News / Africa

A Home Away From Home for Displaced Northerners in Bamako

Restaurant owner, Bella Tandina, Dr. One Close, credits the success of his rotisserie to the superior quality of his cooking, his upbeat disposition, witty repartee with customers, which he calls his one-man marketing efforts. (Anne Look/VOA)
Restaurant owner, Bella Tandina, Dr. One Close, credits the success of his rotisserie to the superior quality of his cooking, his upbeat disposition, witty repartee with customers, which he calls his one-man marketing efforts. (Anne Look/VOA)
Anne Look
After fleeing militant occupation in northern Mali, a renowned restaurant owner has brought his special blend of grilled lamb to Bamako. The homesick displaced northerners who flock to the restaurant daily say the food is medicine for the body, and the spirit.  

Bella Tandina works front and center at his small, smoky rotisserie in Bamako.

He cleaves and carves the roasted lamb straight off the bone.  He tosses on some spices, a glob of mustard and a handful of chopped onions before wrapping the order in brown packing paper.

He says that is the butcher's song.  It is in the local Songhai language, but its message is secret.  He says they sing it when they want to move the meat immediately.  He says whoever hears it will come running, even if he is not hungry.

The regulars smile.  They are used to Tandina's dry, straight-faced sense of humor.

Before handing over the order, Tandina holds out a morsel of meat that his customer, Abdourahamane Babi, dutifully nips out of the butcher's hand.

Babi says he gives you a taste, otherwise you would devour the whole order before you get home and your family would be mad at you.

Like Tandina, Babi is from the northern town of Gao, where he says grilled meat is a key part of their culture.

Babi says there is nothing more beautiful in life than when the weather is good and you are sharing a meal of grilled meat and tea with your family and friends.  And for the best meat, he says, you have to come here.

Tandina runs what locals call a "dibiterie" in French.  The grilled meat shacks are ubiquitous throughout the Sahel, but this one is unique.

He calls his restaurant the Pharmacy of Health and himself, a doctor of meat.

He says he created the rotisserie in 1984 and he is a doctor of his trade and an expert in meat preparation.  His food, he says, is an elixir and he knows the proper dose.  Everyone asks him for his secret, but he says he just replies that the secret is to eat well and you will understand.

Tandina shows a well-worn photo of a northern delicacy he has prepared for presidents and dignitaries.

You take a camel, he says, and you put a cow in its stomach. Then, he says you put a sheep inside the cow.  Inside the sheep, he says you put couscous and chicken.  And inside the chicken, he says you put an egg.

The daily fare at the Pharmacy of Health is just lamb.

Albadjahamane Tandina comes to the Pharmacy almost every day.

He says they are 1,200 kilometers from home and this has become a meeting place.  He says seeing each other, sitting around to talk and laugh, boosts their morale.  They are trying to adapt to life in Bamako, he says, but they are homesick.

Most everyone calls Tandina by his self-proclaimed nickname, "One Close," or "Dr. One Close."

Tandina says he was looking for a way to explain in English that he is at the pinnacle of his profession.  It is closed, he says, there can be no one after him.  He is the best.

Last year he won the first-ever "festival of dibi," a regional meat-roasting competition held in Bamako in December 2011.  So much has changed since then.  2012 has been a year of upheaval in Mali.

The south remains locked in a political power struggle triggered by the March 22 military coup.  Al-Qaida linked Islamist militants control the northern half of the country.

Tandina moved his business to Bamako in May, shortly after armed groups seized Gao.  Customers joke that they did not flee the occupation; they simply followed Tandina and his rotisserie truck.

But in the more serious moments that are admittedly rare at the Pharmacy of Health, they shake their heads in wonder.  How did this happen?

Modou Tangana says when he left Timbuktu in April with his family, he never dreamed the crisis would last this long.  Certain things, he says, are in the hands of God and cannot be controlled.  All they can do, he says, is wait.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs