We are SO close …. and we need your help!

I haven’t written here lately, but this is an exciting and important time.  We are very very very close to completing a successful gofundme campaign for the new tutoring center at KoFalen!  Funding closes in less then two days …. please follow the link below and see what we are up to.  If there is any spare change laying about in your pockets … now is the time to put it to some great use!

link: https://www.gofundme.com/KFTutoring?viewupdates=1&utm_source=internal&utm_medium=email&utm_content=cta_button&utm_campaign=upd_n


and here is the whole story:



Emails from Mali – Feb 1

Dear all,

Francois Hollande has now gained political ground in Europe over this war in Mali, as in a mere 20 days of fighting, things are slowly merging back to a so called “normal”. The French leader’s popularity in Mali itself has gone through the roof. Francois Hollande is expected to meet with the interim president of Mali, Djonkounda Traore, this coming Saturday in Bamako. Then he will pay a visit to the French troops in Timbuktu as well. So one can imagine how crazy streets in Bko and other cities will be on Saturday. This is also in conjunction with the soccer match of Mali against South Africa. I hope they take it easy over there……

Well folks, as I am writing this latest news to you at 5:30 am Portland time, I was interrupted with a phone call from Kofalen-Mali members Seydou and Dognoume, both warning not to go too fast with celebrations, as the mood of many people in the streets of Mali is taking a sudden turn. This is because after the Malian troops led the fight into Kidal, a stronghold of the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Awad islamic group), the French ordered the Malian troops to hold their fire and took control of the airport.  Now there is some sort of meeting or negotiation going on over a couple of French hostages that have not yet been found. But the real problem was not even a single Malian soldier was allowed to be near their meeting place. To the ordinary Malians that was already suspicious–this strong dictation by the French; they see this as a warning sign especially when MNLA is still holding onto their guns, intending to keep Kidal region as their own country of Azawad. I am not sure if you knew this but this whole fuss by the West is partly due to the discovery of oil in this particular Kidal region; as Malian people put it, “Kidal is the head of the goat, without it, the goat is no longer.”

It is now believed the MNLA will try to negotiate a settlement with France in an attempt to avoid having Kidal taken back by the Malian Army. And is the MNLA also brokering deals with the Islamic groups to keep them at bay, but functioning?  This exclusive negotiation with France is wholeheartedly unacceptable to the Malian citizenship, which is being kept in the dark for the most part. But the West will most likely use its influence over the Mali government to dictate their terms.
Dognoume Diarra, writer for Ciwara and Le Flambeau newspapers in Bko and nephew Seydou Coulibaly, computer businessman (both Kofalen-Mali board members) are sure to keep us up to date with current news.  In fact, Dognoume wrote a great article about Kofalen Oregon/Mali. Now Stephen Wooten a Professor at the University of Oregon was the first to see it on internet and let me know. I am really proud of Dognoume Diarra–and Kofalen in helping guarantee his schooling in Soni Cegni as a boy–and now he is a journalist, writing articles for newspapers. There are many young people like Dognoume who started their education under our care in Soni Cegni and are now finishing their college education.  

For French readers, you may link to D Diarra’s article on KoFalen here:


Thank you all,
Baba Wague Diakite

Emails from Mali – Jan 28th

 Dear people,

Today Jan 28, I am taking off from Mali to my home in Portland, OR.  For now things are a bit calmer as my time comes to an end in Mali. As a native Malian myself, I already understood the struggles of the average Malian families in their day to day lives. However, I could not anticipate what difficulties would be added with the burden of war.  This alone was the drive for us to create the 15 Families aid program in conjunction with my trip this year. But it was not only the joyful reaction of faces I witnessed in Mali from our 22 family recipients that impressed me, but those of you who thought of Malian people during this hard time. Though I was merely the representative of your good gestures in handing out the aid to these families, I benefited from witnessing their human responses.    All I can tell you is, thank you all for making this trip a rich lifetime experience for me.  It has been an emotional journey; the memories of my personal encounters with ordinary Malians and families will remain for eternity. Here are briefly the last 3 recipients of the 15 Families program I documented before I left.

