’ll be heading to Nigeria and up to Ibadan working for the IDRC leaving out of Ibadan. Finally by mid May I’ll be making my way to Nairobi, Kenya to finish up with the IDRC, I think we’re headed east toward the Somalia border. After I’m finished, who knows!

After arriving in Mali I first went up north to the village of Katibougou just outside the city of Koulikoro to see the project the IDRC was funding with the IPR|IFRA on fodder for sheep. The four-year project is coming to an end but it’s not quite ready for public knowledge so I’m not quite sure I can talk about it yet. I’ll be able to be more insightful on future IDRC projects.

Later I ventured out east to the town of Koutiala near the Burkina Faso border, about a 7-hour drive from Bamako. I was going out to the village of Ziena looking at the Homestead Food Production project of HKI, where they are helping women farmers grow nutritional vegetables for their families. This was a very large plot of land where 162 women had their own little plot to grow vegetables. They had one large well and many small wells, just a hole in the ground, throughout the area for getting their water. It was amazing the wealth of vegetables growing in the middle of the hot, dry season.




I ended the trip out east by going to the village of Tiarakassédougou to see how HKI is teaching volunteer women to screen for acute malnutrition of infant children. They’re looking for edema and using the international armband to measure the ‘normal’ size of their upper arms. Green – OK, Yellow – they need to be monitored, Red – they need to go to the clinic for care.

There were 5 women being taught and there was an abundance of women who brought their children in for screening. Some of them were a bit confused, some scared, but most were just… OK, I’m here what next.

All in all it was a very healthy group of young kids. There were maybe one or two that just squeaked into the yellow and they’ll be monitored over the next year but it was great to see an entire group without anyone acutely malnourished.






After observing the class on monitoring acute malnourishment I went for a walk around the village to see what I might see. It’s not all that amazing to me but during the day when it is so hot, most of the villagers are either under a tree somewhere, sleeping, but not walking around. The village seemed almost deserted but it really wasn’t, they just weren’t out walking around in the sun like some foreigner.




When I came upon the mosque of the village, it seemed a bit small at first but it’s only for the village people themselves. Every village I saw had their own mosque and every one was quite different from each other. I just realized two days ago it’s Easter, so for those that it is, Happy Easter to you all back in the States and where ever you might be.




After my walk, Joseph invited us to his house for lunch. A typical African lunch I might add, they do like their lunch large and hot even during the middle of the day. It was a large bowl of rice with cooked peahen and a delicious sauce, I must say it was the freshest bird I’ve tasted. We all just sat around and shared the pot. Papaya for desert right off the tree in the backyard. Wonderful!




I was then going west of Bamako up north to Sandare to see HKI’s NTD (Neglected tropical Diseases) program, but they thought it was to close to the Mauritania border and expats aren’t advised to go there. They felt it wouldn’t be safe to stay the night, so I said OK! We ended up going to Kati where we could make it in one day’s drive and come back to Bamako. More on that later.

It seems I have run into the upper limit of the working temperature range of my cameras. The last couple of days, one of my cameras just stopped working. It wouldn’t snap a picture, it wouldn’t focus, and I had no aperture. Every time, I’d stop and go to the car and try to figure it out only to find it working again. This happened for two days and then it hit me… it’s too hot and it must be outside its operating range. A friend found out for me the top range is around 104º F and the temperature has usually been around 110º, let alone sitting in the sun around my shoulder. So now it’s finding a way to keep them cooler.

This is going to be a short post today, I have to move. Due to my lack of French, communication has been a problem here and it seems I did not understand that there wasn’t a room here tonight, so I’m off to find another place.

Things are a little different this time in Mali than they were in 2010. There are ATM’s now, BUT they only work with the chip in the card and not the magnetic strip. It’s been a challenge to get cash. The Internet is more widely available but it’s on par with dial-up from years back. I was not able to get tickets on the Internet so I’m going to the airport tomorrow morning and see if I can just buy a ticket with cash. I need to get to Ouagadougou tomorrow to get ready for 13 days of shooting in Burkina Faso. I’ll be back soon.



This entry was posted in Mali.


  1. Charlie Brown April 20, 2014 at 8:48 am #

    I really enjoy following your travels and good work. I will continue to be a fan and keep following your blog.

  2. Maria Epes April 21, 2014 at 8:11 am #

    It is is interesting hearing about all these projects but also how this part of the world is so familiar to you. I am hoping that a solution for the camera operating in the heat has been found. Look forward to your posts, always.

  3. Kathleen April 21, 2014 at 8:53 am #

    So good to see individual issues and family groups within your projects. The children are lovely. You seem to bring out their smiles, but the seriousness of the work shines through.

    Good luck through the heat and your timelines, Bartay!

  4. Jennifer April 22, 2014 at 5:53 am #

    Thanks for the updates – keep ’em coming….

  5. Brian Molloy April 22, 2014 at 9:26 am #

    Phil was over on Easter. He showed us some of the work you have been doing. He sent me this link to your Blog. This is really wonderful! Love the images and the commentary. The first image of the children is beautiful. We are so use to seeing images of pain and suffering coming out of Africa. This is refreshing and hopeful. Take care of yourself. Look forward to following your travels.

  6. Kathleen April 28, 2014 at 9:40 am #

    Wow, beautiful photos and such gorgeous faces! Rain and electricity problems seem to go hand-in-hand! Too bad they slow you down but your results are nice!

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