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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bamako May Be Hot, Dusty, Expensive & Polluted, But They Sure Make Some Good Chow

Party time in Bamako

Roland, who is always clamoring to go see nothing but filth, decay, degradation and abject misery-- that and all that is offered on the seamy side of life-- says Bamako is the worst city he's ever been to. He agrees with the guide books that say to use the airport to get to Mali and then head straight for Djenne, Dogon Country and Timbuktou. He's turned off in Bamako seeing people suddenly squatting down on the side of a busy street and moving their bowels. He's turned off seeing children playing in sewage and women "washing" their dishes in the city's open sewers. He's turned off to the dry, dusty 100 degree weather-- in the "cool season"-- filtered through a curtain of smelly, deadly exhaust fumes. He's turned off to being over-charged for water. Malians pay 300 CFA; last night the hotel charged him 2,000. (Normally tourists can get a bottle for something between 400 and 1,000 CFA but the high end hotels tend to be shameless cash vacuums, like in so many cities around the world.)

Neither of us is a big mosquito fan-- though we've both given up fighting that scourge-- and we're not partial to the stench this town has to offer. And neither of us is happy to be ripped off if we try changing dollars in a hotel or even a bank. By chance we stumbled into a Lebanese supermarket and they gave us 450 CFA/dollar (no commission) instead of the 400/dollar (plus a 2% commission) others offer. If you're counting, that means $100 in the hotel would get you 39,200 CFA instead of 45,000.

On the other hand, Roland seems happy enough taking taxi rides down back streets filled with decaying colonial buildings that remind him of Vietnam and Cambodia and we both love the fantastic authentic African cuisine. The expensive hotels all serve way over-priced crappy, boring French food. Two people would be lucky to get away for less than $70 for dinner at our hotel (without wine). But last night we had dinner at Le San Toro, a restaurant owned by an ex-minister of culture and tourism in a part of town called the Hippodrome (on Avenue Al Quds). The food is traditional Malian, as are the decor and music. I can't say enough good things about the food which was not only spectacularly delicious but also very healthfully prepared. It's also pretty inexpensive, a fraction of what you'd pay in the hotel joints. And the decor and the art is breathtaking. On top of that the live kora music we heard during dinner was excellent as well.

Speaking of food, it has been easier in Mali to eat well as a vegetarian than in most countries. Everywhere is was a synch explaining that I don't eat meat and instead getting a nice fresh heaping plate of cous cous or millet or fonio with veggies. Last night at Le San Toro I ordered a vegetarian plate and it included cous cous, a huge variety of vegetables, beans and bananas. It was so good I can't wait to go back! Roland had a goat stew, disappointed there was no gazelle or zebra on the menu-- nor even camel. I do have to admit, though, that I'm looking forward to having lunch at Guy Savoy, one of my favorite restaurants in Paris, in a few days.

Monday, December 29, 2008

How Safe Is Mali For American Tourists?

Roland at the Djenne market

After spending some time in Dakar and Bamako I posted about how I found both cities very safe for tourists. Now that I've traveled around Mali a bit I thought I'd expand the idea to assure tourists that the whole country-- or at least the places tourists go-- is, if not like Disneyland or Dollyland, a safe choice for an exciting adventure trip.

Roland and I were traipsing around Sanga last week-- a place so foreign to the American experience that one would have to be on another planet to find something more exotic-- when we ran into a gaggle of American Peace Corp volunteers on holiday. They're stationed around West Africa, mostly Mali and Burkina Faso I gathered, and the State Department and U.S. Embassy in Bamako have decreed that no Peace Corp volunteers are allowed to venture north of some imaginary line (like around Mopti, I think), which means no Timbuktou. They said it is too dangerous because of Tuareg bandits on the roads-- and that the local airlines, C.A.M. and M.A.E., are too dangerous (i.e., non-compliant with FAA guidelines) for Americans to fly on-- so that their employees could not go to the northern two-thirds of the country.

