Dramane Oumar Samaké is 12 years old. He lives in Sogoniko, which means "the brook where the antelope comes to drink", in the south-eastern part of Mali’s capital, Bamako. His father teaches English in the High School, and his mother has just trained as a teacher too. Dramane has a sister, Amadou, who is 11, and a three-year-old brother, Fatoumata. Dramane is doing well at school. He is also learning carpentry so that he has a trade when he leaves.
"My nickname is Joe d’Anton. Joe is a cartoon character, the shortest and cleverest in a group of prisoners, and seems to be their leader, so I’m quite proud of the nickname my friends have given me.
"There are two rooms in my home. My mum, dad, and little sister sleep in one, and I sleep in the other with my younger brother and another boy who sometimes stays. Eight households share our compound: five families and three single men.
"I sleep on a mattress on the floor. Usually I have my own mattress, but at the moment I’m sharing with my brother because we have a visitor staying. On schooldays, I get up at around seven o’clock, but at weekends at around eight. I don’t like wasting time in bed: if you spend all your time in bed, how are you going to make any money?"
"I wake up when I hear my mum preparing breakfast. On weekdays it’s usually still dark. We do have an electric light in our room, but we often have power cuts. When I get up I wash my face and then feed my pigeons -- they’re my own pet birds.
"The pullover I have on today is really for weekdays, but this is the cold time of year, so as it’s the only one I’ve got, I’m wearing it on a Sunday. My favourite clothes are jeans, but unfortunately I don’t have any. I don’t know how much they cost, but I know that they are very expensive. To sleep in, I have an old shirt and some tracksuit bottoms. I don’t have to wear school uniform.
"I eat various things for breakfast, it depends on the day. Mainly porridge, sometimes with beans and coffee, or milk and bread at weekends. My mum usually makes it. She buys millet and sugar for the porridge once a month. My dad buys powdered milk: we don’t use fresh milk. My favourite food is beans, because they make you fart!
"We all eat breakfast together, in the passage outside our rooms. We eat in silence. There is a saying: ‘The eating mouth does not speak.’
"I leave the house at 7.30am, and it takes about ten minutes to walk to school. It’s called the École Fondamentale Fasso-Kanu."
"I often walk to school alone, but sometimes meet up with friends on the way. The first thing we do is clean the classroom: dust always settles on the desks and chairs overnight. Then we go into the playground until the whole school gathers, to raise the national flag and sing the national anthem. Each class takes it in turn to raise the flag.
"I started school when I was five. That’s younger than most children in Mali; the normal age is about seven. Currently I’m in eighth grade. I had to repeat sixth grade, but apart from that I’ve moved up each year. School starts at eight and finishes at 12.00 every day except Tuesdays when we go for drawing classes in the afternoon.
I like physics and chemistry, but my favourite subject is maths, because if you’re good at maths, you’re more likely to get a good job, but also because it is so accurate. Some other subjects are not really objective, but you know where you are with maths.
"There are 89 pupils in my class, many more boys than girls. All the classes are over-crowded. My classroom is quite big, but it isn’t very well equipped. We have to keep the shutters closed on one side in order to keep the sun out, so it’s quite dark inside, barely light enough to see the blackboard and read our books. We share three pupils to one desk. Everything is scarce, especially textbooks. During reading lessons we have to share one book between three. We have to buy our own pens, pencils and notebooks.
"I come home for lunch at about 12.15, and eat right away: usually rice, with watermelons if they are in season. Then in the afternoon, I go to a friend’s house to do my homework. We spend about an hour studying each afternoon."
"Then I go to my boss’s workshop. I’m an apprentice carpenter. As a carpenter you can make money quite easily and quickly. I’ve been going to the workshop for four years. I do whatever my boss asks me to -- mainly cutting wood to the right size and sanding it. My boss makes all sorts of things: beds, cupboards, shelves -- anything you might want. I usually spend about four hours there, and sometimes make some small tools to sell. From time to time my boss gives me a little pocket money, but not enough! My mum and dad also give me pocket money which I save. I only buy tea and sometimes peanuts and bananas.
"When I’m not doing homework or carpentry, I’m out playing with my friends. I like playing football, riding my bike, and making tea best. We don’t usually go very far on our bikes, just around the district. I usually come home at about 6.00 to watch cartoons on the TV outside the compound gate, under the tree. Then I go and wash before our evening meal."
We all eat together at about eight o’clock. My favourite sweet is chocolate. Most of the chocolate you can buy here is European. I go to bed at about nine o’clock on weekdays, and ten o’clock at weekends. Sometimes my mum gives me a special treat just before I go to bed: it’s a kind of sweet flavoured pea which she buys in the market. Some nights we are troubled by mosquitoes, but we don’t sleep under nets, we just burn mosquito coils to stop them biting us.
"I really want to breed animals because I love all sorts: sheep, goats, big dogs like Dobermans, and my pigeons. I was given the first pigeons by a cousin. I love them because they never go far away.
"This is quite a new area of Bamako. People are building a lot, and a lot of people are moving into the area, which is a good thing because it means I will have a lot of new friends. There’s no serious crime, no murder or anything like that. The only real problem is that the place is very dirty. There is so much rubbish around, and there is no proper drainage for the sewage, which encourages mosquitoes.
"I imagine that children in England do karate, ride their bikes, and learn to play football, but I don’t think they have the space just to wander from one place to another like we do here. I think they do a lot of the same things as we do, but don’t have much room to play."