 Assitan Coulibaly is like a grandmother figure to the entire neighborhood. One can easily recognize her high-pitched voice greetings and sweet exchanges with people as she walks through the neighborhood. She loves people and seems to be loved by everyone. Because she is so uplifting and charming, her personal life struggles are hard to detect. When I had a sit-down conversation with Assitan, I discovered she has been suffering like any senior person at this time. Though she seems to be healthy unlike many others at her age, she worries about some of her grandchildren that are under her care. She said the 15 Family aid program will give her and her grandchildren a few moons of stability. Grandma Assitan sent her long list of blessings along with me for all the donors of this program.  Later on that afternoon ,upon talking with others in the neighborhood and realizing that many have been touched by our program, she returned to renew her appreciation on behalf of the entire neighborhood.  I am glad people like Assitan Coulibaly is one of our recipients.  Her charming personality and encouragement to others truly helps make the burden of the day seem lighter.

The next recipient was Bakary Coulibaly a blacksmith in Soni Cegni. When I visited his family, Bakary’s wife told me that her husband had been under the weather for a couple of days. He had been working too hard and had lost the strength of his body.  As a result he was in bed from fatigue. But when Bakary overheard my voice, he came out instantly holding the small album of photos that I had sent ahead to him from Ko-Falen member and goldsmith, Tami Dean of Portland.  “Wague, it’s good to see you!!  I thought you were not coming to Soni Cegni this year?”   “Yes,” I responded, “but I changed my mind.”

He ushered us into his smithy hut and invited us to sit.  Bakary noted that his fame was now widespread with the photo album Tami had sent him in appreciation for the time they had spent smithing together in his hut.  He said that he and his wife have been having 5 to 10 visitors a day to see their new photo album.  I congratulated him and his wife and presented the gift from our 15 Families program. He was sitting at the time next to his wife with their children crowded around them. Bakary was speechless and went into deep thought about the kindness Americans have shown once more. “Wague” he said “This level of kindness makes me embarrassed; how can I ever pay them?”  I told him that his payment is not needed but to make sure there is plenty of food for those small children of theirs.  He eyes filled with tears as he said “yes” back. In the end Bakary sent his sincere greetings to Tami Dean, the donors of the 15 Family program and the entire board of Kofalen. He encouraged Americans to visit their home in Soni Cegni soon. Bakary’s lifestyle of smithing is truly at the heart of the existence of the village, as he makes and mends tools of farming for all his community.

The last recipients are Tiemogo Ouattara and his wife Sadie Kone. They are both elderly and live by themselves. Tiemogo is the younger brother of my dear friend Soloman Ouattara known as “Vieux” Outtara, a WWII Veteran, who passed a year ago. When I visited the old couple they were seated under the veranda of their crumbling cement block house.  At first Tiemogo and I chatted for some time about his deceased older brother; how much we all learned from him. Tiemogo looks and acts completely different from his brother, but they are truly linked by their regional tongue twisting words of Sikasso, Mali.  After a moment of talk about his brother, he quietly said “Do di, Wague” literally meaning “give some first.”  This indirect way of communication in Mali is a way to make a familiar person who does not visit often, not feel unwelcomed. Thus, in the meaningful sense, “Tell your purpose of the visit”.  I responded, “How is your health?”  Tiemogo looked upon me with his drooping red eyes and said “How do I look?”  “What is wrong with you?” I asked.  He responded, “Now you have asked the right question.”  Since Tiemogo’s memory was not up to date about his own health, his wife Sadie interrupted him and told me about her husband’s diabetes and his high blood pressure.  I then asked them if they have children of their own.  “Of course, plenty.  My brother had so many children with two wives.”  “But do you have any of your own?”  “Well that has been the problem.”  His wife added, “There is no one left to help us.”  Once more, I asked Tiemogo how old he was.  He turned to his wife and asked, “When was it that my brother killed the python down at the stream?”  “Eight years ago, I think,” said his wife.   “I was 76 then,” said Tiemogo.  “Well how old do you think you are now?” asked his wife.  “Oh, I must be at least 78 now,” said Tiemogo.  Then with our help, we held out 8 fingers for each year since the python, and helped him count from 76 those 8 extra years.  “84 years old!” he beamed.  An act of kindness is the fastest way to heal someone.  When I presented the money from the 15 Families program, Tiemogo’s distracted mind came back to full function for a moment, as he recognized this gesture.  “No one has done this for us for a long time.”  Then he recited a long list of blessings to those who have thought of them at this time of hardship.  I handed the money to his wife suggesting they see a doctor for his sicknesses. Instead they wanted to buy food, which we helped them do. However I still feel that Tiemogo needs to see a doctor for his conditions, and I promised to help them do that soon. In the end, Sadie his wife was so happy that she came to my house later on that evening to tell stories and sing songs as her gift in return to all those that were generous to them at this time.

