Some things are as common in the west as they are uncommon in Mali. Take for instance a simple thing as a fridge. I don’t know of a family in a western country that doesn’t have a fridge in their kitchen. It might be an oldie, but it’ll be there. And the day it dies, it will be replaced.
I lived in The Netherlands for a while without a fridge, it being a temporary housing situation and from my journeys to Mali I had already gotten used to daily grocery shopping tours and not having any stock, so I did manage without the fridge. I even ended up asking shopkeepers if they would be willing to cool some drinks for me. Picking them up in the late afternoon I’d still be able to serve my guests a cool drink. It does ask for some flexibility, creativity and time to manage a non-fridge household.
Most Malians know no other way. And not having electricity supplies (or the means to pay for a fridge) in their homes will not lead to soon changes. I too, have gotten used to a fridge-less live in Mali. That is, I do have a tiny little cooler, which cools till a maximum of 20 degrees Celsius below the outside temperature. Not really an ideal situation to store anything fresh for more than a few hours when temperatures rise above 40… So, no butter, no stocks, just the plain necessities for that day.
More than once I’ve had people entering my courtyard, asking for fresh water. I always point them the water jug and the tap and in return get surprised faces. ‘No, I mean FRESH water!’, a man explained himself more clearly yesterday. And when I told him I do not have that, he honestly looked at me with a face saying ‘are you kidding or do you just not want to give it to me’… Well, I can’t blame him, I’m sure there are not a lot of white people living in Mali without a fridge.
To be honest I do have a huge fridge taking up room in my kitchen at the moment, because I too did dream of nice cold water and ice cubes from time to time as well as from some butter and the possibility to buy fruits and veggies for more than one day. But, having lots of other things that do have a higher priority, I hadn’t allowed myself to spend money on a fridge. Till last week…
A friend stepped by, offering me his fridge at a very reasonable price. It works very well, he assured me, so I went for it. Amadou was already dreaming of making a huge jug of fresh lemon juice…
It didn’t come any further than dreaming. It took me less than a day to realize I wouldn’t like the electricity bill coming with this particular fridge, so I unplugged it, called the friend and explained the situation. He got quieter and quieter. Whether he was well aware of the electricity consuming aspect of his fridge or not, I’ll never be honestly told. But, he did confess that he had already used my money to pay of his debts.
But, sure, there are no problems in Mali, just solutions, so off we went: the friend with a fridge-salesman and Amadou and me. Because, as I was told, the easiest solution would be to find another fridge and exchange it. Sounded reasonable, they only had forgotten to mention that they meant: you’ll buy another fridge, we’ll find some middleman fees and once we have found another one for the first fridge you bought we’ll refund you for that one. So, I was brought to the courtyard of a rich Malian family. The man brings secondhand fridges from France to Mali, repairs them and his wife (they are the worst!) sells them. Sure enough the fridge-salesman tried to force me to buy another fridge, my friend started looking very uncomfortable and Amadou started talking to me in English (usually a warning to be ultra alert!). And I, I was just flabbergasted, so I stood up, told the woman I was not interested, told my friend he’d better find another client for his fridge to refund me and went home, where Amadou and I had a good laugh over the situation.
Even though we’ve already asked my friend twice to come and pick up the fridge, it’s still taking up room in the kitchen. And that I don’t have the money to buy another one, well that’s something they (except for Amadou and Ibrahim) will find hard to believe, because my skin is as white as it gets and for some reason that’s synonymous to unlimited finances.
Amadou and I have given up on our short term dreams and we live life like before: fridge-less. One day there’ll be a fridge in the kitchen and it’ll be a brand new one. I’ve learned my lesson!