Monday, 10 August 2009

Progress in Mali

We’ve done pretty well for rain this year.

We were away for the only nice week in June in Brit, and then we were in Ethiopia – rained every day, and now Mali. And guess what. Rainy season.
Deluges of the stuff. Flooding the streets and open sewers of Bamako, and running orange-brown torrents off the hills and down into the river

What a river it is too. Over half a mile wide in the city, the swirling pewter-grey mass of water sweeps under the two bridges where the traffic sits permanently gridlocked, belching out its evil clouds of diesel smoke into the damp grey air.
In the backstreets and slums, thousands of little beige donkeys battle to haul the piled-high two wheel carts that carry the city’s rubbish through the mud. Only a few of the main roads have tarmac.

These loads are carried to dumps around the city where the carts are tipped, and then owner and donkey set off for another load. Bizarrely, one of the biggest dumps, we were proudly told was twinned with Bordeaux.

The sad and angry young men who drive them, brutalised by their poverty and misery, wear Air France eye-shades as face masks against the stench and dirt. In summer they are dust bowls, now in the rainy season they’re rat infested, disease ridden swamps. Women and children, who actually live on the dumps, rake through each stinking, filthy load for whatever treasures they can find – God knows what that can be.
So we send our vet teams there, treating the harness wounds, cuts and sores that go with the job – but it’s harder to treat the malnutrition and fatigue – and in one of the paradoxes of Africa, the job has just got harder.

Someone decided that just tipping all the rubbish in the streets was not a good thing. It ought to be taken out and dumped in the poor benighted bush somewhere.
So it needs to go into trucks for the trip.

What a good idea. Even better, there are stacks of countries producing dumper trucks and loaders that they can’t shift at the moment. World wide recession and all that. Sell ‘em cheap to Mali. Keeps the export statistics up.

So now the donkey carts have to struggle up a steep ramp in order to tip into a skip. That last slope is often the final straw for an exhausted animal. If the balance on the cart is wrong sometimes the wretched creature is jack-knifed into the air and left hanging in the traces.

But there’s worse. Because of course the trucks break down and there’s no money for spares – even if they existed. So everyone waits for hours in long queues for a truck that may never arrive. Then when everyone finally loses patience, they just tip the stuff out on the ground like the old days, and then shove off home.

Somebody at SPANA had the bright idea of welding a hinged leg onto one of the shafts. It can be dropped down while the animal is queuing to take the weight off the poor old donk’s back.

In Mali, that’s real progress.

Jeremy Hulme


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