My younger sister Haby witnessed the reaction of some of these ordinary Malians chosen for our 15 Families program. She said “Here in Mali, one would be foolish to thank yourself for doing a good job. But others are allowed to do that for you. I met so many Americans through my brother that I feel like I am one of them.  So today we make an exception, which allows me to sincerely thank all of those that not only followed my brother to Mali, but also brought along their humanity and kindness.  Also our sincere appreciation to those who have not yet been here, but their kindness has reached us.”

Emails from Mali – Jan 28th

Dear people,

I believe this will be the last entry Wague will send before he returns home.  However, as you will read, the 15 Families project is continuing!  He has trained his younger brother Madou to continue making arrangements, delivering food and financial aid.  Malians are still glued to radios and televisions in the city, as Mali is playing their 3rd soccer game in the Africa Cup.  They are tied 1-1 with DRCongo.

On a disturbing note, Wague has just informed me the news channels in Mali have reported that one of Timbuktu’s libraries, The Ahmed Baba Institue, was burned by insurgents before they fled.  This was a new building built with South African funds, and housed a collection of ancient documents and scholarly manuscripts dating back to the 13th century.  We do not know how much damage was done. There has been no combat in the city. French and Malian forces are being cautioned to protect cultural treasures and ancient mosques.  We continue to hope for the best.

Hello friends, 

I would like to let all of you know that the 15 Family program has been extended. Dana Louis (Ko-Falen executive board member) was inspired to continue the project to make sure more people in difficulties here can be helped. Of course we can’t help all Mali, but there are a handful of people we all may know that were not on our original list of people. I am extremely happy to announce that now 22 families have been served. By January 19th, I had already delivered aid to 18 different Families.  Thanks to the most recent effort of Dana with her generous donors, we were able to serve a few more families.

Tiemogo Kamissogo from Soni Cegni known as Djeliba was the very first recipient of this new group. Djeliba’s position in the village is most outstanding; not only because he is an elder, but he is from the line of one of the most important families in the village. His family is the master in the art of speeches, as they are griots/oral historians. Although his real name is Tiemogo Kamissogo, everyone calls him Djeliba in respect of his knowledge of the historical background in the village of Soni Cegni and its surroundings. Djeliba is known to all who have come to Soni Cegni through KoFalen. During the last 20 years, Djeliba made sure all of Kofalen’s messages were well scaffolded before passing them on to the village people, and vice versa. The memory of the way Djeliba has always welcomed us to Soni Cegni and spoke on our behalf is etched in my mind. His memory to some Kofalen people may be from his famous saying “Only this has enough to pay you back for your kindness . Only this!!”– he says these words pointing his index finger skyward.

