This post is not about the country currently torn in two by Tuareg rebels and their Al-Qaida allies whose extremism has recent spread like a disease to Algeria, but of what I saw in Mali a few years ago. The Mali then was no paradise. It suffered under the chains of poverty and its people suffered the vicissitudes of life far too frequently. Trucks carried precariously perched laborers down bumpy highways, and as best as I could tell, the internet had not yet reached much of the populations. The mosques, still made from mud and wood were always in need of repair. In the provincial town of Niono, each rain brought sewage water pouring through the center of town. And the dust…oh that never-ending supply of dust. It covered you inside and out for whenever the Niger River did not water – it was there. The dust and smog clogged the lungs and sky.
Yet where there were problems, there was also progress. Harvests of watermelon near the life-preserving banks of the Niger, Chinese factories, American-supported infrastructure, and us, Rotary International. At the time, I was a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar in neighboring Senegal and headed east to translate for American Rotarians and engineers in the Venice of Mali, Niono. Even though the city suffered from a level of poverty unimaginable to the average American, our host friendly was the epitome of hospitality. It went beyond hope to change to action. We were there to work with local people to solve their water sanitation problems. And that was but the tip of the iceberg. When our car broke down on the road to Bamako (about where the current war is being waged) I hitched a ride with a United Nations official off delivering aid in the hinterland. The clinic restocked in some far off corner of rural Mali, we continued on to capital. There action was also prevalent. The local Rotaract club was reconstituting an old house filled with rubbish into a center for the disabled. But those it would serve made clear they would not sit on their laurels – the disabled, mostly polio victims, did what they
could. Shoveling with their hands while leaning heavily on their crutches, as their legs were unable to hold much weight, this of forced us to work harder and fight for a future where everyone would have an opportunity. Even the dust had its place. As the sun set over Bamako, I saw a sight I have never seen before nor since – a sunset that radiated more than the sun – its colors streaming every which way until finally somewhere far above the light merged into black. The sun did not give up without a fight against the seeping darkness – may Mali do the same. And if darkness does sink, may we all remember that the sun also rises.