I have just returned from Baroueli visiting the Kone family that I met through David, Kay and Sasha Pollack. It was a spectacular time that Gaoussou Kone and his family showed me. Gaoussou is a type of person my mother would describe as “A man with an extra eye in the back of his head.” Despite his intense hard work in their little family restaurant, he also seems to be the ambassador of the town. He is the head of the farmers association and takes part in every small organization for the betterment of Baroueli. Gaousou Kone is also a respectful butcher in town because of his expertise in recognizing the healthiest animals. Being with this man in his native town is like watching a problem solver at work. What really impressed me the most is the fact that he seems to have time for everyone, small or big. Although Gaoussou does not carry the credentials of a western formal education, he certainly has many great qualities that the town of Baroueli needs. He and I share the same philosophy– that other people are simply our own reflection. Kindness and honesty to them gives us wellness and stability. During my time there, Gaoussou ordered all of his children to show their school work to me daily. It turns out that those children are excelling in school.
Part of my journey to Baroueli was also to work on my project of preserving Malian stories. I met with a woman cooperative for one day to show me their talents in spinning cotton into thread for weaving blankets, and their storytelling abilities. The Idea of preserving Malian stories has been endorsed by all the groups of people and individuals I have met. I think it is going to be the next great thing for us. Some schools wanted me to visit here in Bamako to tell stories, but my time is too short for their schedules. I also met with Alassane Diarra the leader of our poetry program here in Bamako. He said that his students are more dedicated than ever to exchange poems with schools in the U.S.A.
I also decided not to go to Soni Cegni; instead to give the school supplies to someone else to deliver. Last night during my travel from Baroueli, our bus was pulled to the road side to clear the way for the most crazy looking weaponry and war machines I’ve ever seen. Also, I was traveling with my Oregon international driver’s license since that seemed a little safer than my easily recognizable American passport. Yet I was always the longest held person on the bus at checkpoints, because they wanted to make sure it was a valid identity. Sometimes I felt bad, but other times I was understanding of it. This was the first time I was ever asked to prove my identity in Mali –so folks, the war is officially on.
Though I will not make it to Soni Cegni this year, one parent named Ntchi from one of the 7 villages whose children benefit from our aid at the Soni Cegni school, has come to me and talked on behalf of all the 7 surrounding villages. He noted that these many years of KoFalen activities has cast light on not only the youngsters that go to school in Soni Cegni, but even the adults of the 7 villages. For them to write a simple letter, they no longer have to travel to Bamako or Kati, since their children can now do it for them. All this is due to the good things KoFalen has done to educate youth. He also said that they no longer pay school tuition because KoFalen already buys the textbooks, copy books, pens and many other things. The only thing parents of Soni Cegni and its 7 surrounding villages pay is 5 dollars a year for their soccer team and to support students from Soni Cegni to attend high schools across Mali.
Ntchi also said that the KoFalen interest in mask and cultural dance has encouraged a preservation program to grow. All the 7 surrounding villages of Soni Cegni have also started their own conservation of art and culture. Ntchi also said the girl circumcision education has taken root in at least the 7 villages surrounding Soni Cegni. Like I mentioned last week, they thank Ronna who talked with the scouts on this subject several years ago. Also the adobe stove building program has been helping many families. Ntchi ended his comments on KoFalen by saying, “From the celebration of Penda’s naming day 20 years ago, we have become one family. This is one of the reasons others join me to regard children as symbols of peace and prosperity.”
People in the neighborhood in Bamako gathered together to play the Ngoussoun balla of Beledougou (Balafon of Beledougou) to show their appreciation for the 15 Families Program. But they were notified by authorities that it is now illegal to hold events that attract children and adults at one place, as the country is trying to prevent spies locating and targeting people. The lead to this gathering was our dear friend Chebba Diarra the Balafon woman. However, the gathering will take place somehow to make a video for all in America to see their appreciation….. You can see why I decided not to go to Soni Cegni.
Here in Mali, things are getting more dangerous day by day. The infiltration by rebels into the South is real; bad guys are caught all the time. At the post of entrance of Bamako, upon my return from Baroueli, 13 people were caught with stockpiles of weapons heading north. After witnessing this reality, there is no more unnecessary roaming around town for me. Unfortunately, people are not well informed of what is going on around them; most are eluded from reality by what they hear from neighbors, friends and from the many radio stations whose purpose is to calm people down. But the minority listening to VOA, RFI, and BBC are correct with what they say to others. For an example, people of Baroueli believed that we had won the war just a few days ago, and I was also starting to believe it until I heard the RFI station. That was the exact time when Segou was under a great threat. I am really worried about this kind of communication.
Our tutoring program is back in session, and going really well here at the Ko-Falen Center. When I first arrived, the class was crowded with 43 students; we had to bring some regular benches for children to sit. But after Ronna sent $ 200 from KoFalen’s budget, we built 5 more student benches with desktops for them, plus new books for the tutoring program. In many occasions I was discouraged about KoFalen because I sometimes felt like some of the new ideas are heading off track. But our education programs here and in Soni Cegni, the Youth Association program, and our program of preserving art and culture are giving me lots of hope. They give me hope because I can see not only our early students going to college, but also the kind of positive influence we have been leaving in the minds of people about us as Americans. The chief of the village of Soni Cegni once said “The fruit that you enjoy from a tree that is far away from your continent, is only possible through the flight of the bat.” Thank KoFalen for taking the role of the bat.
Love from Mali,