When I visited Djeliba in his family compound, he was seated with his younger brother Diemory Kamissogo discussing what to do for his eye problems and poor vision. At first he did not recognize me because of his poor eyesight, but his quick memory jumped in as he heard my voice. He indeed was a bit surprised as I had not visited his home all the years I’ve been coming to Soni Cegni. However, Djeliba had no lack of words to praise me. “Heeee Wague!!” he beamed.  Turning to face his brother he continued, “In the name of the Mighty Creator, the son of people has arrived! All of the 4 original ancestors were only given a fist name and they earned their own last name. They are Diallo, Diakite, Sidibe and Sangare.”   He turned to face me again, “You are the son of the entire Africa. He-who-will-never-forget-where-he-came-from. You are the small tree that produces a large shade. You are the one who is expanding the name of Mali across the Atlantic Ocean.  Make yourself welcome at your own house.”   Though  Djeliba is now a bit older and less energetic, his spirit is fully present. Both he and his brother were in shock when I explained to them that I had come to share of the 15 Family program, and handed him the money. Though his eyes were the primary issue at the time, Djeliba’s real concern was lack of food in his family. He noted to me that this horrible time Mali is going through is a so-called “lighting the already dry grass.”  “It is hard to survive old age unless you have a faithful helper,” he added.  

Djeliba has been a friend of KoFalen from the beginning, and I am so glad we were able to help him. Once again as Djeliba said goodbye,  he also sent gratitude to all Kofalen members but particularly to his “wives”–my daughters– Penda and Amina. In the end, he said “Only this will pay you back, only this!!”

We have a saying here in Mali, “Even if you have nothing to feed to your new guest, being a good and pleasant host is plenty enough.” Djeliba has been such a person.

Only love from Mali,

Baba Wague Diakite

Emails from Mali – Jan 27th

Dear KoFalen members and friends,

Things are much calmer in the Capital of Bamako.  French and Malian troops have taken back the city of Gao in the North, and they are heading to Timbuktu as I write.  We hope that this important historical city is returned to Mali without tragedy.  Despite the return to calm, life is still not back to normal.  The struggles to place an interim government in motion has made daily life a difficult task. Food and fuel prices have soared, making it hard for businesses and families.  After ten months of this, peoples’ resources are exhausted.  I am so thankful we can help in our small way, with our 15 Families food and medical aid, one neighborhood at a time.  But today, I will continue my story of visiting the village of Soni Tieni to deliver school supplies raised by donors to Ko-Falen Cultural Center.

As I mentioned in my previous letter, my decision to travel to Soni Cegni was a sudden decision. But I am so glad I went to see the headmaster Fah Diarra and his school administration, as they had much to say. They had wanted to come see me in Bamako when they found out that I may not make it to Soni Cegni earlier on, as they felt it was important to keep up the relationship we have developed. After the Youth Association sang their songs of welcoming, Fah Diarra–now with completely gray hair– turned and shook my hand. Since Fah Diarra the headmaster is getting past his retirement age, he is bringing new talents to the school of Soni Cegni. He introduced to me 3 young teachers that will be teaching in Soni Cegni’s school. One of the young teachers is an English teacher (male), another one is a biology and chemistry teacher (female), the last one is a math teacher (male).  They were all present when I brought Ko-Falen’s school supplies raised by donations. After that, Fah Diarra walked me to his office and chatted with me for a bit about the complexity of life and its many goods and troubles. He said he was not sure whether or not their hardships are created from the effects of war or whether it was there sleeping on them all along. Nonetheless, it has not been a pleasant couple years now. As we proceeded to open the boxes of school supplies, instantly, his mood changed and  one could see his smiling teeth delivering a message of happiness. He called the three young new teachers to witness the kindness of Americans once again. “Though these people from the US live countless miles away, they have by all means proven a sense of humanity to us. Just because one drinks from the same breast is not the only proof of brotherhood. These people–these Americans–are our true brothers, for they understand that we humans share the same blood in humanity. They are kind, thoughtful, and generous and above all, they care about children.” Upon opening the supplies, the young English teacher burst into laughter; he was so happy to see 36 books for each class from 7th grade, 8th grade and 9th grade. It was at the request of the students through Fah Diarra the head master that I spent $400 out of the $1000 dollars I was given for them, on English books. “The students want to learn more English so they can communicate with their American friends.” The English teacher was still standing on the side, smiling with happiness. In the middle of this happiness came a question: “We purchased only 5 of these books for a school in Kaye, and it cost 100,000 cfa.  How did you buy 108 books for 200,000 cfa total?” I smiled also and replied, “This is thanks to my nephew Seydou and his business sense and bargaining skills.” The rest of the supplies I brought were sponges to erase the boards, paint for resurfacing the chalkboards, buckets to mix paints, chalk and other small things for the classes. The repainting of the blackboards is for the entire 18 classrooms.  Fah Diarra and the entire school of Soni Cegni send their grateful appreciation to the KoFalen advisory and executive boards, and all those that donated to Kofalen.  The young biology teacher quickly added to Fah Diarra’s message, “My biology and science classes are in desperate need of books also.”   “Let us hope for health, long life, and the possibility that we will be able help you all.” said the head master.  

