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Africa

First Impressions P.2- Africa

michael — 4 years ago

I’d never been to Africa until my first visit in May 2009. This was in Burkina Faso, a small – relatively unknown – country in West Africa. Less than a year later, I returned – this time to Mali. It’s there that we did the majority of filming for Semisweet. Most of my time was spent in the southernmost part of the country – the Sikasso Region.

Although the area looked to me to be very dry, very much sub-Saharan, it’s considered by Malians to be quite lush compared to its Northern section. In fact, the Sikasso Region – which receives more rainfall than any other Malian region -- is well known for its fruits and vegetables, especially mangoes. And sure enough I saw – and tasted – my share of delicious mangoes. This is despite the fact that we were there at the tail-end of the dry season.

Africa

Animals
What I didn’t see, however, were any wild animals. And I’m not talking here about lions or giraffes or elephants or anything quite that large or exotic. I simply mean I never saw so much as a rabbit, or rat, or squirrel. For that matter, I hardly saw any birds or insects at all. For nearly three weeks, I experienced a near total absence of wildlife.

Dry season
This was the last thing I expected from all my boyhood dreams about the wild African countryside. No animals?

The dry season can explain some of that. Monkeys only move into the area once the landscape turns green from the rains. Local hunters also play a big part. I saw quite a few of them traveling in small packs, dressed in mud cloth dyed in earth tones – so as to blend in with the landscape. I noticed that many carried amulets strung to their clothing. I asked one of our African escorts what they meant. I was told that the amulet was worn to make the hunter invisible to his prey.

No wonder I didn’t see any animals.

Check out the cell phone
What I did see a whole lot of, however, are cell phones. Like many spots around the world, this remote part of Mali went from no phone service (no land lines) – to full-on cellular technology. It’s hard to miss all the mobile phone towers sprouting up around the countryside, dwarfing the majestic baobab trees. And its hard to miss villagers young and old talking on these cheap cells as they go about their daily activities.
Biking home?
What’s really unbelievable is that most of these cell users live in villages with absolutely no electricity. To recharge their phones, they have to walk or bike or scooter (if they’re lucky enough to have one) many kilometers to special charging stations located in larger villages throughout the area.

I felt very uncomfortable about all this, but I’m not sure why. Isn’t progress supposed to be good?

Chocolate, documentary, FairTrade, FairTradeChocolate, MichaelBlog, RawChocolate

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