Farewell, Bamako

Last weekend my family and I left Bamako and returned to our home in eastern Pennsylvania. The process of packing up one house, traveling thousands of miles through four airports with two young children and hundreds of pounds of luggage, then setting up another house in the space of a few days has been, well, wearying. Already our time in Mali begins to seem hazy and distant, like a dream one remembers only with great difficulty.

In the weeks after Mali’s coup d’état in late March, a lot of Americans and other foreigners left Mali. Against official advice, and some official pressure, we chose to stay on. Were we right to do so? The situation in Bamako has remained generally stable, despite episodes like the April 30 “counter-coup” and the May 21 storming of the presidential palace. At no time during our ten months in Bamako were my family and I in any direct physical danger. You could say that we made the right call. But we also realize that things could have worked out very differently.

The main problem for everyone in the city, not just expats, has been uncertainty: What if food runs out? What if security deteriorates? What if troops go on the rampage? What if robberies and exactions become widespread? Fortunately, we never had to face these contingencies. So far, unless you had links to the regime of ousted President Amadou Toumani Touré, or you directly challenged the interests of the junta, they’ve left you alone.

And we’re glad we stayed as long as we did. It was important to us to leave on our own timetable rather than someone else’s, and we achieved much over the past 90 days.

Throughout the events of the last few months, I went on teaching my anthropology and development course at Bamako’s Université des Lettres et des Sciences Humaines, with only a few cancelled classes. While I wasn’t able to conclude the course before our departure, I did recruit a replacement instructor to give the final lectures and administer the exam in my absence. My research on urban marriage also continued apace: in fact, I suspect I got more done in the three months of fieldwork following the coup than in the seven months preceding it. Since late March my research team conducted over a hundred interviews (nothing like the risk of sudden evacuation to make you efficient with your time!).

After trying for months, our daughter at last learned to swim across the American Club pool. (We practically had the place to ourselves since the coup.) Two weeks ago she completed second grade. My son also finished the year at his day care/preschool, having picked up a fair amount of French and made some friends in the process.

For a long time I’ve been wanting to thank the people who helped us during our time in Bamako. They are true heroes of the revolution. Almost none of them will ever read this blog, but I feel I should recognize them here all the same.

  • Bakary D., for making sure I could always find what I needed in the market.
  • Nana K. and Mohamed T., for putting us up in their home for two weeks before we found our own place.
  • Gaoussou M., Leanne C. and Megan L. at the U.S. Embassy, for guidance and support.
  • Yaya B. and Djeneba D., for organizing focus group discussions and transcribing the recordings.
  • Noumouké K., Nana T. and Bintou K., for arranging, conducting and transcribing interviews.
  • Arthur W. of Bamako International Academy, for providing a wonderful education experience for my daughter.
  • Alou D., for getting us where we needed to go.
  • Bamoussa B., Ousmane S. and Kamory K., for teaching me more aikido techniques than I ever believed I could master in ten months. Domo arigato sensei.
  • Issou D., for being a fantastic training partner, and a fine tailor too.
  • Houryata D., for introducing me to some memorable individuals who helped me think about marriage in new ways.
  • Tiemoko T., for assuring that my teaching efforts at the university were not entirely in vain.
  • Soumaila C., for logistical and legal assistance.
  • Lassine S., for friendship and thought-provoking discussions.
  • To the whole Konaté clan (of Dougabougou, Badialan, Kalaban Coura and ATTbougou) for support and kinship.

I know we’ll be back in Bamako. I just don’t know when. That will depend on how the political situation shapes up, and as I wrote last week, I just can’t predict what’s in store. In the meantime I will continue to make occasional posts to this blog, limiting myself to the backlog of material accumulated during my Bamako fieldwork. Look for that long-awaited post on the dojos of Bamako in the weeks to come….

Farewell, Bamako. Allah ka nyogon ye nogoya. We hope to see you again soon.

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39 Responses to Farewell, Bamako

  1. Jen Imes says:

    Hi Bruce, I was provided your link a few months back from a colleague who previously worked in Mali. My company provides logistical support to several laboratories at the University. I have followed your blog religiously and have found it quite helpful to have an insight to the unfortunate situation that has gone on over the last few months. I am glad you and your family are safe. I will miss your blogs! Best Wishes! Jen

  2. Jan FitzGerald says:

    Hi Bruce – I’ve really enjoyed your Bamako blog and I’m glad you and your family have emerged safely from an extraordinary and wonderful experience. I look forward to more blogs. All the best, Jan FitzGerald, Johannesburg, South Africa

  3. MaliRoeds says:

    We never met but those of us who have followed you closely will miss your helpful analysis of events here in this amazing city.

