Archive for December, 2010

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 30-12-2010

(Roughly in order of preference)

After completing my thesis in May, I rediscovered the joy of reading for sheer pleasure. For a year or two previously, I’d mostly been reading (these books and others) for research purposes, and a lot of reading it was! Enjoyable too, but being able to choose what you read and when now seems like a luxury!

So, here are 9 books I’ve read this year (mostly in their entirety):

(NB click on titles below to see the books on Amazon)

1. The Daily Message (Bible)
A great way to re-read the Bible in a new and enlightening way. The modern idioms and up-to-date language may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me it has been a great help. 10/10

2. How to Win Friends and Influence People
Of all the secular books I’ve read, this one has had the greatest effect on me, so I thought I’d read it again. If you’ve never read it, buy it now and do so – it will change your relationships with others for the better! 10/10

3. The Heavenly Man
Two things: (i) read this book and (ii) believe every word of it. It’s an increadible testimony of Brother Yun and the sacrifices he made for the Gospel (and the amazing experiences he had in doing so). 9/10

4. Où es-tu?
Another great novel by Marc Levy, one of France’s best I think! A gripping and moving tale of international travel and unrequited love! A wonderful read. (In French) 9/10

5. Dark Star Safari
Paul Theroux’s true story of his journey from Cairo to Capetown. I really enjoyed his meticulous descriptions of places and people, which brought the journey to life. However, his constant whingeing about Africa and how filthy it is became wearing after a while and I think it should’ve finished 3 chapters sooner. 8/10

6. L’Attentat
I’ve read almost all of Amélie Nothomb’s books and always enjoy her bizarre outlook on life and humourous narratives. This is the tale of a hidiously ugly man who ends up participating in fashion shows across the world. It also has something of Beauty and the Beast about it. (In French). 7/10

7. La Noisetière
Picked this up 2nd hand in Ségou; I’ve never read any Antonin Malroux before, but this was a pleasant read of a middle-aged man’s return to Provence to face his somewhat troubled childhood. Lots of Pagnol-esque descriptions of the region and plenty of emotion. (In French) 7/10

8. Dead Aid
I read Dambisa Moyo’s book about why Aid to Africa isn’t working thinking I’d disagree with most of it. In fact, there were bits that made sense and might even work! Still a bit of a pipe dream though, I fear. 6/10

9. China’s Christian Millions
After reading Brother Yun’s moving first-hand account, this book seemed clinical and impersonal. Still a fascinating and encouraging account of church growth in this country over the past few decades. 5/10

Happy New Year to you all!

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 24-12-2010

Remember the time I saw Santa Claus, all dressed in red and white? Here he is:


This was in the port of Benin, a few years back – and ‘he’ comes from Lagos! Fascinating (and at least they got the colours right!) I wonder if they drink Coca Cola on board?? No sign of his reindeer, mind.

Happy Christmas to all the blog readers!


Filed Under (Things to do in Bamako) by Rob on 15-12-2010

Visit Rob’s favourite supermarket: La Fourmi.

Translated into English, la fourmi means the ant – a curious choice for a supermarket, but I guess they’re hard-working insects who are good at storing stuff away. Here’s one of their shopping bags, depicting a female ant pushing a shopping trolley (sureal!).

Inside, there are two storeys packed full of all kinds of goods: groceries, electronics, clothing, kitchenware, toys, magazines. Right now, they also have plenty of Christmassy bits – trees, tinsel, chocolate etc. Yum!

Prices are not particularly lower than other supermarkets, but there is a lot of variety and sometimes you can pick up great bargains (some of which are blogged about here). One of the coolest things (which my kids love too) is the “trolley escalator” which takes your trolley up to the next floor (and down again) without spilling any of its contents. Nice!

Finally, here’s the Fourmi Supermarket thanks to Tim’s Bamako Map:

View Tim’s Bamako map in a larger map

Happy Shopping now!

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 13-12-2010

There is one common currency in Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Togo, Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger, which is called the West African CFA Franc. (Click here to see a nice map of those countries).

Now, when we first came out to Benin in 2004, you could get 1000cfa for one British pound, which was a decent exchange rate for us. By 2006, the rate was around 950 francs to the pound – still okay. At the start of 2007, it was back up to 995, before a two-year descent, ending in a spectacular crash at the end of 2008, when the exchange rate sunk to a stunningly-low 670cfa to the pound; 33% less than when we first arrived.

Click here to see the original graph on

This year, though, has thankfully been better than the last, with the value reaching as high as 810cfa to the £ in late June (see chart here).

The US dollar to cfa story is similar, though the slump ocurred earlier, in mid-2008 and there have been a couple of nice ‘spikes’ since then, almost back to the ‘usual’ rate of around 550cfa to the $. Have a look at the chart here.

It’s not all bad news, of course – this means it’s cheaper for Africans to buy things in Europe/the USA (one reason why we bought our car in England), but also means that purchasing African goods from these countries will cost westerners more. I’m hoping the exchange rate picks up a bit more in 2011, though.

Earlier this year, composer, explorer and ethnomusicologist David Fanshawe died of a stroke, aged 68.

(NB not to be confused with Stuart Townend).

David Fanshawe was most well-known for his African Sanctus, which inspired me at a young age and – who knows – may even have been part of what led me to do what I do on this fascinating continent. The Sanctus is basically a mass for choir but with one key difference: authentic field recordings of African music (made in North and Eastern Africa by David himself) are played during the performance, combining with the sound of the choir with some fantastic results. Seriously uplifting stuff, although very eclectic indeed. You can see a YouTube video about the African Sanctus here and order a copy (inc. choral score) here. I’d love to conduct a choir in this one day, but it is quite a demanding work.

His eccentric personality and sense of fun and adventure are surely factors which drove him to travel to such remote locations to make recordings (I can certainly identify with all of the above). As well as Africa, he also spent a significant amount of time in the Pacific, collecting a large number of recordings there as well.

Read some good obituaries here and here and lots of tributes here.

Goodbye David – we will miss your crazy ways and superb music.