Mali is a landlocked country in West Africa, a former French colony and maybe the most interesting in a region that is always on top of the list of world’s the poorest areas. The dry and barren natural environment, is alleviated somewhat by the great Niger River running through the country from the south to the north, gifting life. The conditions of poverty and malnutrition are maximized by the numerous diseases that affect the population (malaria, yellow fever, dengue, typhoid, cholera, hepatitis, meningitis, parasites, intestinal diseases, AIDS, Ebola, etc.) while access to a public health system is not provided! As if that were not enough, a civil war affecting the country since 2011, with the northern areas controlled by rebel forces creating a humanitarian crisis and of course making the tourism industry to expire permanently.
After the second revolution of the Tuaregs demanding the independence of Azawad in the northern part of the country, followed their betrayal by extremists with links to Al-Qaeda who imposed Sharia. Attacks, kidnappings, terrorism and looting of monuments are part of the rebels’ actions.
In a destination full of images, different from anything you’ve seen before, you meet people also unique and authentic. Almost always friendly, cordial and smiling, they enjoy a way of living with minimum wealth, a point of view hardly understood by us Westerners… With a distinctive, happy and respectful approach, you will definitely earn their smiles.
Let’s wander at the riverside city of Segou with the weekly market, the magnificent mud made city of Djenné with the Grand Mosque, the biggest mud building in the world, the city of Mopti, the “Venice of the damned”as resembled to me, the Dogon country, an enclave of animist people with strange customs . And of course the big capital Bamako, with a rare combination of colonial architecture and unbearable dust, streets that look bombed with open sewers in plain view. The legendary Timbuktu, the historic city of caravans is unfortunately inaccessible, under control of the rebels. Tried to get in a United Nations flight for a quick (and very dangerous) visit unfortunately was fruitless. Nevertheless, the whole experience was amazing, let alone in a place that you do not meet another visitor.
Christmas in a war zone…
A logical explanation from someone who wants to spend his holidays in a war zone, is difficult to answer. Nothing is easy in West Africa. In a place of poor touristic infrastructure, adding the possibility of not returning back safe had terrified me as the departure day approached. To beat our personal fears is not easy and this fear had a realistic reason. When a simple internet search shows the terrorist attack at the Radisson hotel in Bamako, the daily attacks on the UN forces, the kidnappings… When the locals advise you keep a low profile in the “red” areas, which is impossible when you’re the only tourist in the country! When they inform that “bad guys” were seen just 1km away, when they’re trembling in fear facing Touareg people… then how are you supposed to feel?
The thirst for experiences is often stronger than fear. And the reward is something difficult to describe in words and images. Besides that, West Africa is … for the fans of it! Let’s travel to the suffocating dust that fills the eyes and nose of the visitor, with indescribable transport means, with time flowing into African pace, with unexpected events, and ignorance of common communication language (French).
to be continued…