Next we walked to the compound of Ntjo Diarra the chief (Dougoutigui) of the town. The compound was crowded with the town elders waiting for us. They guided me to the room of the Dougoutigui Ntjo Diarra. He is blind and elderly, but he raised his arm up to the level of his forehead and I shook his hand and sat next to him on his homemade bamboo bed. He asked about all the members of KoFalen and sent his condolences for the passing of Ronna’s mother. Then he asked me to join the elders in the compound, as they already had words he had transmitted to them. Outside, I introduced myself and explained my purpose of coming on behalf of KoFalen. The elders began by acknowledging the Youth Association and the great job KoFalen is doing to help them. They also praised me as a great example of “he who never forgets where he came from” as they shouted out to the young ones standing, “If one forgets where he comes from, trouble will follow them to where they’re going.” There was a great deal of conversation after that. But the long and neverending compliments about the greatness of American people ended with several large bowls of foods. After eating, Blanki–our Kofalen Mali member, handed the elders the portion of money for their mask and cultural preservation project. They said that the cultural preservation program has been a great inspiration to all of the surrounding villages. The traditional dances, masks, and ceremonies are being handed down to the younger generations.  They said that they are looking forward to seeing the Kofalen Oregon members come to witness some new things. “The bucket alone cannot bring fresh water to thirsty men without the help of the rope. Great thanks to Wague and KoFalen.”  
We discussed the successes and needs of their village.  They are so pleased with the continued support of school supplies and the success of the students.  They also see a need to supply their school Clinique with little medical necessities for open cuts (band aids), headaches, and other small first aid kits for the students.  In addition, they have been talking of building a small water tower for potable drinking water. I promised to transmit these messages to Kofalen. Thanks to you all.