  4. Judy Moses says:

    I am saddened by your departure. Thank you for the detailed coverage, reflection and book. I hope to return in August as a USAID Farmer to Farmer volunteer for my 4th assignment (all projects on hold now). Keep posting.

  5. Anja says:

    Hi, shout-out from Brown and the PSTC! Thank you for your insightful posts and the reports on the political situation in Bamako and Mali at large. I’m just back from Mali myself to prepare a survey that’s to start in August, and apart from being a great read your blog was a huge help to gauge the situation and learn about the latest events. Good luck settling back into life in the US!

  6. HolgerBrune says:

    Thank you Bruce for the nice blog.

    • Geraldine says:

      thanks Bruce, I really enjoyed following your blog, i will miss your fresh news of Bamako and edge-cutting analysis of Malian society

  7. Klaas Tjoelker says:

    Once more “Bonne arrivée”, and “Bon retour” for when you have the occasion to come back to Bamako! Thank you for sharing your observations, analyses and thoughts during the past months. Good luck and good life in Pennsylvania!

  8. Lisa Samake says:

    Bruce,

    Thank you so much for your wonderful blog. My husband is Malian and was in Mali for the first time in 11 years when this whole situation began. Me being American, I was scared for him and all our family still there. After many calls to Air France he was on his way home a week late, but safe.

    We love reading your blog and can’t wait to sew future postings.

    Lisa Samake

  9. Thanks for all of your excellent coverage and reflections on the situation in Mali. Your blogs will be sorely missed!

  10. Allan MacLeod says:

    Bruce, Thank you again for all your blogs over the past months that have kept us informed on events in our beloved Mali! Your daughter is the same age as our grandson who just completed grade 2 yesterday. I trust you have a good summer at home, and hopefully a return to Mali will be in the near future!
    Allan

  11. Tom says:

    I’ve been following your blog in the months since the coup and I just want to thank you for providing such a clear and even-handed picture of life on the ground in Bamako. Good luck to you and your family on your next adventures – whatever they may be!

  12. Thank you for sharing all your insights into “life in a budding West African metropolis”! Your unique commentaries have enriched my understanding of the worlds we both love and cherish so much. May you and yours resettle into life in the US smoothly and may our paths cross again in Maliba!

  13. Ian says:

    Glad to hear you made it home safely. I’ll miss the updates on life in Bamako and especially the ones when things were going bad. All of us in my mining camp were frequently refreshing the page trying to stay on top of things.

    • brucewhitehouse says:

      I solemnly pledge to pass on no more news about things going bad in Bamako. Unless you count the dojos. But they usually do pretty well.

  14. Émilie Roy says:

    Thanks for the excellent (and entertaining) information and analysis you have provided during these turbulent months. It was great to get information that was not an official press release and I particularly appreciated your minute by minute posts during the coup when calling Bamako was impossible and we couldn’t get any decent news coverage here in Canada. Thank you.

  15. Sabrina says:

    Dear Bruce… I’m reading your blog from Switzerland and in these moments, felt closer to Mali thanks to you. Thank you for taking the time to keep us updated! I will miss your posts as so many others. All the best to you and your family!

  16. Allan says:

    Dear Bruce, Thank you for your informed commentary in these last months following the coup. Our Virginia Friends of Mali, working with Sister Cities International, was able to complete an infrastructure project in Segou only days before things went down as they did. The best wishes to you and your family and I certainly hope we can once again visit our friends and colleagues in Mali.

  17. Devon Golaszewski says:

    Goodbye Bruce! We’ll miss you and your family, Devon

  18. tintin says:

    Dear Bruce,
    I hope you do not close this blog. you must surely have the connections, partners and information that enables you to continue. Hope we will have the honour to read more about your findings.
    Keep the faith,

  19. Jo says:

    Thank you, Bruce! I am looking forward to your piece on the dojos. Our family will always keep up with Mali after our son’s experience with Cherif’s program this past winter, and after learning so much via your blog. I am impressed with your far-ranging observations, your wit, and your heart, marmoset transplant that it is.

  20. brucewhitehouse says:

    Thanks everybody for the feedback and warm wishes. Now that I’ve departed Mali, I’ll be updating the blog periodically but not as often as when I was in Bamako. I look forward to keeping in touch with everyone who’s reached out to me through this blog. If you’re a scholar planning to attend the annual meeting of the African Studies Association this November in Philadelphia, please look me up there, where I’ll be presenting my Bamako research for the first time. I’ll also be talking about it in San Francisco at the annual anthropology meeting. Hopefully by then I’ll have something to say about the topic that’s worth listening to….

    • brucewhitehouse says:

      UPDATE: Although I’ll be at the African Studies meeting, I won’t be able to present my research because of programming changes. But I’ll be chairing a panel on marriage during the final session (Saturday afternoon, Dec. 1), and you’re welcome to seek me out there.

  21. Jennifer says:

    Reading your posts has been such a meaningful way for me to stay connected to Mali and more deeply reflect on my own experiences there (2008-12). Thank you so much!

  22. Bertus says:

    Bruce, thanks for the fantastic blogs which I read with interest, Everyday checking whether you had written something new. Best to you and your family. I hope you have the opportunity to get back to Mali son.

  23. Can’t wait for the dojo posts!!

  24. maboisvert says:

    Thanks for your insight that was very appreciated.

  25. Cassady says:

    Bruce, I can’t thank you enough for your thoughts and insights these last months. As an expat who left Mali in the weeks after the coup, it has been difficult to be torn from Mali. Your blog has helped me understand Bamako’s reality during this tricky period. Ala k’an to nogon ye!

  26. Serge Doreleijers says:

    Dear Bruce, thanks a lot for your Blog which I always read with great professional interest (see linked-in for my profile). Although I not always agreed with your points of view, your insights, opinions and facts where always sharp and to the point. To be short, you created a very interesting, very readable and very professional blog with a ‘out of the box’ approach. Thank you for that, we will going to miss it!

    • brucewhitehouse says:

      Thanks Serge, please drop me an e-mail sometime. I’d be happy to exchange ideas with you and would be especially glad to get your insights into the Malian military. Since I see you’re in Afghanistan, if ever you run into a Major Whitehouse at KIA, that’s my brother!

  27. Dear Bruce, thanks for everything. Reading and following your blog was a treat for the heart as well as to the mind. May God bless and keep you and your family. Please keep us posted.

  28. Lauren says:

    From Mali watchers far and wide, a warm thank you for your fresh and unique perspective throughout these trying months. I loved how you somehow managed to seamlessly blend the cultural, political, and personal into succinct, entertaining, and always thought-provoking pieces. I’m adding my voice to the chorus of people clamoring for you to continue to post regardless of location!

  29. Victor says:

    Hey, are you aware you made the Washington Post?
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/how-1-man-derailed-2-decades-of-democracy-in-mali-and-helped-create-haven-for-terrorism/2012/07/07/gJQA0tMpTW_story_2.html
    But in his last blog post before leaving Mali for the U.S., anthropologist Bruce Whitehouse lists the disastrous consequences of what happened, including the suspension of more than a billion dollars in aid, the closing of Bamako’s flagship Grand Hotel and the government’s loss of control of half its territory. Last month, Islamic fundamentalists announced that they now hold the major towns in the north.
    “In the 90 days since the coup, it’s hard to look at any area and see anything good,” said Whitehouse, an assistant professor at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Penn. “Some of us were looking for a silver lining. Months later, we can’t see any reason for hope.”

    • brucewhitehouse says:

      Thanks – the writer (the AP’s West Africa bureau chief) did inform me that her profile was published Saturday. I have a link to it on the “BfB in the Media” page (see link above).

  30. melissa klar says:

    Hi Bruce…. there are NO WORDS for the sadness in my heart about the situation in Mali. I was there in 2011, one of the last to visit Timbuktu, which was dangerous then, we flew there. Now the destruction of some of the mosques is just too painful to see, I am wondering what happened to the manuscripts? I have been thinking about them alot and PRAY that they are fine? I just fell in love with Mali and the beautiful people, not to mention the magnificent music just stays in soul.
    Thank you for your story. And thank you for taking the chance to stay as long as you could. I just feel HORRIBLE for all of those Malian people in tourism with no work, and what about the wonderful artisans? We need to show the world their work and help them outside of Mali. Is there a solution? or is Mali just going down the tubes? I send prayers to all of those souls suffering.

  31. Hi Bruce,

    I was referred to your blog by a professor of mine and have thoroughly enjoyed following the events through such an insightful lens. Sorry to hear you and your family have departed, and I wish you all the best. I’ve been waiting and hoping to hear more from you, but I’m sure you’re now quite busy with writing stateside. As a fellow RPCV (Niger ’09-’11), I admire your tenacity to get back to your village. I hope and pray things turn for the better in Mali.

  32. Francesca says:

    Thanks for your blog Bruce, I really enjoyed reading it to get a feel for the situation in Bamako. It’s so hard to get accurate news from Mali… I was wondering if I could ask you a question about the BKO airport? I have a layover to Ouagadougou that stops in Bamako for an hour, do you think the airport is safe at the moment? I haven’t heard anything about it since the counter-coup, but any insight from the ground would be very much appreciated. Thanks in advance!

    • brucewhitehouse says:

      I have no information about any risks. As far as I’m aware, the Bamako airport is safe to fly through presently. Tomorrow of course may be a different story.

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