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The rally in the southern Urals

Mali. Part I. Main Details

Whenever a Malian encounters any sort of problem in life—disease, illness, difficulty getting a promotion—he goes to a marab (sorcerer), who instructs him on what to do. Most problems are solved with the help of herbs and animal parts. Everything you need can be purchased at the market: crocodile claws, monkey heads, dried snakes, all kinds of bugs, worms, and so on.

The tongue of a chameleon is one of the ingredients in a recipe for increased eloquence, a dog’s head is required to bring harm on your enemy, and a fox’s anus can be made into top-notch poison.

The city’s markets sell everything you might need.

The leaves, herbs and animal parts must be mixed together in the correct proportions and placed in a clay pot. After this, the pot must be smashed at a crossroads. A city intersection will do just fine.

Mali is a very poor country, so they don’t have boom barriers here. Empty fuel drums are used instead. Once the toll has been paid (many of the roads here are toll roads), the sticks are removed, the drums rolled aside, and the vehicle can proceed.

Cows are depicted with a hump on road signs.

Because the cows here really do have humps (actually, these are zebus, like in Pakistan).

Fulani women tattoo the skin around their mouth (the end result resembles Homer Simpson’s permanent five o’clock shadow). And some tattoo their gums. Because it looks pretty.

Some car windshields feature multi-year collections of vehicle inspection and insurance stickers.

A license plate.

The information stands, composed of individual planks, have contours of various elaborate shapes—just like in neighboring Burkina Faso.

An old Malian post box. What makes it particularly interesting is that it’s a French model, but instead of the letters RF (Republic of France), it has RM (Republic of Mali). We’ve previously come across a customization like this only in Niger. In all other countries, the French put up post boxes with the initials RF.

A mid-90s post box.

A new post box. Soulless, like everything modern.

A pedestrian.

A witty sign warning about a speed bump ahead.

A steam locomotive.

A lovely Malian digger.

The men always hold saws suspended in the air, with the blade facing directly away from them. It looks very odd.

Citizens fight against AIDS. The virus looks either like a circular saw blade or a fairy-tale sun.

Some sort of PSA against spitting.

Mali is a very unusual country. The bathrooms in all the houses are located on the roof. Under each bathroom is a chute in which the excrement collects for several years (depending on the size of the family). When it gets full, a pit is dug next to the house and a hole is made in the wall of the chute. All of its contents come pouring out and are then transferred to a honey wagon. The hole in the wall is sealed up, the cycle repeats itself. All of this is done because the peculiarities of the ground water and the soil make it impossible to have a cesspit in the ground.

I was both lucky and unlucky on this trip. Unlucky because one month prior, Tuareg fighters had seized the north of Mali as well as the city of Timbuktu. This quickly put an end to all tourism in the country. All the hotels were deserted, the restaurants closed, flights cancelled. And I was lucky because I ended up being the only tourist there (just like in Iraq recently).

The poster symbolizes the tears that are being shed in the North and the uncertainty facing the rest of the country.


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