Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Marrakesh Express

We've been in Bamako a bit over two months and it's already time for our first foray out of country.  First up:  Marrakesh, Morocco.  Actually, it was a combo work/play trip with a week of Africa Region budget/finance conference workshop then a few days on our own.

The workshop was great.  It was really nice to see some of my other FMO orientation colleagues.  In addition, I met FMOs and local staff from neighboring countries, DC, and Charleston.  I even got to meet my replacement (my position is bid on a year early for language training).  I learned a lot and made some great contacts.

But...Marrakesh, Sweetie!

It's a quite nice city.  Busy and hectic; historic and beautiful in many different ways.  And, yes, the shopping.  Not just in the souks and artist shops, but also in the gorgeous Carrefour supermarket.  Oh the choices!  A bag of snickers minis in Bamako is nearly $12; in Marrakesh, about $3.  Oh yes, we'll take several bags, please.

My humble tips for Marrakesh:  comfy shoes - you'll walk a lot.  If you don't stay in a riad in the Medina (old town), then at least visit one or two for dinner.  They're gorgeous.  The Maison de la Photographie is very good and has a cafe on the roof.  Visit the Ensemble Artisinale before you visit the souks - it's a good warm up if you're not used to non-stop hawking and bargaining.  Palais de la Bahia and Saadian Tombs - yes.  Musee Dar Si Said - maybe not (there were no exhibitions in the house when we visited but they failed to tell anyone that fact before taking the entrance fee).  Jardin Majorelle and Yves Saint Laurent Museum, yes and yes.

If you buy in the souks, here's my advice on that.  Before you go, know what you want and know what you're willing to pay.  Remember, the first one to mention a number in a negotiation loses.  I waited for the seller to give a first price and then usually countered my first price at 1/3 of that.  Then the games began.  "Oh, my friend, how could I feed my family on that", or "no, no, this is first quality, not like the other vendors", to "you must be Berber to propose that figure" (yes, that happened).  Back and forth until you hear "what's your final final"?  State it, then be prepared to walk.  Worked nearly every time (I did walk once).  Do you sometimes overpay?  Sure.  But it's the game and in the end you're getting something from Marrakesh that hopefully you'll enjoy for a while:  a rug or carpet, lamp, blanket, etc.  However, beware:  most of the pashminas for sale looked exactly like those for sale in Istanbul, which makes me think they're actually made somewhere else.

Anyway, here are some photos from Marrakesh.

Food and Colors


Tiles and Patterns

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

First Ten Days in Bamako

We're here...we made it.  We're in Africa!  Bamako, Mali, to be precise.  We've made it through our first ten days and so far so good.

Before we left DC, we made one last stop at the US Botanical Gardens to see the blooming Amorphopallus titanum.  The plant that has a ginormous flower that smells like rotting meat  Yep, that's the one.

After that, we were off to Bamako via Paris for two nights.  Ah, Paris, La Ville Lumière, you don't disappoint.  We stayed at a lovely boutique hotel in the 8th:  Le Pavillon des Lettres.  A truly charming hotel, well situated.  Maybe a bit of a splurge, but c'mon, we're headed to Mali for two years.  To top it off (literally, as we were in a room in the converted attic space), we had an Eifel Tower view.  Magnifique!

Mark and I on a tourist bus in Paris

Fun with forced perspective!

Yes, the actual view from our bedroom window!

Searching for Lady Marmalade (we didn't find her)

The flight to Bamako was uneventful.  Cosmo did great on each flight.  On the way to Paris, he even had his own seat - merci, Air France!

He even has his own seatbelt

Cosmo leading the way through CDG!

My "first" day at work was an embassy-wide celebration for Tabaski.  There was a raffle of lots of prizes for the local staff with the special prizes being mouton and a very special grand mouton.

Guess who's coming to dinner?

Over the weekend we found a local market with our embassy sponsor.

Our first Bamako market purchases - mats for the porches.

The actual work is good.  I have a great staff and the other employees seem welcoming and happy to be here, for the most part.  It's busy though.  Our house is also quite nice:  lots of space and storage space, really nice gardens, and a beautiful pool (that as of today, is now crystal clear).

Luckily, we arrived in time for two four-day weeks with a four-day weekend in between.  We got do a little bit of exploring in our neighborhood and around Bamako.  It's definitely different than what we're used to.  But, that's what we signed on for, right?

Cosmo makes friends wherever he goes.

You are here (or somewhere around there).

Kids are kids anywhere - a branch and a puddle = fun!

Goat of Bamako.

This little guy was fascinated by us.

Pirogues on the Niger River.