The price of convenience in Mali
In the last post from West Africa, I introduced you to Emmanuel Kamate of Mali. Emmanuel runs a convenience store in the capital city, Bamako. The store has everything you might need to get you through the day; eggs, sugar, cooking oil, powdered milk and bread (in bags on the counter).
An introduction in Mali is only complete after everyone has been given a good humored ribbing over their traditional background, revealed by their last name. The name Kamate comes from an ethnic group known as the Bobo who are farmers by tradition. Emmanuel was born in 1972 and went to school through the sixth grade.
So what does a farmer know about running a convenience store?
When I asked Emmanuel what he likes about running the store (via translator), he said that simply, it beats trucking. Before starting his first store in 2001, Emmanuel spent his days and nights away from his family driving lorry around West Africa. Although not without its own challenges, running the store allows him to stay closer to his family.
Emmanuel closes up shop at 6:30 every evening and makes his way home on his bike to spend some time with the family. However, before settling in for the evening, Emmanuel rides his bike back to the store to keep watch for the night, sometimes sleeping inside, in order to make sure the goods are still there in the morning! But hey, it beats trucking, right?
Business as not-so-usual
Emmanuel sells cold soda from an electric fridge. But the shop is located between the road and a property owner’s fence (see picture below) so access to electricity comes only through the willingness of his neighbor.
When asked how much business the shop does, Emmanuel says he doesn’t know. Everything is spent on re-stocking the store and meeting the families needs. No numbers or books are kept.
Friends and Family
Emmanuel is married to Sassiba Samake and they have a son, Abel, and a daughter, Rachelle.
Emmanuel’s traditional language is Mande and Sassiba’s is Bambara. The Bambara language is the trade language of Mali and most speak it to do business. Because it is so common, the family chooses to speak Bambara at home. The son, Abel, is going to a French school and will learn the official national language there.
Occasionally during the week, the family will make the walk from home to the store and spend time with Dad.
One house rule
The only thing Emmanuel asks of you when you visit is that you be polite and courteous and not smoke. It’s his pet peeve.
However, tea is highly encouraged and is considered good behavior anytime, especially after a gruelling interview/portrait session!
Success as a small business operator in Bamako, Mali requires dedication and risk. For Emmanuel, the rewards are good and means more time with his family and friends.