Friday, August 05, 2011

Donne moi un Bic !
There is an unquenchable thirst for pens here, as anyone who has travelled in Africa knows. I believe it is a Pan African phenomenon: Toubab! Donne-moi un bic! (Mzungu, give me a pen? Is that right?) Toubabs in West Africa and Mzungus in East Africa are regarded, with some reason, as inexhaustible sources of pens. They bring hundreds, thousands, no, millions of pens, in the hope that it will help to educate the African continent. Where do all these pens go? Often to schools of course, which is commendable but which doesn’t seem to improve the situation. Maybe it is like drug dependency? The more one gets, the more one needs? I have noticed the phenomenon at the hotel too, and in the MaliMali shop and studio. It is very rare to actually be writing with a pen as it gives up the ghost. Bics don't die, they just vanish. We can buy a box of 100 bics for the hotel reception, but I can be certain that when I look for one, the supply will be empty.

Children will follow you around in the street begging for bics, empty plastic bottles (bidons) or footballs, in that order of importance. But it is not only children who suffer from the bic deficiency. Grown men of some stature in society succumb to the disease too, like M. Lazare, my bank manager in Djenne. I had been in his office at the BIM here in Djenne the other day signing a document. I had used a cheap pen that was lying on the desk, and then accidentally put it in my bag. (Yes, yes, yes, I know that some of the pens end up in my bag, but not enough to explain the Pan-African phenomenon!) After my bank visit I continued on my way for half an hour or so, visiting various shops and trades people in town, until suddenly M. Lazare’s goafer and tea boy emerged in front of me. ‘I have looked everywhere for you’, he informed me with an indignant air. M. Lazare sent me. ‘You stole his bic!’


Blogger Elisabeth F said...

Your humour is simply great! I have developped various strategies to cope with the children asking for 1) cadeaux 2) bidon 3) bic (in dogon country in this order):
I try to educate them by explaining in French how much we like the welcoming rituals in Mali - how are you, are you fine, your health, and your familiy, your parents, and did you have a nice sleep... - and that "give me a present" was not a real nice salutation. As "donne-moi un cadeaux" usually is the only sentence they understand in French, they are so surprised that they start staring at me and laughing. Then I laugh back.
Recently two boys cultivating a field shouted "Toubab, toubab..." and before they were able to continue I answered shouting back "Donne-moi un cadeaux!" They were so astonished and remained there with their mouth open and a kind of smile on their face.
But thes kind of reactions only work out when I am in a real good mood and not stressed.

4:34 PM  

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