Archive for April, 2010

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 26-04-2010

A strange thing happened night before last

As it’s hot season, evening temperatures in the low 30s (Celsius) are quite normal, so it was still 34 C when I went to bed. Around midnight, I heard leaves rustling outside and glanced outside to see a VERY STRONG wind blowing across our yard. So strong, in fact, that in blew our entire bougainvillia hedge to the ground:

The other strange thing was that the temperature had risen to 36 C; very unusual seeing as it had been dark for five hours or so. Where was the heat coming from, if not the sun?! Well, the next day, folk were saying it was a sand storm, though in the dark I didn’t see much sand or dust!

A colleague of mine experienced an impressive sand storm a few years ago – have a butcher’s at this:

INCREDIBLE! Not sure I’d want to be out in one of these. Look, here’s another shot:

If this happens, the only thing you can do is retreat indoors (or into a car) and wait until it passes. If you’re out in it, I’m sure it would not be very pleasant! From inside, though, you can take photos like this one:

Thanks to Jutta for allowing me to use these photos.

And thanks to all of you for reading…

Filed Under (Malian culture) by Rob on 24-04-2010

…is quite a feat!

Here’s what it’s like: British friends, imagine the hottest, midday, heatwave temperature you’ve ever known in the UK. Are you there?! Good! Now I want you to imagine waking up at 5:00am to that very temperature BUT it then just gets progressively hotter throughout the day, not cooling down again until the late evening, if at all! THAT, my friends, is hot season in Mali!

Tips for surviving hot season include:

* Wear a hat outside and stay in the shade.
* Don’t go outside – just stay in the a/c if you have it!
* If you have no a/c, swamp-coolers are good, especially in the early hours.
* Drink 3-4 litres of WATER each day (coffee & tea don’t count).
* If you’re feeling rough, consider oral rehydration salts, to make sure your magnesium/sodium/potassium levels are not depleated through so much sweating.
*Definitely don’t attempt even the most menial exercise around midday. You will MELT!
* Sleep on a water bed if you can, or a hammock on the roof!
* When your water bed gets too hot (and it will), pour water on it. Leave to dry.
* If you’re still to hot to sleep, just soak a towel in water and put lie it on top of your body.

Last week, I charted the maximum and minimum temperatures on our front porch (in the shade) and – actually – we had a couple of reasonably ‘cool’ days for the time of year:

Finally, my boss recently sent out ten reasons why Hot Season can be a good thing! Happy reading:

1. Working late at the office takes on a whole new significance; free a/c.
2. The Malians finally agree with you when you say it is hot.
3. If you have problems deciding what shirt to wear, no problem! You’ll be wearing at least three today.
4. It’s a chance to practise your Fahrenheit-Celsius conversion with big numbers like 41 or 46C (106F or 114F).
5. For those of us who have no hot water heaters, we can finally take a hot shower!
6. It’s a great time of the year to do your swamp cooler maintenance.
7. Everyday household tasks become an extreme sport.
8. Clothes have that lovely “fresh out of the dryer” feel when you take them out of the wardrobe.
9. The oven is automatically “pre-heated” and – hey – most of your food is already pre-cooked!
10. A daily occasion to regale your facebook friends with complaints about how hot it is (when they are delighted that it’s finally over 15C back home!)

Hot season will continue until late May, at which point we will hopefully get some rain to cool things down. Not to worry – at least we don’t have the extreme humidity of Benin to contend with!

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 19-04-2010

Yes, it may be HOT season right now, but it’s also very definitely MANGO season too:

We have one mango tree in our garden, and these are just a few of the 300 or so mangos with which it is currently laden! Already they’re beginning to ripen and they’re a tasty (and free) snack any time of the day! Unfortunately, they are the ‘stringy’ variety, which get stuck between your teeth, but that doesn’t stop them being DELICIOUS!

The other day it was quite windy, so I went out and picked up this little lot in the space of a couple of minutes:

We can hardly eat them quickly enough, but are finding ressourceful ways of making them last longer – mango cake, mango jam and…mango chutney:

YUM! So you see, there are advantages of living in West Africa! Thanks for reading.

Filed Under (Ethnomusicology, General) by Rob on 09-04-2010

…just got smaller!

My Edirol R1 finally gave up the ghost after faithfully serving me for four years in numerous village locations in Togo, Benin and beyond! So, it was time to find a replacement. After much web-based reasearch, I came up with the Yamaha Pocketrak CX; it’s about a quarter of the size of my old one, but does everything I need it too. Neat display screen too, and a pair of decent built-in mics:

However, most of my recording will be through five external microphones and the Behringer Eurorack mixing desk (click here to see my usual set-up), so it’s good it has a ‘line in’ socket.

Other cool features include a record limiter, high pass filter, record standby (so you can set the level before recording), and a peak indicator light which comes on when the level is too high. It also takes a TINY micro-SD card – I have an 8gb one, which will hold around 12 hours of decent quality WAV:

One thing which drove me crazy with the R1 (apart from the ‘dalek noises’ it would make when it got too much sun) was the battery consumption. Two AA’s would last me 30 mins, maybe an hour, which was somewhat frustrating! The Pocketrak CX claims to run for 20 hours on one AA battery and even comes with special ‘eneloop’ battery, which is rechargeable via a USB lead.

The only slight limitation I have found is that it does not record in 24 bit WAV, only 16 bit, but – honestly – who can tell the difference? Also, given the size, ease of use, and price (ie about half the cost of it’s larger counterparts), I’d give it 10/10! I even has a tiny speaker in the back so you can listen to what you’ve recorded!

Still, don’t take my word for it; have a listen, firstly mp3 (128kbps):

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

And now the same thing, recorded in WAV format (44.1k, 16 bit). This one may take a few seconds to download, but you can hear the quality:

44k (wav)

There you go! I suppose there’s no excuse for not bringing back ‘Tuesday Tunes’ next week! I’ll do my best…

Watch out for the Pocketrak CX in future ethno blog posts!

Filed Under (Ethnomusicology, General, Malian culture) by Rob on 06-04-2010

Travelling back from Dogon country recently, we stopped for a picnic by these baobab trees:

I love baobabs with their HUGE trunks and sinuous branches – fabulous, majestic trees! The pod of the baobab is often used as a percussion instrument in West Africa, including amongst the Dogon:

Also, remember this post of my workshop with the Gangam people of Togo? Here’s the photo and here’s the YouTube video of the lady playing her baobab pod – amazing stuff!

Anyway, back to our picnic! Baobabs are also handy for shade from the hot sun, so we parked up next to one but moved again rather quickly, because of this:

It’s a bees nest in the tree! All quite peaceful at the time, but I wasn’t about to risk eating my sandwiches within its range. There are tales of folks who’ve received literally 100’s of stings in such situations and there was no handy lake or river for miles!

That said, there were wooden pegs in the trunk as a ‘ladder’ up to the hive (you can see a couple of them in the photo), so local folk obviously enjoy the honey. As the well-known African proverb goes:

“If you want to eat the honey, you’ve first got to deal with the bees.”

Have a closer look (but only through a zoom lens) :

There you go! Thanks for reading.