I spent time struggling to comprehend a contentment that stemmed from my origins of a western country because to live in Mali comes with a degree of physical discomfort (sweat, dirt, hunger, difficulties) that we westerners do not tolerate so well
. But like most foreigners who spend time here say-Bamako has an intangible magic that is a “joie de vivre”. So how'd it win my love? its the old proverb that says “that one’s sense of well being is inversely related to possession of material good” -and “what gives sustenance to the human spirit is human contact.”. Well the roads full of people, flocks of children, herds of sheep, observers for every event large or small, passerbys that catch you when you fall, human contact is something Bamako has by the armfuls. And coming home I will look at clean streets and solid sidewalks and bright streetlights and I will miss so much. I will miss the bicycles transporting crates of chickens, the curtains of sneakers handing by the laces from storefronts, the mountains of bananas balanced gently upon a vendor’s head. As I cross Pont Alma, the traffic will not compete for space with big green camion bashis filled to the brim with smiling people, who laugh at the slightest provocation and share smiles as cars edge forward, in an endless line. There won’t be a single donkey standing in an intersection, nor the mullahs singing out the hours of prayer, policemen will not whistle, horns will not honk, and diesel fumes will not fill the air. I will return back where the streets are clean and lives are orderly, but it will seem that I am the one who is not rich in contact, but rather, that it is I who is poor.
It was wonderful to be in Mali and I took away more from my internship than just NGO work, and I learned more than I could’ve ever imagined; in French, in medicine, in Mali, and in West African culture
. There were so many cultural boundaries and new experiences that I shared with people that it’s uncanny. The work I did made just a tiny difference, but these are the changes we can make with our own hands. If enough of us put our hands out, and our hearts into the task, and we continue doing what we can, it is never quite enough, but it is so much better than standing still.
This is the start of something good
Just ten minutes after I left the airport I was hard put to know if I had just landed on Mars. Lifeless iron rich dirt reached as far as I could see from the beaten-down Mercedes of my boss Kara, all until the abrupt apparition of life from the slanted hillside of the northern Niger River. From that moment it took me 10 seconds to realize that people really did live off less than one dollar a day, and everywhere you looked there were constant reminders. Shirts in tatters, broken plastic sandals walking on mud, shacks for houses made up of banters and trash that littered the broken tarmacs they call "le goudron". 5 weeks later at the end of my internship and journey Mali was still the way I first saw it. A heady mix of equal parts diesel fumes and joy, that is Bamako-both intoxicating and addicting.