We spent a few days in Timbuktu, which gets bad-mouthed by most tourists as not worth the trip. They're wrong. Timbuktou is fascinating and exotic and if it doesn't live up to your dreams of the 13th century or to Paul Bowles' Sheltering Sky, get real and open up to what actually is being offered there. As for danger... there's nothing remotely dangerous, other than a difficult road getting there, the bad exhaust fumes from motorbikes in town and the fucking mosquitos (we've just given up on not being bitten; it's not possible. Just learn to love the Malarone.)

We were waiting for a couple hours for the ferry to take us across the Niger on the way to Timbuktou and the settlement there is a Bella one. Until 1973's epoch drought nearly wiped out the Tuareg's camels and herds, the Bella had been their slaves. In 1973, basically because the Tuareg couldn't feed them anymore, they emancipated them-- although I have heard that there are still some small services that many of them still render to their former masters (like when there is a wedding or something). Anyway, this Bella settlement was all festive and bustling like all the villages we visited in Mali, when a couple of pickup trucks filled with Tuaregs pulled up to the bank of the river. Suddenly things got much quieter. Many of the little children seemed to disappear. It reminded me of a scene from Star Wars when some alien warrior people dropped by a space cafe. Anyway, the Tuaregs were pretty well-armed with swords and daggers and God knows what else and they don't seem to smile much; no chatty bonjours and they certainly don't ask you for a Bic or an empty water bottle or candy. The Tuareg War ended in the mid-90's though and they seem to be peaceable enough (except around Kidal) and way in the northern Sahara where Mali, Algeria and Mauretania share vast trackless wastes. In Timbuktou, they were certainly easy enough to get along with.

In fact, one of our most memorable adventures was when our guide, Mohammed, took us out into the desert one night to meet some Tuaregs who had just come from Araouane to trade for millet. They were also open to trade for the stuff we no longer needed-- mostly stuff Roland had picked up at the 99 cent store before coming here-- like a pair of cheap extra sunglasses-- as well as my REI walking sticks, half a dozen cans of sardines, shaving kits from Air France, a t-shirt, a roll of toilet paper, organic mosquito repellent that seems to attract mosquitos, etc. We got some nice Tuareg "silver" bracelets, a pipe and an agate necklace-- and had a long Tuareg tea ceremony before this whole thing got started... all by the light of the moon and stars. The Tuareg basically live their lives by the light of the moon and the stars.

I mentioned the other day that Mali is a Muslim country in the context of how Muslim countries are normally safe places to travel. Like I've been saying, Mali certainly seems safe enough, but it doesn't actually seem all that Muslim. Women aren't covered up and are everywhere and seem to play leadership roles in society. I've seen more women covered head to toe in London than in Bamako. And the dancing... well, to say some of it is erotic doesn't even begin to suggest how a Muslim fundie cleric would react. The dour Tuaregs seem to take it more seriously than most.

A couple weeks ago I went to a wedding celebration out in the sticks. For some reason I had imagined it would be something like one I went to in a small village-- real small: two family compounds-- in Afghanistan in 1969. There were no women at that one-- no bride, no groom's mother... no, it wasn't a forerunner of a No On 8 reform in pre-Taliban Afghanistan. The women were kept in strictest purdah and although I was living in the house for months and the groom was my best friend, I never did meet his new wife. Instead of women, the entertainment at the Afghan wedding was dancing boys-- really, really young ones-- with some kohl and cheap jewlery. My friend's grandfather grabbed one, quite forcibly, and raped him behind a building while the festivities proceeded. Afterwards the disheveled boy straightened his outfit and got back into the dance, looking mighty pissed off.

Mah Kouyate in the middle with no headgear

The Malian festivities were nothing like that-- a fully integrated affair with raucous joy, lots of music and dancing, mostly led by women. Almost all the local celebrities who were made a big fuss over were women-- including celebrated singer Mah Kouyate, who now lives in Burkina Faso and made the trip all the way to Mali-- and the only male celebrity other than a famous drummer who was playing, was some local version of Liberace who fancied himself the m.c.

