When Simple Things Are Not So Simple In Mali, West Africa

My friend Salifu Koné arrived at my house last night.  I love the guy, we are both cut from the same tree, I’m certain of it. Honestly, I’d say we must have had the same mother, except that Salifu is true Malian black, and I’m redhead white.

Salifu had five children with his first wife, and then tragically lost her during childbirth of their sixth child.  The infant survived and was wet nursed by a family member.

When I first met Salifu Koné, he was struggling to raise his family without a wife and mother for his children for two years. In Mali, West Africa, this is as difficult as it gets for a man. Women carry a huge responsibility in family life here.  This is not to say Salifu is a lazy man, to the contrary, he helps the family as well.

However, women fulfill certain roles, develop kitchen skills, and specific “know hows” that men never have to develop because of culturally defined roles here. Meals are cooked from scratch with products right out of the field. So it is very labor intensive.  Clothes are washed by hand, and they get very dirty in this dusty place. Salifu’s oldest daughters, to whom a lot of home responsibility fell  while Salifu was out trying to make a living,  were struggling.  I really felt for him. I could not fathom the loneliness and stress he and his children were experiencing in their heart of hearts.

However,  Salifu eventually got married to another fine lady about 28 yrs old. Miriam’s story is a story all of its own, and I will tell you about it in my next chapter. For now, let me jump ahead a little.

Salifu and Miriam had a child (Miriam’s first) two years ago. The child was sickly, and seemed to run a fever all the time. They always had her to the doctor. A prescription here, another there, but the little girl struggled. Doctor after doctor, bags of money from this poor Salifu, and none of them could seem to find anything wrong. I believe the family and doctors were beginning to think the child had some kind of disability, as she was not walking, making noise, or talking very much for a two year old.

In our conversation last night, Salifu shared how he recently took his daughter to a new clinic, and they discovered the child was suffering from a long term, and very serious inner ear infection, deep down inside, that was hard to detect in the deep inner ear.

They admitted her, gave her serious and intensive treatment, and within one week the child was up walking, and talking. The poor kid simply was not able to hear, and her body was weakened from this long term infection and recurring fevers. Imagine that, this child could have been stunted for life because of an undiagnosed ear infection.

Mali has the lowest people-to-medical professional ratio in the world. Many people will never see a doctor in their life. I’m glad Salifu Kone’s daughter is doing better now, because this story could have had a tragically different ending.

This story demonstrates how little we actually know about the struggles and burdens of even our truest of friends. I knew their child was sick a lot, but I had no idea how serious the situation was.  I sat with this man and held this child three or four times a week, and I just never realized the struggle they were having for the health, even life, of this child. Enlightening moments like these remind me to be very gracious, loving, and forgiving of people around me. You never really know the depth of the burdens they carry.

Anyway, it is because of stories like this, and Philippe’s, that we understand why we need loving and caring medical people to serve among the poor. You should come. I always thought I would like to be a doctor, as science and medicine fascinate me. However, I became a theologian, then a fisherman, and then a Humanitarian/fisherman.  Unfortunately, this is all Salifu gets, from a friend like me.  

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