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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festivali
X
April 24, 2015 4:09 AM
Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Keeping Washington Airspace Safe Is Tall Order

Being the home of all three branches of the U.S. federal government makes Washington, D.C. the prime target for those who want to make their messages and ideas heard. Unfortunately, many of them choose to deliver them in unorthodox ways, including from the air, as a recent incident clearly showed involving a gyrocopter landing on the Capitol’s West Lawn. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

VOA Blogs