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

    Hope Remains for Rio Olympic Games

    Facing a host of problems, Rio prepares for holding the games but experts say some risks, like Zika, may not be as grave as initially thought

    Diplomats Hope to Revive Cradle of Civilization After Defeat of IS

    Diplomats from around globe gather at US State Department, discuss how to rebuild minority communities shattered by Islamic State group

    ‘Time Is Now’ to Save Africa’s Animals From Poachers, Activist Says

    During Zimbabwe visit, African Wildlife Foundation President Kaddu Sebunya says poaching hurts Africa as slave trade once did

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolatei
    X
    July 29, 2016 4:02 PM
    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100% Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolate

    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100% Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Tesla Opens Battery-Producing Gigafactory

    Two years after starting to produce electric cars, U.S. car maker Tesla Motors has opened the first part of its huge battery manufacturing plant, which will eventually cover more than a square kilometer. Situated close to Reno, Nevada, the so-called Gigafactory will eventually produce more lithium-ion batteries than were made worldwide in 2013. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Polio-affected Afghan Student Fulfilling Her Dreams in America

    Afghanistan is one of only two countries in the world where children still get infected by polio. The other is Pakistan. Mahbooba Akhtarzada who is from Afghanistan, was disabled by polio, but has managed to overcome the obstacles caused by this crippling disease. VOA's Zheela Nasari caught up with Akhtarzada and brings us this report narrated by Bronwyn Benito.
    Video

    Video Hillary Clinton Promises to Build a 'Better Tomorrow'

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged voters Thursday not to give in to the politics of fear. She vowed to unite the country and move it forward if elected in November. Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at its national convention in Philadelphia. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more.
    Video

    Video Trump Tones Down Praise for Russia

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is toning down his compliments for Russia and Vladimir Putin as such rhetoric got him in trouble recently. After calling on Russia to find 30.000 missing emails from rival Hillary Clinton, Trump told reporters he doesn't know Putin and never called him a great leader, just one who's better than President Barack Obama. Putin has welcomed Trump's overtures, but, as Zlatica Hoke reports, ordinary Russians say they are not putting much faith in Trump.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora