Travelling Malian Paths: Another Journey Begins

Road to Bankagooma Land
Road to Bankagooma Land

A new journey down another West African road.

Another first step into……. well, who really knows what will actually unfold this time in Mali, West Africa?

“Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” (Lao Tzu)

Thinking about unpacking my Magic Cape that instantly transforms the Fishing Captain me back into “The Invisible Humanitarian”.  Already have been squeezing in preparations for several months, but the magic cape goes on in nine weeks as I return to Mali.

Wow! Where did the summer go?

Been a challenging summer for me with one of the worst fishing seasons on record for a decade. I struggled at lobster, mackerel never really showed up for anyone, and eel season, which I’m currently up to my eyeballs in until the end of October, sees our Korean buyer possibly pulling out on a dozen of us fisherman. But we fisherman just keep pressing on.

“Fish,” he said softly, aloud, “I’ll stay with you until I am dead.” (Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea)

Frankly, right now, i’ll be glad to have this fishing year behind me because it  is only up hill from here. Why do people think living and working in West Africa is so challenging? Heck life in Canada is a challenge too. It is just life…….

“He’d discovered that his memories of that summer were like bad movie montages, …”  (Richard Russo, That Old Cape Magic)

We have several more groups of women wanting garden drip irrigation training this year, even though we are already at our limits. But I know we will make it happen, somehow.

It has been a blast working with these incredibly resilient Malian women. I can’t help but respect the women of Mali. They carry such a heavy load with such incredibly deep grace. I could not support the life they live, and still live it with the poise they do.

This term, the next several terms actually,  I have been given the task of diving into language learning. I am not an office guy anymore, and I will go outside and work with my hands over language learning any day. But it has to be done. I already speak some basic Bambara, because I have been studying all long. Bambara makes perfect sense on paper………

Learning languages is a challenge for me, but I have managed to, a-hem, “master”  three languages already. Despite my grammar issues, which are not pretty, I have been told many times that my ability to engage and connect with people is exceptional. I personally don’t sense it, but it is encouraging to hear none the less. The good news is that French of many of my Malian counterparts is no better than mine, so I fit right in. Even though French is an official language here French is almost non-functional in most rural villages, especially among the women we work with.

The language of my Samogho Bankagooma people is dying and this new generation of children are assimilating Bambara. Already three whole villages (of seven) no longer speak their mother tongue Bankagooma, so we too will stick with Bambara.

We have over one hundred drip irrigated gardens going now, with at least another thirty families (totaling over 300 people) in the works. A project for the Mopti region with sixty families is still on hold until the day some yet to be discovered partners arrive, and the country stabilizes more. There is a considerable exodus of western workers from Mali over the past two years.

To be honest, I am thankful to have more time for language study; I think I am ready now. I have things I would like to communicate to many more people, directly, and right now I am limited in communicating it with French.

However, more importantly, I have more things I need to hear, to learn. There is a wealth of insight I will never gain about my Malian friends if I continue in French. Those profound learning moments, moments of deep insight, connection, moments of shared understanding will be missed without Bambara.

French serves the “project” purposes just fine. But it does not serve my “people” purpose as well.

There is no substitute to knowing EVERYTHING that is being said around you. I suppose, there is also no greater illusion than believing that once we have heard what was said, we therefore must fully understood all that was meant.

I may learn to hear rather quickly, but my deepest desire is to listen long enough to understand the heart of Malians some day. Will that day ever come?

“Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination.” (Drake)

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