Mali appealed to us not just because of the 106 degree heat, sandstorms, and killer hippos, but because its recorded history stretches back thousands of years. In the 1500s, when Florida’s Native Americans were sloshing around in the mud and living in stinky huts, the wealthy Malian empires were trading in gold, salt, and copper, building universities, establishing a complex criminal justice system, and maintaining armies of 100,000 men.
As we researched Mali before deciding to sign our contract to teach there, we were more than pleased to discover it was one of the most politically and socially stable countries in Africa, having been a democratic, multi-party state since 1991. And none of their politicians had ever traveled hundreds of miles with a dog in a carrier strapped to the top of their cars.
But on March 22, a couple of months after we signed our contracts, a group of junior Malian soldiers complicated our plans a bit. Out of the blue they claimed control of the country’s presidential palace and declared the government dissolved and its constitution suspended. There was no shooting or violence, though they did carry off the president’s flat screen TVs (my first reaction was “thank God there are flat screen TVs in Mali”). They
claimed they didn’t want power, just a new president who would be more supportive of the military and their efforts to protect the far northern borders of Mali, deep in the Sahara desert. If they had waited just one month they would have had their wish, since elections were already scheduled and the current president was not running again. Patience is a virtue and apparently they weren’t so virtuous.
The following days were confusing. ECOWAS, a group of leaders from the surrounding West African countries, condemned the soldiers and imposed sanctions–including blocking all imports like gas. This did the trick in just a few days, and the soldiers stepped back while a new interim government was put in place. Unfortunately during this week of crazy chaos, many of the embassies and aid organizations sent their staffs and their families out of Mali, leaving our future school without many students. It closed temporarily and sent the teachers away to conduct lessons via the Internet for the 6 remaining weeks of the school year.
Our director gave the faculty the option of getting out of our contracts and seeking employment elsewhere. But after Jamey and I discussed it we decided to stick with the school and not be big baby quitters. Hell, this all about adventure anyway! Plus, we are so ready to jam to the sounds of the Afro-pop group Amadou et Mariam (they have a new song out featuring the American singer Santigold) while wearing a boubou (a West African robe with the best name ever). BTW I always thought Amadou et Mariam were so cool wearing their dark sunglasses all of the time, then I read they met at a school for the blind.
The school does expect fewer students, at least until all of the Embassies send the families back (Canada just did, and the US decides next week) and the faculty was reduced slightly. So as a result I’ll be teaching a 4th/5th grade split class, and Jamey will teach one less biology course (though he agreed to also oversee the virtual learning platform at the school). This could change if more kids return. We will just go with the flow. It can’t be half as bad as the hoops the schools make us jump through in the US. And AISB has no high stakes testing. Let me say that again…no high stakes testing! I’ll never be able to say that in the US.
Since the initial trouble in Bamako, things have been relatively calm. A new interim government was put in place though they haven’t been very effective in dealing with the troubles 1000 miles north in the Sahara—troubles that have been ongoing for years. If you get any news from Mali these days, it’s all about what’s going on up there, where Islamist rebels control 3 small desert towns and are making life horrible for the residents. Diplomatic talks are happening—lots of them—and if that fails the countries in the region have a force of 3000 soldiers ready to assist. All of this action in the far north doesn’t really affect life in Bamako where we will live and teach, but we do hope it can finally be resolved (and without opening a can of whoop-ass if at all possible).
People ask if we are scared about it all, but recent horrific events in the US have been more violent and unsettling than anything that’s happened in Mali for a long time. Sure the Malian government has had its problems and certainly has a long way to go before it’s in good shape again, but I can’t I say the same thing about my home country? Whatever the case, we land in Bamako August 8th after a week in Paris!