But below the surface, Malian women have some big problems to contend with-- even if you don't consider polygamy a problem in and of itself. In every Dogon village we visitted there is a "special" women's house where women are kept while they're menstruating. They're considered impure; it's very primitive but I gather it's just an animist Dogon thing and not prevelant in general Malian society. Everyone tells me that as soon as a Malian man marries he's out looking for as much side action as he can find and that the women are pretty pissed off. They're also pregnant a lot. Almost every woman we see has an infant strapped to he back as she goes about her arduous life. Men here hate condoms. One guy we met in Dogon country-- although he's from Segou and has been to NYC-- says he would never use a condom because it would make him unable to perform up to par. And, yes, AIDS is a gigantic problem here.

Anyway, if you're now forewarned about the dangers of sex here, consider the road travel-- or any travel. We didn't let the knowledge that a hippo can break apart a pinasse ruin our wonderful day of floating down the Niger and Bani rivers near Mopti visiting Bozo fishing villages. Some tourists took the 3 day boat trip-- two nights camping along the shore-- from Bamako to Timbuktu. We drove from Sanga in Dogon country after 3 days there. Simply put, the road from Sanga to Douentza, halfway from Dogon to Timbuktou, has to be the worst road on earth. People talk about how bad the Timbuktou road itself is-- and it's rutted washboard and uncomfortable and we broke down in the desert twice-- but it is nothing compared to the Sanga road, which is just various sized boulders that you drive over while praying.

Roland fears Tupolov planes the way I fear sharks and crocodiles but he was willing to pay anything to get on one to get out of Timbuktou without having to get back on the terrible road again. I might mention that the road from Bamako in the west to Gao in the east, which covers much of the populated parts of the country, is a decent 2 lane paved road. The airlines were a little lax and dicey but we made it fine and who cares if there was no security whatsoever and if the stewardess returned some guy's spear as soon as we took off?

UPDATE: Some Wassoulu music from Sali Sidibe

Monday, December 22, 2008

How Safe Is It For Americans To Visit Dakar In Senegal And Bamako In Mali?

Mali feels very safe all the time

Conventional wisdom is that Bamako is uber-safe and Dakar is infested with pickpockets... but otherwise pretty safe. First Dakar: you can certainly feel confident about walking down a dark street in the middle of the night without being molested. The people are outgoing and friendly and respectful. The vibe is extremely amiable and for the week I was there I never ran into anyone who had experienced any pickpockets or who had heard of any-- other than in old guide books. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist, but I sure never saw anything to indicate that it does. I should mention, though, that unemployment is high-- like around 60%-- and that on the surface, aside from lottery ticket sellers, it looks like the main job in Dakar is private security guide.

Obviously you don't throw caution to the wind and run around with a fat wallet sticking out of your back pocket. In fact, I've been wearing a money belt under my arm in lieu of a wallet. I guess I would rate Dakar as very safe for tourists of all ages-- except for the mosquitos. You can't avoid them-- not in Senegal and not in Mali. Ex-pats I spoke to in both countries have told me that they can't take the poisons that western medicine prescribes and that most bites don't result in malaria-- or even Dengue Fever-- and that when you get it you rest and eat well for a week and then you're fine. Healthy people don't die from malaria any more than they die from the flu. Personally, I'm still taking the accursed Maladon.

I'm pretty cautious about what I eat and drink-- including in the U.S.-- and I found Dakar and Bamako safe foodwise as well. I pretty much don't eat in dodgy-looking places and stick to bottled water-- including for bushing my teeth. It's hot as hell here and it's important to keep well hydrated. I met a French woman who lives in Bamako 5 years and says she drinks the water here and has never had a problem.