Only love from Mali,

Baba Wague Diakite


Emails from Mali – Jan 25th

Dear friends,
Today is the 13th day of the French attacks against the insurgents in the north of Mali and it is estimated to cost 30 million Euro.  Not only is this raising the eyebrows of the poor Malian, but they also question how it will be paid back. Many are now thinking regardless the outcome of this war, the north of Mali will be controlled by others rather than Malians themselves.
The CDAO or ECOWAS are still waiting for a ransom 387 million Euros in order to show up in Mali.  This makes me wonder if human rights issues and concern for democracy are all secondary to the interests of some African and Western countries. But for now cities like Diabaly near the border with Mauritania, Kona beyond Sevare/Mopti, and Douentza are fully freed.  Gao is somewhat in our hands but not confirmed. The fight is climbing up toward Timbuktu and Kidal at this point. Here the current wisdom is that the same being that creates the elephant also creates the small ant, for he knows the survival of both is important.
As for good news, today January 24th 2013 was a big day for me.  Earlier in January, I put on hold my travel to the village of Sony Cegni because things were way too dangerous to roam around the country–especially having visitors from Portland with me at the time. But as things have quieted,  I decided to deliver our school supplies to Soni Cegni in person, thanks to the help from a gentleman named Bablen Diabate, native of Soni Cegni. He is also a Policeman, who decided that Kofalen’s aid to students in Soni Cegni affected even his own family in the village and took permission from work to escort me there. He said my physical presence is very significant to the village elders. So I called some few members of Kofalen’s Bamako Branch (Mamadou Diakite, Blanki Diarra, Dognoune Diarra and now Bablen the police
officer who wants be a new member of Kofalen Bamako). They were all great help for me today. The security was extremely high moving outside the city, but Bablen made sure things ran normally.
When we arrived in Soni Cegni, there were no drummers, hunters, or masked dancers there to welcome us. But the youth association was at its best to welcome us with songs about the importance of education. They also sang a song about hope and Kofalen, because the hope we have given them is now sending the village children to high schools and colleges across Mali. They compared us to the old Dubalen tree in their village that has sheltered people from their great grandfathers’ time to their generation with its shade. When I interviewed them on what they wanted to be in life, many girls wanted to be either doctors or teachers. But almost half, including boys, answered with mixed feelings,  because they are really happy with what they are doing in their own village, educating rural Mali about ending female excision, helping preserve the forest with their stove program, child malnutrition and health, and organic gardening. So this last group found it important to continue the youth association in their village, and they would like to grow up and become instructors for the next generation. They said all of these programs are working so well because of their songs and plays that pierce people’s hearts and minds, giving them respect for their messages.
After receiving the money from me, they are traveling to a village that they have been holding off because of a lack of bus fare. The other thing our youth association does is to help farmers in their fields to
encourage them, and water gardens for the villagers. I did not have the chance to visit their new garden for organic food.  Understandably, they were very disappointed but that is the way it is. The sweetest moment with the youth association was when a young man asked me to turn my camera toward him for a message to Kofalen and when I did so, he said “I first met the Americans here when I was in third grade; now I am in my last year in college and I owe them my life for that. They impressed me because they were the first westerners I ever held hands with and that was the whole world to me. In 6th grade, I realized how far America was for them to come help us. While the problem between universities and the government is being sorted out, I have also come back to help the youth association–just like the Americans.”
The youth association thanks Kofalen and its donors for sending $ 500 for them.  When one plants the seed of goodness, the fruit is nothing short of sweetness itself.
More will come soon about the responses of the headmaster of the school Fah Diarra and the dougoutigi chief of the town.        
Only love From Mali,                                               Baba Wague Diakite

