Lai Carré (Pig Corner)

Caroline J. Mailloux // Providence, RI

Photo credit: Caitlin Cohen

Upon leaving Bamako after a few intense months, it wasn’t the recollection of amoebic dysentery or the meetings with the Ministry of Health that impressed upon me the complexity of Mali, but the memory of a ragtag community of urban pig herders.

Having already been exposed to the dissonant languages, landscapes, and cultures of Ghana, France, and the UAE, my first impression of Mali was a seemingly discordant fusion of the colors, smells, and sounds of Ghana, with French-inspired pharmacy signs, pain au chocolates and the sound of the Muslim adhan (call to prayer) bellowing from mosques on every street corner. Yet of all the nuanced fusions of globalization, it was Lai Carré, Pig Corner, in a Bamako slum, that came to symbolize the creative and often paradoxical survival politics in one of the world’s poorest countries.

Ami, a friend and colleague, lived at Pig Corner. Since no street signs bring American-standard order to the chaotic maze of paths that wind through the slums of Bamako, she instructed me to “cross the bridge, climb the hill, and ask for the white girl at Pig Corner.” Hoping for the best, I confidently set out and refrained from questioning why her neighborhood—which was predominantly Muslim—was named after the meat of swine, which was expressly deemed Haraam (forbidden) by the Qu’ran.

But sure enough, upon summiting the dusty, rocky, litter-filled eroded hill, I arrived in Sourakabougou and spotted three pigs conspicuously wandering about and rummaging through the scattered trash piles lining the street. Completely intrigued, I found my way to Ami’s compound and dutifully inquired.

“Ami, why do your Muslim neighbors keep pigs?!”

“Ah.” Ami replied with a thoughtful grin on her face. “Best deal in town! The Muslim neighbors would never try and steal a dirty pig, and the family makes a pretty penny every Easter selling the pigs to the Christians who live at the bottom of the hill.”

I was stunned by the powerful lesson in development politics and delighted by the irony. For one clever family, creative religious interpretation was a tactic in economic survival and an invisible force field against desperate thieves. Brilliant.

That night, Ami and I strolled downtown to Guido’s Italian pizzeria to take a break from the usual Malian diet of {insert carb here} with {insert some variety of palm oil laden sauce here}. I savored the taste of local ham on my pizza, humbled by the centuries of tradition and culture that had come together to allow for this familiar taste of home in such an unlikely place.

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