As for the safety factor in Bamako, as "scary" and foreign as it looks, it would be far harder to imagine a crime against a person here than it would be in L.A. or NYC. On the other hand, you could step into an open trench or an uncovered manhole. And for those who define "safety" as breathing air instead of exhaust funes... well, there's a real problem. Someone e-mailed me and asked me if there is any danger from lions or other predators. I think the Malians ate them all. There are a lot of birds and I hear there's a huge herd of elephants between Dogon country and Timbuktu-- and some hippos (which the Malians are wisely quite afraid of)-- but the only wild animals in Bamako are in the zoo. I've walked all over the city, including to really remote areas without paved roads or the blessings of any kind of modernity, and the only vibe is friendly, friendly, friendly. People are unimaginably poor but this is a Moslem country and the level of personal ethics is very high.

I might also add, there are American flags everywhere and people walk around with Obama t-shirts! This has got to be one of the safest cities for tourists I've ever visited anywhere.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Bassekou-- Master Of The Ngoni-- Rocks The House

Thursday I went out to Quizambougou to watch Bassekou Kouyate finish recording his second album, a follow-up to his amazing debut, Segu Blue. Like the first one, the new songs were being recorded at the famed Studio Bogolan across the way from Mali K7, Ali Farka Toure's foundation. (Ali Farka's son, in fact, played his father's guitar on Bassekou's new album.)

Bassekou isn't well known in the U.S. yet-- he's never been to our side of the Atlantic-- but he's a real star in Africa and Europe, wildly popular in Mali and recognized as the best ngoni player in the world. The ngoni is kind of a cross between a banjo and a guitar and what Bassekou does with it is pure magic. The music I heard in the studio seemlessly combined the two goals Bassekou set out to accomplish with his new album: respect for Mali's rich musical tradition in which he is steeped, and an opportunity to explore the directions his own muse is drawing him. His first album Segu Blue is pretty amazing too.

I did my best to persuade him to come play in the U.S. and made a fun suggestion to help him gain some recognition there. If he follows my advice you'll recognize it instantly when you hear the album.

I had an opportunity to meet two musical legends at the studio-- BBC presenter/musicologist/producer Lucy Duran, who is probably best known in the U.S. as the producer of President Obama's favorite album, Kulanjan by Taj Mahal and Malian kora master Toumani Diabate. (I might add that the ngoni player on that album was, of course, Bassekou.) Anyway, Lucy is the most credible producer of West Africa music anywhere, speaking the local languages and having worked on Toumani's own records as well as with Kasse Mady Diabate and with Yasmin Levy. The sound engineer she and Bassekou were working with was Jerry Boys, one of the world's best-- a guy who recorded everyone (literally) from the Beatles, Stones, Pink Floyd, and REM to Ry Cooder, Buena Vista Social Club and Ali Farka Toure! (I recall him working with Everything But the Girl when I worked at Sire.)

Anyway, the studio was packed with TV, radio and print jounalists, as well as photographers from the record label and the media. It's like everyone in Mali who loves music-- and in Mali that means everyone-- is eagerly awaiting the new Bassekou record. The happy citizens of Bamako didn't have to wait for the release to hear some of the new material. Friday night Basselou was onstage at the French Cultural Center doing a full-fledged concert. You think I went?

It was only about a mile from my hotel so I walked over early. Bassekou had told me his sons have an ngoni band and asked me to show up in time to hear them. I'm glad I did; you can see their influences and they were pretty good.

Bassekou with his band at CCF in Dakar

But it was Bassekou's nine piece extravaganza that well could have been the best live performance I had ever seen in my whole life-- and I've been seeing concerts since the early 60's and haven't missed too many artists. The first time I was in Africa was in 1969 and I was hanging out with Jimi Hendrix in Essaouira (in Morocco). The first time I had seen Jimi play was years before that at the Cafe Au Go Go when he was the guitar player in the Night Hawks, backing up John Hammond, Jr. I don't say this lightly: Bassekou Kouyate is the Jimi Hendrix of the ngoni.

I don't know how to describe the concert without losing the essense of what the music did for everyone involved-- both on and off the stage. Let me tell you, though, as magnificent as the recorded versions of his songs are, the live show is what makes it so amazing. The concert defined hot. When those syncopated rythms get going, there is no resisting their power. Mali is the birthplace of the blues-- and the blues is still very much alive and vibrant here-- and it is the ancestral home of rock'n'roll in every imaginable way. Bassekou has that coursing through his blood and he knows exactly how to convey it to the audience.

And the dancing was as good as the music! Absolutely breathtaking! Truthfully, I can't remember the last time music compelled me to jump out of my seat and dance in the aisle. Last night it did. If Bassekou and his band wind up on Leno or Oprah, they'll open America up to its own musical roots-- and I'll bet Bassekou will become a real superstar in the U.S.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

First Day In Mali

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Ahhhh... Mali, land of my dreams; well that might be a little exaggeration but ever since I was a kid I always wanted to go to Timbuktu. And after I read Paul Bowles The Sheltering Sky I knew for sure I would travel to that city someday (even though I have a feeling it was set in Gao, not Timbuktu; just a guess). A few years ago Roland and I drove to the end of the road in Morocco, Mahamid, where there is nothing but flies and sand dunes and a guy and his son willing to take you out into the desert on camel. And a big blue sign that says something to the effect of "Timbuktu 52 days (by camel)." We decided to go with the guy and his son for a jaunt into the Sahara... but not all the way to Mali.

Today I finally arrived. Senegal does not prepare you at all-- except that they share a language (French) and a currency (CFA). The weather in Dakar was very pleasant, around 80 by day with a nice breeze off the ocean and high 60s/low 70s at night. Bamako isn't an inferno, but close enough. It's hot and dusty. And Dakar is almost like Europe in comparison. In Dakar you can't open your eyes without seeing at least one white face-- 25,000 Frenchmen live there and at least as many Lebanese Armenians. Here I haven't seen any white people since I arrived. I sat next to a French anthropologist on the 90 minute plane ride from Dakar and she told me there are about 2,000 French residents and the same number of Lebanese. I also ran into quite a few missionaries and missionary children on the plane and in the airport, including a huge guy and his huger wife and two huge children who are stationed way in the interior in a small town I had never heard of. He said he's from Iowa but he was born here-- his parents having been missionaries too-- and has lived here all his life, although goes back to Iowa every few years to visit.

So far-- and I know this is unrelated to everything else I'm about to experience in Mali-- the infrastructure is superb. The highway from the airport was excellent, far better than Dakar's in everyway, although where the Dakar 'burbs looked pretty well off and even glitzy, the Bamako 'burbs could have been almost anywhere in the Third World. I kept flashing back to Pakistan.

I'm staying at the Hotel Salam and OMG! It is really top of the line, not just top of the line for a dumpy place but really nice for anywhere. The hotel in Dakar, the Sokhamon, was small (31 rooms) and boutequey with a certain charm but hobbled with amateur management. This place is impeccable. I might add that the price for a single is CFA 90,000 but that I had made a reservation online and it was only CFA 50,000. It's hard to translate that into dollars because that exchange rate for the dollar is absurd and if you change your money into Euros and then buy CFA with Euros, the difference-- in your favor-- is a lot.

OK, I went to sleep after I wrote that last paragraph-- my Internet time having expired-- and today is... hot and dusty and humid. The hotel computers-- fancy as they look-- aren't working so I walked a mile or so to a market area and found an internet cafe which is in pretty good shape and cheaper than the hotel's (of course). The town is very spread out-- opposite of extremely compact Dakar. People here seem less outgoing and exuberent than in Senegal, where everyone was ready to party at any time. People seem more shy and stand-offish here. There are a plethora of "guides" who have overcome this. The hotel is still nice the morning after but below the spit and polish... well, I should temper my gushing enthusiasm a little-- although the food in their restaurant was excellent and there is wonderful Malian music in every public space.


