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

Video Egyptian Journalists Call for Freedom of Press

Despite release of al-Jazeera journalists and others, Egyptian Journalist Syndicate says some remain imprisoned More

Turkey Survey Indicates Traditional Distrusts, Shift to the West

Comprehensive public opinion survey also found a large majority of those interviewed distrust all countries other than country’s neighbor, Azerbaijan More

Pakistan Court Upholds Death Sentence in Blasphemy Killing

Highest court upholds sentence of Mumtaz Qadri convicted of 2011 killing a provincial governor for criticizing country’s controversial blasphemy law More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making a Minti
October 07, 2015 4:17 AM
While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Music Brings Generations Together

When musicians over the age of 50 headline a rock concert, you expect to see baby boomer fans in the audience. Boomer rock stars have boomer fans. Millennial rock stars have millennial fans. But this isn’t always the case. Take the Lockn’ Music festival which took place in mid-September in rural Arrington, Virginia. Here, Jacquelyn de Phillips discovered two generations of people who are considered quite different in the outside world, spending 4 days together in music-loving harmony.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs