Now for Something Completely Different

March 21, 2011
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Now in West Africa for a month with an IRP reporting fellowship, and just getting my bearings in Mali’s capital with a walk through the main market. Two quick and simple observations on the changes since Richard Wright’s tour of these countries at independence just over a half century ago:
1) West African fashion is timeless but changes in communication and public relations move at warp speed (I exaggerate). Witness the teeming boys on every corner selling cellphone minutes, and a heightened perception by everyone here of how the world sees images from Africa. They know journalists usually go for the poverty-makes-sympathy shot.

    Twice I framed a photo and got the stink eye. First an older man insisted I pay for the opportunity (he relented when I sounded incredulous about paying a building to take its picture). Then a teenage girl said my shot of people at a railroad crossing was “pas beau” — not pretty. Both showed a consciousness of putting Mali’s best foot forward and not getting exploited.
2) Impressive variety of food in the popular market. Where are they growing cool-weather items like lettuce? Lots of potatoes, garlic, tomatoes, mangoes, beets, peppers, fish of various sizes, and much more. And this is the hot season when wind kicks up dust and the temp spills over 100F.
The billboard for the cellphone and Internet service provider says ‘Business is Everywhere.’

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