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Children with an Alive & Kicking ball

Category: Mali

Ensemble Instrumental at Carrefour des Jeunes, Bamako

Kadi from DHL is our designated driver and translator for our press conference with the Minister of Sport and Special Olympics. Her boss, Djelika, reminds her that punctuality is vital on this occasion. Kadi is, she freely admits, prone to tardiness — join the club, Kadi.

To her credit, she arrives right on time in her pick-up truck and we are also just about ready to go. Phil climbs into the passenger seat and Andrew leaps on the back. It’s our first morning in Bamako traffic; an interesting experience. Old European cars in the designated car lanes and new Chinese mopeds and motorbikes in the bike lanes. We pass a huge sign hanging outside a government ministry saying “Ride bikes for a cleaner Bamako.” Not a bad idea, but a seemingly hopeless cause. Bamako is highly polluted, with no regard for laws on emissions (if indeed there are any) and traffic congestion is out of control. To top it all, there seem to be more and more people moving to the city.

Bamako bike riderBamako bike rider

As we cross the Niger River and head into town, Andrew has our trusty Sony video camera (kindly lent to us by Africa10) in his hand, snapping up everything in sight. He quickly finds out that people are very wary of visitors filming them. It’s a common sentiment in poorer countries around the world, where people think their image might be exploited by the photographer, perhaps appearing on a postcard or in a magazine. As we near our destination, we are confronted by locals pointing at the camera, indicating clearly that filming them is not okay. We can understand their point of view — although these scenes look exotic to us, to them this is normality. In our defence, we feel that we’re not just taking photos away, we’re also bringing something with us: The Ball.

Phil greets the Ensemble Instrumental with The BallPhil greets the Ensemble Instrumental with The Ball

We arrive at the Carrefour des Jeunes cultural center, we are met by Ensemble Instrumental, a musical group paid by the government to perform at state occasions. Special Olympics athletes and administrators are in the courtyard to greet us as the band steps the music up a notch.

A singer with Ensemble InstrumentalA singer with Ensemble Instrumental

There are more than ten of them in the band: five or six dancers, one man on marimba, two guys on talking drums, a singer and a djembe player. The Ball lands in the middle of the group and Phil jumps on the microphone to add his voice to the mix.

An Ensemble Instrumental musicianAn Ensemble Instrumental musician
A drummer with Ensemble InstrumentalA drummer with Ensemble Instrumental
The Ball in the mixThe Ball in the mix

The press conference that follows includes an official presentation of The Ball to the representative of the Minister of Sport, Mr. Morike Traore, words of welcome from the president of Special Olympics Mali, Mr. Mama Garba Tapo and Salif Moulin Diallo, the head of the Paralympic movement in Mali.

Dignitaries at the press conferenceMorike Traore and Mama Garba Tapo

The Chinese Ambassador joins us on the podium: from construction through to sport, the Chinese are not missing a trick in West Africa. We stay for a quick TV interview and then we’re on our way again — a little bit wiser about local fears as well as local hopes.

Next up: visa training Burkina Faso-style, followed by a personal audience with the Governor of Bamako. A flavour of just one day in the life of The Ball 2010. Stay tuned.

DHL cargo flight: Dakar to Bamako via Mauritania

We have been in the DHL office all afternoon copying footage onto hard drives, writing for the blog, taking pictures with the DHL staff and The Ball. Our time in Senegal is coming to an end: an overnight DHL cargo flight awaits us. We are properly hungry by now so Bashir has a idea. “We have time to visit my mother, boys. She wants to meet The Ball. Then we are having some traditional Senegalese food for dinner. Rice and fish.” Okay, that sounds like a plan.

At home with BashirWith Bashir and his mother in their lovely home.

The flight is scheduled to leave just after 10pm. Bashir reassures us. “We have time. We don’t have to be there until 10pm at the very latest.” Great, we have time to eat. Or do we? There has been a power cut at Bashir’s; we find his house is candle-lit. All very romantic. The good news is that the food is prepared.

Just then, Bashir’s phone rings. It is Basile at the airport. “Where the hell are you?” he screams down the phone. Oh dear, there’s been some miscommunication — it turns out we had to be at the airport 20 minutes earlier. We might even miss the flight. No time for food now. As soon as we can, we head for the DHL depot at the airport. Frantic faces greet us.

Andrew hugs Basile, who is looking nervousBasile and Andrew… Basile looking very anxious.

We are escorted through the airport by Basile. “DHL (pronounced Day Hasch El in French) cargo flight,” says Basile as we jump the immigration queue. He repeats this as we go to the front of the security check-in line. In five minutes we have cleared security and customs and are on the tarmac. Basile has one more trick up his sleeves. He waves down a large airport shuttle bus, commandeers it and once more tells the driver “DHL cargo flight.”

Plane-side in Dakar airportBy now it is a quarter past ten and we are plane-side.

We reach the plane and Phil takes The Ball and chips it Remi Gaillard-style first time on board and celebrates first by wheeling away, then coming over to celebrate with me. We celebrate not just the goal, but the fact that, thanks to Bashir and Basile, we’ve made the flight on time. We will be leaving for Mali today.

Phil celebrates his goalPhil celebrates his goal — and catching the plane

Time for take-off, up and away to Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania with Phil in the jump seat and Andrew back cargo-side in one of two other seats, sitting next to a distinctly non-talkative US government official. Our 15 minutes in Mauritania allow The Ball to be kicked on the tarmac and a single solitary Mauritanian signs The Ball.

The only person to sign The Ball in MauritaniaThe only person to sign The Ball in Mauritania

Back on board and off to Mali, this time Andrew taking his turn in the jump seat. His first thought — to give The Ball to one of the pilots for an onboard portrait photo.

One of the pilots with The BallOne of the pilots with The Ball

We arrive at 4am in Bamako and a friendly DHL employee is the first to head and sign The Ball in Mali. It is dry and it hasn’t rained here for months. It’s a reasonable 25 degrees right now, but the expected high later in the day is 45 degrees. We’re a little bit daunted by that figure. But there’s no time to dwell on weather reports as it’s off to our hotel where a surprise awaits us. More than 10 Special Olympics Mali administrators and athletes are there to greet us.

Special Olympics greet The Ball in MaliSpecial Olympics greet The Ball in Mali

Fantastic! What a welcome. We’re overwhelmed by the reception. But for us it is time to get our heads down and sleep — at least for a few hours please?

The Ball 2018 left England on 25th March 2018 and travelled to the World Cup in Russia.

The Ball 2014 kicked off from England on 9th Jan 2014 and headed to the World Cup in Brazil.

The Ball 2010 left England on 24th Jan 2010 headed to the Opening Ceremony in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Ball 2006 travelled from London to the Opening Ceremony in Munich, Germany.

The Ball 2002 was carried 7000 miles across Europe and Asia to the World Cup finals in Korea & Japan.