And what a day! A travel tip for this part of the world: be sure to print out your confirmed reservations for everything. None of the hotels or airlines have had records of my reservations. OK, that was today's travel tip.

What an amazing place Bamako is! Forget what I said about it reminding me of backwater Pakistan; that was just the fancy superficial sights! You can't imagine what this is like once you get out of the modern business/tourist ghetto. I keep imagining that Dogon country is going to be the most primtive place I've ever been to. The back allies of Bamako... well it makes Pakistan look like NYC!

But this place is the most pro-American place I've been to since Clinton was president. And it's more than just the predictable pictures of Obama everywhere. There are USA decals and stickers and flag symbols in taxis and all over the place. I saw more albinos than white people but there are a couple thousand French people living here. Still, it seems like it is the U.S. that has captured the imagination of the people. Feels good after years and years of everyone hating America everywhere cause the fucking rednecks, fascists and greedheads got Bush into office!

Anyway, I was all over town today. Taxis are cheap; anyplace in town costs either 1,000, 1,500 or 2,000; depending on a combination of distance, your bargaining skills and how willing you are to whore out some Obama stories. After a full day-- including the discovery of a fantastic Moroccan restaurant called La Rose des Sables, just down the street from the Chinese Embassy. One warning: "vegetarian" doesn't necessarily mean "no meat," only that there are vegetables in the dish.

The highlight of the day though was a trip to the studio where Mali's greatest muscian, Bassekou is recording his follow-up LP. This guy is great and what an amazing band he's put together. I'll do a post on that once I can upload some pics and music and after I see the live concert tomorrow night.

Monday, December 15, 2008

You Can't Always Count On The Guide Books

Especially not in remote places that don't warrant frequent updates. For this trip, I'm using a Lonely Planet for Senegal and a Bradt for Mali. They're both out of date... in terms of everything. One made the extremely sensible suggestion that travelers to this part of the world change currency at Charles de Gaulle since flights inevitably arrive after the airport money changer is gone. The good news is that the countries around here-- particularly Senegal and Mali-- use the same currency: CFA which is fixed to the Euro. The bad news is that you haven't been able to buy CFA at the Parisian airport in at least 7 years. If you arrive after midnight and you're lucky, a friendly resident you meet on the plane will drive you to town. Otherwise you can always ask the taxi driver to wait while you get the front desk to change money, which, of course, is a terrible place to change money since the hotels see changing money as a big profit center for themselves.

Also in these rapidly changing, even explosive, countries, guide books can't possibly keep up with all the new hotels and restaurants opening. The Sokhamon isn't mentioned in any guide books I've seen. I suspect when it is, the price will go up. As for restaurants, I tried the Lonely Planet's most highly recommended Senegalese restaurant, Keur N'Deye, and it was nothing to write home about-- just a simple adequate meal. This afternoon I went to another of their banner recommendations, La Forchette, which they insist has the best lunch deal in town. It may but it's being renovated so I'll have to take their word for it. Another traveler told me about Le Sarraut a few blocks away and it was unbelievable. I had a local fish, thiof, prepared in a Senegalese vegetable and herb sauce with some kind of amazing potato soufle. I want to go back and eat more there!

Meanwhile, I'm certain the 6 Dutch women I mentioned in my last post planned everything according to the book and they got all their paperwork in order and all, of course, and then accompanied their three 4WD fixed up vehicles to Dakar on a freighter from Antwerp. They've been trying to get the authorities to let them have their vehicles-- and all their possessions-- ever since. It's such a bummer and if their didn't have such abundant inner resources, I'm sure this would ruin their whole trip. But I see them everyday and they are still keeping their spirits up as they work their way through a Kafkaesque bureaucracy which is determined to relieve them of as much as can possibly be extorted.

