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 Somali, AU Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    Somalia’s Western backers frustrated over country’s slow progress in establishing its armed forces to bring security after 25 years of chaos

    Israel Makes Push for Gaza Strip Recovery

    After years of economic blockade and attempts to disable Hamas, Israeli leaders eventually realized that Hamas’ downfall could lead to chaos or the rise of a more radical Jihadist group

    Slump in Chinese Tourists Hitting Hong Kong Retail

    Mainland Chinese account for up to three-quarters of visitors to Hong Kong, but that number is falling, and shopping centers are struggling to 'shift gears' and maintain sales

    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.
    Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shababi
    X
    Henry Ridgwell
    April 28, 2016 4:20 PM
    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Town Receives Refugees but Lacks Resources

    A wave of refugees is pouring into the Kurdish town of Afrin in northern Syria as a result of fighting between rebel forces and Islamic State militants. VOA’s Amina Misto went to the town and reports local authorities are finding it difficult to cope with this influx of internally displaced people. Bronwyn Benito narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Build Human Tissue on Animal Matrix

    The question has always been, if a gecko can grow back its tail, why can't we regenerate our lost body parts? Well, maybe we can, someday. Scientists are moving towards the ability to rebuild fully functioning organs, and have made significant progress replacing muscles and other tissue.
    Video

    Video Containing Chernobyl Radiation Continues 30 Years After Explosion

    April 26 marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Hundreds were killed following the explosion and it's estimated that thousands more have died from cancers caused by the radiation. Henry Ridgwell traveled to Chernobyl and reports for VOA on the continuing efforts to decommission the site -- and on the fledgling plans for a new future in the vast exclusion zone.
    Video

    Video Frustration Builds Among Refugees Trapped at Macedonian Border

    On the Greek border with Macedonia, 12,000 refugees continue to wait. Since the route to the rest of Europe was closed last month, the makeshift camp at Idomeni has seen protests and tear gas. But while those here wait, their frustration grows — as do reports of people attempting to find new ways of continuing their journey. John Owens reports from Idomeni.
    Video

    Video Researchers: Bees Help Kenyan Farmers Fend Off Elephants

    Elephant crop-raiding continues to be a major source of human-wildlife conflict in Kenya, so one elephant researcher is helping to alleviate the problem near Tsavo East National Park with beehive fences, which use elephants’ natural aversion to bees to deter them from farms. VOA’s Jill Craig visited the area ahead of this month's Giants Club Summit, which will bring together dignitaries at Mount Kenya to find solutions to combat poaching, the No. 1 threat to elephants.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora