I was confronted by the presence of one of Mali’s five main radical Islamic groups today, or so I thought. Fear controls people. It is meant to. Mali never ceases to surprise. How we interpret what we see may or may not be accurate.
I have been working in West Africa long enough to know you can’t force things to move much faster. I had been getting a bit stressed, to say the least, as the end of my term approaches. There are not very many things I am content to progress at in Malian speed. At these times one runs the risk of saying or doing things one will regret. I am having a bit of humanitarian rebellion going on.
“I didn’t hate my job itself. What I hated was the person my job was turning me into.” – Sam Lehr
I was hating the person I was turning into the last few days. When I get to this point, and it naturally resurfaces for westerners from time to time, I have found the only solution is to stop everything, walk away from the work, and play.
I have been stuck to keeping the RPM’s down due to the break-in period on the new motorcycle, until the rings are set in the engine, which takes about 1000 km.
So rather than drive slow forever, I planned a road trip 100 km south of me to visit an American friend I know in Kadiolo. I managed to get in a great visit and get some of those slow break-in miles added to the bike.
I am not to rev over 4500, which on a 150 cc bush bike with a top speed of 90 km per hour, means I am stuck to driving a maximum of 45 km per hour. In the bush on the rough village trails, this is a fine speed. On a paved road…… bla….. bla… Every flipping village motorcycle the entire 204 km round trip passed me. When a 30 year old 50 cc Peugeot moped passed me at one point….that was a bit hard on the pride.
However, I gave the bike a shot up to 6000 RPM a few times, and it satiated my soul a little.
I prayed the engine would not blow up during this fit of pure humanitarian rebellion.
Nothing can thrill the soul like ratcheting a Chinese motorcycle up to a whopping 60 km per hour, when you shouldn’t. Oh, the great seduction of pure evil. Even with these careless fits of adrenaline pumping speed, it took me almost two and a half hours to go the 102 km south.
In the early morning sun the harmattan was hanging heavily in the air as the Sahara Desert dust settled in the valleys, on the small mountains, and within the cluster groves of trees. The hazy view is magical, dreamy, and at times it seems so unreal that you wonder if you are really present in what you are seeing.
I rolled through all the police stops, not given a second glance, though I made sure to look away from the police as I drove by. I covered my white hands, as my Malian friends suggested, and that really helps me to be more incognito, but not enough. I know we dress different, and how we strap our western looking packs on our backs looks different. I think my Helmet is also different enough people give me a glance too.
However, this is the way it was, in every village I drove through; they give me this quick glance as I approach them, and almost glance away, until you see this visible realization sink in to the expression on their face- he is not African, he is a white guy. Their eyes get intense, and their mouths begin hanging open, as they wonder who in the hell is that white guy, on a motorcycle, way down here in the middle of nowhere? It is not a common sight, for certain.
At one point I pulled over to look at myself in the Motorcycle mirror, and sure enough, around my dark sunglasses, encased in a black helmet, above the bottom rim of the full face helmet, that white line of my forehead, nose, and mouth area were so visible and so contrasted by the black sunglasses and helmet lining that I almost glow.
Anyway, not much incognito going down looking like that as I drove. May have to put a cloth around my face next time.
The situation in Mali, and recently in Burkina Faso, with kidnappings and the targeting of westerners by radical jihadist groups, it is not all together advised for a white guy to be out alone on the highway, especially on a bike. My Malian friends were not very content about my trip either, but I was mad enough at most of them this past week that I did not care. I did heed their cover up advice. By dark they were calling me incessantly to confirm that I made it back to Sikasso.
“Determined that he was done being afraid, he continued down the path, trying to look more confident than he felt.” (W.P Young The Shack)
I was in my happy rebellious state for about an hour or more when I approached the village of Loulouni. On the outskirts of the town there is a sign that read:
“Ançar Dine et Le Chemin” Translated as “Ançar Dine is the Path/Road/Way”
The sign was old, rusty, obviously been their for a decade or more. But it kind of startled me to see such a sign this far south. The happy rebellious spirit flickered for a minute, with me thinking that maybe I need to be less naive. Ansar Dine (note the “s” rather than the “ç”) is one of the five main Jihadist groups in Mali seeking to impose Sharia Law on the nation of Mali. Right about now, I was wishing that people were not noticing this white stranger tooling around on a motorcycle, in a very underpopulated part of Mali. I wanted to stop an take a picture of the sign, but figured that would be very unwise.
This evening I read up on Ansar Dine, and found out there are two radically different groups, with radically different philosophies.
“Ansar Dine (Arabic: أنصار الدين ʾAnṣār ad-Dīn, also transliterated Ançar Deen) helpers of the (Islamic) religion” or “defenders of the faith” in Arabic. Ansar Dine is a militant Islamist group led by Iyad Ag Ghaly, one of the most prominent leaders of the Tuareg rebellion in the 1990s. He is suspected of having ties with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (as well as other splinter Islamist groups) which is led by his cousin Hamada Ag Hama. Ansar Dine wants the imposition of strict Sharia law across Mali.The group’s first action was in March 2012. The organization is not to be confused with the Sufi movement Ançar Dine, started in Southern Mali by Chérif Ousmane Haidara in the 1980s, which is fundamentally opposed to militant Islamism.”
So it turns out that that moment of “What The Hell” was a misguided misunderstanding. I learned something new about my region today.
“About three hundred are missing…. I pushed direct to the boundary of the usual range of the flock, and around it until I found the outgoing trail of the wanderers….
Carlo (sheep dog) knew what I was about, and eagerly followed the scent until we came up to them, huddled in a timid, silent bunch. They had evidently been here all night and all the forenoon, afraid to go out to feed. Having escaped restraint, they were, like some people we know of, afraid of their freedom, did not know what to do with it, and seemed glad to get back into the old familiar bondage. (John Muir. My First Summer in The Sierras)
I have been struggling to balance wise security practices with I have a job to do, and a life to live too, people.
Frankly, I have been feeling considerably stifled by it all. I direct it at my board, my Malian friends, and unfortunately a little toward my wife also. They are all so correct, and I mildly resent it. I will not let the following happen to me…
“Mack the courageous had been reduced to just another scared boy in the woods.” (William P. Young The Shack)
However, today, I rebelled…. and I went on the wild side. I did not let fear stop me from living, and playing a little. I needed this! Take that Ansar Dine, and you butchers of AQIM. Watch me roll, see me roar…… at 45 km per hour.
Good job my humanitarian rebellions are such ever so small ones, eh?
“He had already been perched precariously on the precipice of emotion…. He could feel the warmth of tears beginning to gather behind his eyes, as if they were knocking on the door of his heart. It seemed that she saw them too. “It’s okay honey, you can let it all out. . . . I know you’ve been hurt, and I know you’re angry and confused. So, go ahead and let it out. It does a soul good to let the waters run once in a while—the healing waters.” (William P. Young. The Shack)