Expat Expectations: Leave Them Behind In Sikasso, Mali

Interestingly, most foreign country expats are told to limit travel at night for personal safety. But it is my observation that the advisement never really stops most people after the first year or so, especially among the “eating out” and the “going to the bar” crew.

Generally, there are greater risks at night. However, the Peace Corps gathered some interesting statistics on assault; how accurate they are, I don’t really know. They found that from midnight on is when the majority of assaults occur, not so much in the early evening hours of darkness.

We eat out often, too. Not in any fancy expat restaurant establishment like one finds in Bamako, or on the Niger river tourist run in Segou and Mopti. There is nothing of the like in Sikasso. A few grungy, over priced hotel restaurants with little variety, at double the normal price of a local family resto, is the best we have.
So our meals are at the simple, economical local places serving local food, which at noon, consist of various rice dishes with two tablespoons of a “kind” of meat. Meat which could be a actual morsel of pure beef, but more likely bone, gristle, or a lump of fat.   It certainly cuts down on our living expenses at one dollar a plate for a noon rice dish, and evening meal deals of fish, steak, beef brochettes, or half chicken with fries running about five dollars, doubble that price at a hotel.

Unlike most foreign workers in Mali, we do not have any house staff to do the market, run errands, or to do the cooking for us. So, after a long day in the village, my wife and I certainly have neither the energy or time for cooking and preparing meals from scratch. The small cubical stores in Sikasso certainly do not offer much in the “Instant Meal” department.

Sikasso, though the second largest city in Mali by population,  is so far off the tourist and foreign worker loop that both its restaurant and store variety is exceptionally dismal.  All the stores have the same basic offerings that cater to the poor local inhabitants, not Europeans or westerners, who are almost non-existent here.   I was told one store in Sikasso sells cheese. I have been working here since January 2011 and I have never ever once seen cheese in that store, or in any store for that matter. The Laughing Cow excluded of course.

With such a dismal variety, we simply don’t share the same shopping thrills that many expats enjoy when finding some newly discovered European delights in a Bamako or Segou store. I know one expat that brings back coolers full of supplies from Bamako to Sikasso. That just does not work for us, having no vehicle of our own. A one way return trip from Bamako could be anything between five and a half hours, to my all time personal record of ten and a half hours.  Even if we could get a load of food supplies home from Bamako, with power outages, and no generator, it would certainly spoil at some point. Using public bus transport between cities, and small Chinese motorcycles for our local and bush work has it’s challenges.
Besides the fact that we never just “Take a trip” to Bamako anyway, because we enjoy where we are better, and our time here is limited each year. The trip to Bamako and back by bus is exhausting.

So we just keep it simple. It takes much less energy to live in Africa if you can do without Western things. But we are happy with our simple choices, and enjoy cheap local cuisine for many of our meals.  So, any time we are in Sikasso at noon, and several nights a week, you will find us at some local watering hole.
These foraging trips take us to most corners of the town.  This is what takes us out in the evenings- seeking some sustenance.

There are two places that tourist guides say are providing “night life”. I have never been to “L’Espace Culturelle Hadara”, (right across from Al Barka Restaurant with the widest variety in town, only hamburger in town, but not consistent quality, often a let down), where they say there is dancing and food, but I have no interest in going to look. They say the  Mamalon Hotel Restaurant comes alive after midnight. I’ve never been there past 9:30, and it has never been what I would refer to as active. I’ve never seen dancing there.

The town of Sikasso takes on a different feel and life after dark, but generally it has been quite at night.
Sikasso offers the tourist little to see compared to the towns along the Niger River. However, if you want a safe quiet relaxing town to soak up the sights of Africa and connect with friendly local people, this is the place.

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