Mali Field Camp Files – Clap Clap, Who’s There?

Firstly – apologies for quality of the photos – they were taken whilst “drive-by-shooting” on my I-phone.  We are normally on the road for so long that we try not to dawdle and make the journey any longer than absolutely necessary.  If I were to make my husband stop every time I wanted to take a photograph – our already 5 hour journey might take several days instead!

So: Clap Clap – Who’s there?

Way back in the day, 2006, when we first arrived in Mali we spent much of our time in Bamako.  Paperwork precedes groundwork, as always, and we were office-bound for some months before heading out to the rustic world that is “the field”.  It was a while, therefore, before I clicked with all this “clap clapping” business.

In Bamako, there are normal buildings, with normal door and window frames with wood and glass filling the frames.  Everything is just as you would expect it to be.  Air conditioning units were on full blast (before we acclimatised.. these air-cons were essential!) and the internal doors to all the offices were shut – on account of keeping the cold air in.  Having been brought up in Scotland, where you keep the doors and windows closed in order to keep the cold air out, I was momentarily confused..but only for a moment.  What took me longer to figure out was why any one of the local employees would stand out in the hallway and clap.  Not only was this unexpected, at first, it was also barely audible – on account of politeness.

No answer (not out of impoliteness, I might add)… more clapping… still no answer… louder clapping – “Er, hello – is there somebody out there??”

It was only after having travelled out to the field, driving through village after village and also staying in the village, that I finally understood the concept of clapping.  Now that I have made sense of it, I feel a tad foolish for being a bit of a slow eejit.

You hear it all over the villages.  It can be used as a way of shooing off a cow or a goat from the vegetable patch to the announcement of someone outside your house.


A single, solitary resounding noise.  It’s quite unmistakable.  It’s useful for getting someone’s attention.  It’s also very useful to let someone else know the bathroom is occupied (no doors!!) – don’t walk in on me!

There are no doorbells, there’s rarely a wooden door in the door way.  Woven grass mats don’t make much of a noise and mud bricks, when rapped with your knuckles, would just hurt.  I’m presuming that “clapping” is a far more polite way of announcing your presence than just shouting from outside the gate.

We did make the suggestion of knocking with knuckles on the door to our team in that it might help us hear them – we don’t quite live in mud huts ourselves.  So far, no-one has taken us up on the knocking and it is unlikely that they will ever do so.  At least our team are more insistent from the first clap – so we are no longer keeping anyone waiting out in the hall!


Been there? Done that? Seen it? tell!

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