Friday, February 22, 2013


There are still no hotel guests. We are tightening the belt, but I have not yet let anyone go from the staff. But nevertheless, some are leaving on their own accord; Igor the ‘chambermaid’ wanted three days leave to go to Bamako to pick up his young bride. That was on the last day of January. He is clearly enjoying his honeymoon too much and has not been heard of since, neither does he answer his telephone. We are not making any enquiries. On the contrary, it is a relief that he is gone. But of more importance is the fact that our lovely Maman has left for Adventure. 

It is rather a sad story: he asked for permission to go to his home village of Tabato for three days last week because his elder brother was getting married. This brother has suffered from mental instability and has not been able to work for a couple of years. Maman’s father is dead and he has a younger brother, not yet old enough to shoulder any responsibility. Maman is now married – against his will, you may recall- with a small daughter (who he has named Sophie!). 
Maman was the only one in his village to go to school. He walked for an hour every day back and forth to a neighbouring village which had a school. Fuelled by the conviction that education would bring him a better future he then went on to Djenne and continued his studies, graduating as an accountant. This all sounds good and admirable, and it is. The problem is only that the schooling he received was so bad that is next to useless. Djenne produces a great number of ‘accountants’ each year who will have absolutely no chance of getting employment as accountants. Not only are they not computer lliterate, they cannot even cope with simple arithmetic. And even if their level were higher, there would be no work here, because there are no businesses.
Maman was lucky – he is the only one who found a job amongst all his class mates. He has been with us for four years now. But although he receives a comparatively good salary in Djenne terms, he   doesn’t earn enough to feed all his family in the village. In earlier generations he would have stayed and tilled the soil. In Tabato money is not necessary if the men and boys of the family occupy their traditional tasks of cultivation. But there has been no one to sow and to harvest for Maman’s family in Tabato. The situation is now desperate. He has asked for two months permission to go to Bamako to try and earn some more money- he is staying with friends. In Maman’s case, education was not the answer, in fact it brought misery. 
And all over Mali there are young men like Maman: keen to learn and wanting to move forward and leave their traditional life-style behind. They will succeed in leaving the village but find they are ill served by the education system of Mali which has suffered gradual degradation for many years of nepotism and corruption under the ATT government. 
The interim government has started to  remedy the situation by rather draconian measures: they quite simply threw  64 students out of the Ecole de Sous- Officiers de Bamako  for instance, when they investigated and found that these students did not have the required grades or qualifications but had gained entrance only because their fathers were high ranking officers. Similar measures have been taken in other higher education institutions. Mali’s problems are indeed overwhelming.

Nevertheless, it is the wonder of Mali that the people still retain an indomitable joie de vivre and manage somehow to keep smiling and to draw much more  pleasure out of their life than their circumstances seem to allow.


Blogger David said...

Two sides of the coin there - great news about Papa, but what a terrible shame about Maman of the world's loveliest smile.

BTW I tried to put up a comment on the Arts Desk page detailing some of the fantastic work you were doing in Djenne, but was told it looked too much like I was acting as your PR (!) Things not very harmonious there at the moment.

10:51 AM  

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