Emails from Mali – Jan 23rd

                 Mali is still here
Dear friends,
Don’t be sad for Malian people and the circumstance in Mali at this time.
Mali is here and will remain here.
Don’t cry yet–for you are the hope and the hope is the root and the root is the strongest part of anything. 
So don’t cry, for you are to be the one that cries last.
Turn around to witness the task that is well done.  
Recognize we have been blessed by your positive human spirit
and neverending friendship that you have given us.
We are grateful for the empathy of other countries. 
If you feel angry, drop the anger and sadness
and recognize all the great things you have done through Ko-Falen over the last 15 years.
One village–2 classrooms of 30 students–is now 7 villages–18 classrooms with 1700 students. 
Some are going to high school; others are going to college.
At the Ko-Falen Center, our tutoring program gives hope to the kids of artisans and gardeners
that otherwise would not have had the chance of an education.
We help sustain a group of young scouts that are taking leadership roles of their own.
My mother once said, “Never close your eyes because of one bad incident,
as you may miss seeing all the good things around you.”
Make sure you also appreciate yourselves for the 15 Families Program
that ended up helping 20 families for food and medical expenses.
You have no idea how blessed and grateful everyone here feels about that.
I am already a believer of human inspiration and yet this is the most positive one.
There was a night that I did not really sleep,
thinking about how respectfully people responded when Ronna and I called for help
for my fellow Malians. I had desert tea with friends and my brother Madou.
We chatted all afternoon into the night. I am sure all the caffeine did not help me.
Here is what I felt that night.
The head of my bed faces a window open to the neighborhood’s little creek.
Already at 6 pm the frogs begin croaking;
by 10 pm crickets and other insects join in creating the sound of harmony.
Then a donkey brays to announce 12 am to the dogs, so they can begin barking.
By 1 am, an occasional rooster pitches in with their “Kokoriko” until 2:40 am. 
The donkey brays again and soon after, the night is filled with harmonious chanting.
The donkey brays again around 4:30 am–the same time I can hear the mosque calling
and the noise fades into a different type of noise.  
Faithful rousing to perform ablutions before prayer.
Crying sounds of babies, and their mothers comforting them;
then occasional passers by holding conversations, their sandals crunching small grains of red sand.
Dawn comes.
By 6 am I hear the pumping sounds at the well, and cars passing by.  
By 7 am you can see women walking to the market with their little girls holding onto their pagna skirts, 
youngsters trying to keep up.
School girls walking in groups, with littler sisters crying to their older sibling to wait for them!
And the boys come along, looking up at the height of my mango trees,
hoping one mango will fall. But the mangoes have not yet ripened so I say,
“Hey, don’t even think about it!” 
The Boys will turn their faces toward me, respectfully greeting, “Ini sogoma, Tonton Wague.”
I respond, “Good morning,” back to them as they continue their walk around the corner,
kicking up the dust of the dirt streets.
Then I realize at this time that Mali is still here and well.
I renew my world citizenship and say “No matter where you are in the world,
hearing these sounds of nature and babies and
watching children just as they have always been, gives me a great deal of hope.”  
So the greatness of Mali and Malian people are still here
and hopefully you will witness this when you come one day.
If you are the hope for someone, you are the spiritual guidance.
In Mali the djelibaw/griots/oral historians often sing,
“When you are the hope to others, do not start crying, no matter how difficult things seem:
simply because you are the root that holds everything together. 
This makes you the strongest part of the event.
So your time to cry is after all of the others.”
I structured this writing from the words I hear from my elders,
and if I might have used them wrongly, may their souls forgive me,
because I am just Malian.
May love be our tying vines,
Baba Wague Diakite

Emails from Mali – Jan 22nd

For the time being things have calmed down here in Mali. Although normal daily life seems to be in place at government and private sectors, the market place rumors are still on about the scared and scattered insurgents that are now navigating though the Niger river Southward. They are increasingly mixing themselves within the population of the south as they shave their long and thick beards to fit in. It is believed that the district of Bamako has not been heavily infested yet with their presence. But other cities that most attracted to them are those along the niger river (Segou, Markala, Mopti and even Koulikoro just some 70 km north toward Banamba.) They journey in small boats usually at night and they are being caught daily in those places.

 The Africa cup in soccer has started this week. As usual, people gather around televisions everywhere–even in the middle of the street. This has been shifting people’s mind from the war and brings a bit of calmness.

I went to meet Djeneba (The young blind girl from the village of Soni Cegni that a Ko-Falen member sponsored to go the the Institute for the Blind in BKO last year). It was great to meet her. She is awfully quiet but seems to be a bright little girl. I asked her if she liked her school and she said yes, but would like to visit home more often. I told her to bear with the school policies for now and that she will have a bright future. I also promised to her that I will pay another year of her school fee. She is very happy. 

On Thursday, I will be visiting a school by request to meet and teach drawing through story telling.  

I may want to find a place in Portland to share my experiences of this travel all at once.  Any ideas?