Dusk is falling and I just noticed my first malarial mosquitos buzzing around the business center so I'm going to have to finish this another time while I seek shelter.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

First Day In Senegal

My Air France flight from L.A. to Paris was an hour early-- and there's an adequate lounge at De Gaulle with free computer use (Macs, no less)-- but... what lady luck giveth... So, the flight to Dakar was delayed by 4 hours or so. Traveling on a flight-- in this case two-- with a flat bed makes a tremendous difference. I slept a lot on both flights. Still, I arrived in Dakar around 1 AM and the airport was a typical confusion. No need to rush through customs since it took an hour for my bag to come trundling down the conveyor belt.

Luckily for me I noticed on the plane that a young family was split up because of my seat so I offered to trade. I said luckily because my new seat was next to a Montreal guy who's been living in Dakar for a decade. Not only did he offer a wealth of valuable information, his wife and friend picked him (and me) up at the airport. It makes a big differance-- especially in a strange unfamiliar country at 2AM.

I'm staying at a chic boutique hotel, Sokhamon, on the sea in a posh part of town that seems to be a government quarter. There are upscale highrises and gated villas all around and up the street is the National Assembly. The town seems pretty cosmopolitan at first glance and not inordinately foreign for anyone used to Third World cities. It's my first day in Sub-Saharan Africa ever but I feel pretty much at home. It also feels quite safe.

The weather is warm but not hot and if not for the need to sleep with the blanket over my head as protection from at least one persistent mosquito-- who buzzed in my ear all night, eager, no doubt, to give me malaria-- the room would have been quite pleasant.

When I woke up, at 3 in the afternoon, the malarial mosquitos had taken off and I haven't noticed any of the dengue fever (AKA, bonebrake fever) mosquitos on patrol. The malaria guys only do evenings and nights. I wish I had brought some bug spray. I did bring Purell and when I unpacked I noticed it had spilled all over my pack.

The hotel is tranquil and artsy and a little on the posh side, at least attitude-wise. It's around 100 bucks a night, same as the 5 star hotels like gigantic Le Meridien. I tend to prefer smaller more personable, relaxed places. This place has a buiness center with a computer and free Internet access; what more could anyone ask for?

I spent the afternoon and early evening walking around with a friend of a friend from The Gambia. We've been corresponding online for a month or so and it was kind of like meeting a long lost friend. He showed me around town and helped me get a hang for directions and stuff. Tonight I'm going to a live music club called Just For You.


Incredible band, great music; good food. And I met 6 awesome Dutch women driving 3 jeeps across Africa. All during the night, different local musical luminaries got up onstage and performed as guests of Orchestra Baobab. There were some magical moments and it felt very special.

UPDATE: NY Times Goes To Listen To The Pulse Of Dakar

December 6, 2009- I missed Thiossane when I was in Dakar last year but today's NY Times has the lowdown on Youssou N'Dour's nightclub. They point out, correctly, that Dakar is one the most dynamic and "most musically vibrant cities in Africa," only lightly touched by music tourism but rich with its own musical heritage, like mbalax, and "distinct takes on hip-hop, salsa, reggae and jazz." And when N'Dour hits the stage "an ecstatic roar explodes, and soon several hundred bodies are dancing madly. With its fast-driving, interweaving traditional sabar drummers-- rounded out by guitar, bass, keyboards and a rock drum kit-- the opening number, “Less Wakhoul,” is pure mbalax, the propulsive, percussive, melodic pop music that Mr. N’Dour popularized starting in the 1970s and that remains the dominant sound emitted from Senegalese radios."

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Thai Court Ousts Prime Minister Over Election Fraud-- Airport Siege Ends

With 300,000 tourists stranded in Thailand-- and the economy losing at least $2 billion-- Thailand's Constitutional Court banned Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat from office for 5 years. Flights to and, more importantly, from Bangkok's two airports will resume Thursday.

Somchai, the brother-in-law of crooked billionaire/fugitive and ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra, was booted out of office over election fraud. Thaksin's party, the People Power Party (PPP) was disbanded. Somchai, whose illegitimate right-wing government had fled to Chiang Mai, agreed to the terms of the court ruling.

This CNN report was a little premature in it's gloom and doom: