As I begin writing this (28th March) it is perhaps unsurprising that the arrival of the drill-rig, which has already been the cause of one planning fatality, has not yet mobilised. Initially only expected in May, then magically made available last week – the rig should have been on-site on Saturday afternoon. A phone call on Friday postponed that plan to Sunday. A further phone call mid-Sunday, whilst we were en route to the field camp, placed the rig’s greatest chance of really being with us during the course of Monday afternoon. This gives me a chance to settle in and re-familiarise myself with my surroundings.
To give you a little background into our current situation; I first arrived in Mali during the middle of 2006, my husband some months earlier – “to set up shop”. For the following 2 ½ years, my husband and I ran the exploration programmes full-time. Until the “credit crunch”, that is. Without dwelling on that too much, it was an inevitability that we were not going to be sitting that one out here in Mali and we returned back to South Africa. There the company kept us busy with little exploration forays, here and there, in the local region for whole of 2009, which is a darned sight better than being laid off.
As it became clearer and clearer that the “crunch” was not shifting anytime soon, we found ourselves taking up an offer of secondment, via a related company, to do some exploration work in Oman. This experience will, in itself, become the topic of future blog posts. (I’ve got too much to catch up on, hang on already!) Oman pretty much occupied us for the best part of 2010. This year, 2011, funding started to trickle back in for the Mali projects and we have basically started up where we left off, a little over 2 years later. This trip to the field is now the first time, in what seems like a very long time, since I have been out to camp. Nothing much has changed at all.
Let me set the scene for you. The camp is not so much a camp as you might imagine, literally out in the middle of a field somewhere. We are renting a property on the outskirts of a large-ish village several hours drive away from Bamako, the capital city. We have the use of a cluster of buildings enclosed within a walled property, arranged in a U-shape around a large paved/concreted courtyard. The buildings are not mud huts, as many other buildings in the village are, but relatively normal looking 4-sided buildings made of concrete breeze-blocks with corrugated sheet metal for the roofs. Breeze-blocks are, in my opinion, one of the great misnomers in life. They are solid, and they absorb heat from the sun really well. They then emit this heat during the night, basically cooking you whilst you try to sleep. It is actually much cooler to set up your mozzie net outside and sleep under the stars (or the dust layer which settles upon you!). My point is there is nothing breezy about breeze-blocks.
The ablution block is on the opposite side of the courtyard to our quarters, and the field crew have set it up such that myself and my husband have one half to ourselves with a “chaise anglaise” (lit. English chair – in other words a normal toilet) and they have the other half with a hole in the ground, a là française. I don’t want to go into any details on this. Suffice to say, I am finding my newfound “snorkelling tactics” extremely useful for coping with this part of my daily routine! There is no lingering around on this side of the camp by me..!
With regards water supplies, we have tapped into the mains, and are on a metered pay as you use system (when there is water to be had). Up and down the street outside, there are water stations, where the local villagers come with their 20 litre containers and fill up. This is a free service, but it is rationed. I see there is usually a guy sitting there with a notepad and pen, taking down details of which household has already been to collect their share – and who is trying to cheat the system. It works well, again – so long as there is water in the pipes. The camp is basically run by the chef and his right-hand man, who do all the food preparations and household cleaning. They are also excellent timers of water collection. When water is in supply, they stow away buckets of the stuff for use throughout the day – and even provide you with a bucket and scoop for your evening “shower” should there be nothing else available.
Electricity is generator based. The local village is now connected up and supplies enough electricity for a few new-generation, energy-saving light bulbs from sunset to about midnight. Most days it also runs for about 1 ½ hours up until noon. Two years ago, this was not the case. We do have our own generator, but we are frugal with it as the cost of diesel is ever-increasing – and yes, we’re on a budget! It is also incredibly loud. I am fairly sure that it annoys the neighbours – it certainly keeps me awake.
During our first afternoon at camp we were hit with a big dust-storm. The skies were grey and ominous enough to give us hope of a few rain-drops to follow, but it wasn’t to be. A few little children out on the street were making the most of slightly cooler air and “whooshing” along with the wind.
Yes, there is a lot of rubbish lying around. There isn’t much in the way of state-run rubbish-collection services or road cleaners of any sort. It pretty much looks like this all over the village – as it does in every village, town and city in Mali. Walking around in flip-flops is not recommended… 😉