Love you,


Emails from Mali – Jan 19th

 Dear Ronna and friends

Thank you so much for sending me all the great remarks from our friends and families. These notes are uplifting and I am sure will help the morale of those I will share them with soon.  Today Sunday was a quiet day in the city of Bamako, but the talk about extremist muslims is everywhere–market places, in super markets, government offices and even in airline travel agencies.  Everyone talks about the bad guys and how to conquer them. But most everyone is also saying that without the presence of the French, the state of Mali would have fallen in the hand of insurgents two Fridays ago. For this reason, people have been decorating their cars, motorcycles, bikes and even push carts with Mali flags one side and French flags on the other side. Underneath all that other worry is the catch that France is spending 110 million Euro a day on this war.

Today I heard that Tessali, one of the northern towns where oil was found (One of the reasons for all these problems) has been liberated by French troops. Others however care less about the oil and only care about freeing the country. Also there are small rumors about American aid arriving soon. These are things being heard and said in the street in Bamako daily for the last 4 or 5 days.  

Bamako, the city of millions, seems to now have no signs of a western presence–only Lebanese that run the supermarkets. But numbers of Chinese are present even in the remote countryside as they are singlemindedly working on roads, overpasses and in other private sectors. The absence of western tourists has definitely scarred the bottom of the pot of the economy that has already been scraped by a broken and corrupt political system. Now the insurgents–some as black as southerners– make things even worse, as one finds it difficult to differentiate.  You may agree with me “It takes great expertise to separate two dark things that shine differently.” The next big problem in the news here is how to secure the 1500 kilometer long border between Mali and Mauritania. I can’t wait to see how that will be done. But I am optimistic, as many of you know Malian people, “They may be poor, but they  have hope; it is that hope that makes them closer to each other in society and makes them all the happiest people living.”

From the ancient Mali there is a saying, “Sending your good thoughts is equally soothing as your physical presence, because a good spirit never misses its target.”

Only love from Mali,

Emails from Mali – Jan 18th

Dear all,

I really appreciate your updates of news from your neck of the woods. It often alarms me to catch on BBC or VOA the situation and then I also ask my fellow Malians if they know any more than yesterday’s news. But thanks to my diverse source of news, I have become somewhat the news giver instead. As I’ve said in my previous reports, the infiltration of these extremist muslims in the South of the country is not a new thing. More than 60 of them have been caught with weapons since my arrival here in Mali on December 28th. However due to the fact that their numbers are increasing under pressure from the war area, more and more of them are managing to find their way into the dense populated regions in the south. Bamako is not the only hiding bush for them, but all over the southern side of the country. At the beginning, knowing of the infiltration, people were freaked out, but now most everyone is on the look out for who is whom and wary of new faces in the neighborhood. The other day neighbors were questioning a woman who had asked a teenager whether my Center is a school; the teenager told his mother and they stopped the woman for questioning. It turned out she was not a threat, but simply looking for someone.  None of this is by any means to undermine the situation here in Mali–in fact it is going to be hard for me to go to Portland leaving my brothers and sisters and their families behind me. The only thing left here is hope, the hope that this will end soon because the damage is already done to the culture.

Yesterday I visited the high school students that are exchanging poems and their thoughts with a high school in Portland through KoFalen. The name of this high school in Bamako is Lycee Filifen Sissoko. The students told me that what they learned in this first exchange of poetry, is that adults in America need to take more responsibility and know the importance of their families. But they also admitted that their own poems were mostly about the struggles we face here in Mali presently. They said that they will also use the positive side of globalization to ask the world to help save Mali. “Is there any negative side of globalization?” I asked. The students said yes indeed, because globalization does very little to keep good cultures intact. Their main focus is technology and making things, and encourage buying of those things. Alassane their English teacher was grateful that not only I came to see the students, but I came with Jessica and her husband Jon, Portlanders who are visiting the KF Center. I am really looking forward to expanding this poetry program with other schools in the Portland area.

We say here in Mali now, the country is not well and we need your blessings.

Only love from here,