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Dear people,

Today Jan 28, I am taking off from Mali to my home in Portland, OR.  For now things are a bit calmer as my time comes to an end in Mali. As a native Malian myself, I already understood the struggles of the average Malian families in their day to day lives. However, I could not anticipate what difficulties would be added with the burden of war.  This alone was the drive for us to create the 15 Families aid program in conjunction with my trip this year. But it was not only the joyful reaction of faces I witnessed in Mali from our 22 family recipients that impressed me, but those of you who thought of Malian people during this hard time. Though I was merely the representative of your good gestures in handing out the aid to these families, I benefited from witnessing their human responses.    All I can tell you is, thank you all for making this trip a rich lifetime experience for me.  It has been an emotional journey; the memories of my personal encounters with ordinary Malians and families will remain for eternity. Here are briefly the last 3 recipients of the 15 Families program I documented before I left.

 Assitan Coulibaly is like a grandmother figure to the entire neighborhood. One can easily recognize her high-pitched voice greetings and sweet exchanges with people as she walks through the neighborhood. She loves people and seems to be loved by everyone. Because she is so uplifting and charming, her personal life struggles are hard to detect. When I had a sit-down conversation with Assitan, I discovered she has been suffering like any senior person at this time. Though she seems to be healthy unlike many others at her age, she worries about some of her grandchildren that are under her care. She said the 15 Family aid program will give her and her grandchildren a few moons of stability. Grandma Assitan sent her long list of blessings along with me for all the donors of this program.  Later on that afternoon ,upon talking with others in the neighborhood and realizing that many have been touched by our program, she returned to renew her appreciation on behalf of the entire neighborhood.  I am glad people like Assitan Coulibaly is one of our recipients.  Her charming personality and encouragement to others truly helps make the burden of the day seem lighter.

The next recipient was Bakary Coulibaly a blacksmith in Soni Cegni. When I visited his family, Bakary’s wife told me that her husband had been under the weather for a couple of days. He had been working too hard and had lost the strength of his body.  As a result he was in bed from fatigue. But when Bakary overheard my voice, he came out instantly holding the small album of photos that I had sent ahead to him from Ko-Falen member and goldsmith, Tami Dean of Portland.  “Wague, it’s good to see you!!  I thought you were not coming to Soni Cegni this year?”   “Yes,” I responded, “but I changed my mind.”

He ushered us into his smithy hut and invited us to sit.  Bakary noted that his fame was now widespread with the photo album Tami had sent him in appreciation for the time they had spent smithing together in his hut.  He said that he and his wife have been having 5 to 10 visitors a day to see their new photo album.  I congratulated him and his wife and presented the gift from our 15 Families program. He was sitting at the time next to his wife with their children crowded around them. Bakary was speechless and went into deep thought about the kindness Americans have shown once more. “Wague” he said “This level of kindness makes me embarrassed; how can I ever pay them?”  I told him that his payment is not needed but to make sure there is plenty of food for those small children of theirs.  He eyes filled with tears as he said “yes” back. In the end Bakary sent his sincere greetings to Tami Dean, the donors of the 15 Family program and the entire board of Kofalen. He encouraged Americans to visit their home in Soni Cegni soon. Bakary’s lifestyle of smithing is truly at the heart of the existence of the village, as he makes and mends tools of farming for all his community.

The last recipients are Tiemogo Ouattara and his wife Sadie Kone. They are both elderly and live by themselves. Tiemogo is the younger brother of my dear friend Soloman Ouattara known as “Vieux” Outtara, a WWII Veteran, who passed a year ago. When I visited the old couple they were seated under the veranda of their crumbling cement block house.  At first Tiemogo and I chatted for some time about his deceased older brother; how much we all learned from him. Tiemogo looks and acts completely different from his brother, but they are truly linked by their regional tongue twisting words of Sikasso, Mali.  After a moment of talk about his brother, he quietly said “Do di, Wague” literally meaning “give some first.”  This indirect way of communication in Mali is a way to make a familiar person who does not visit often, not feel unwelcomed. Thus, in the meaningful sense, “Tell your purpose of the visit”.  I responded, “How is your health?”  Tiemogo looked upon me with his drooping red eyes and said “How do I look?”  “What is wrong with you?” I asked.  He responded, “Now you have asked the right question.”  Since Tiemogo’s memory was not up to date about his own health, his wife Sadie interrupted him and told me about her husband’s diabetes and his high blood pressure.  I then asked them if they have children of their own.  “Of course, plenty.  My brother had so many children with two wives.”  “But do you have any of your own?”  “Well that has been the problem.”  His wife added, “There is no one left to help us.”  Once more, I asked Tiemogo how old he was.  He turned to his wife and asked, “When was it that my brother killed the python down at the stream?”  “Eight years ago, I think,” said his wife.   “I was 76 then,” said Tiemogo.  “Well how old do you think you are now?” asked his wife.  “Oh, I must be at least 78 now,” said Tiemogo.  Then with our help, we held out 8 fingers for each year since the python, and helped him count from 76 those 8 extra years.  “84 years old!” he beamed.  An act of kindness is the fastest way to heal someone.  When I presented the money from the 15 Families program, Tiemogo’s distracted mind came back to full function for a moment, as he recognized this gesture.  “No one has done this for us for a long time.”  Then he recited a long list of blessings to those who have thought of them at this time of hardship.  I handed the money to his wife suggesting they see a doctor for his sicknesses. Instead they wanted to buy food, which we helped them do. However I still feel that Tiemogo needs to see a doctor for his conditions, and I promised to help them do that soon. In the end, Sadie his wife was so happy that she came to my house later on that evening to tell stories and sing songs as her gift in return to all those that were generous to them at this time.

My younger sister Haby witnessed the reaction of some of these ordinary Malians chosen for our 15 Families program. She said “Here in Mali, one would be foolish to thank yourself for doing a good job. But others are allowed to do that for you. I met so many Americans through my brother that I feel like I am one of them.  So today we make an exception, which allows me to sincerely thank all of those that not only followed my brother to Mali, but also brought along their humanity and kindness.  Also our sincere appreciation to those who have not yet been here, but their kindness has reached us.”



Dear KoFalen members and friends,

Things are much calmer in the Capital of Bamako.  French and Malian troops have taken back the city of Gao in the North, and they are heading to Timbuktu as I write.  We hope that this important historical city is returned to Mali without tragedy.  Despite the return to calm, life is still not back to normal.  The struggles to place an interim government in motion has made daily life a difficult task. Food and fuel prices have soared, making it hard for businesses and families.  After ten months of this, peoples’ resources are exhausted.  I am so thankful we can help in our small way, with our 15 Families food and medical aid, one neighborhood at a time.  But today, I will continue my story of visiting the village of Soni Tieni to deliver school supplies raised by donors to Ko-Falen Cultural Center.

As I mentioned in my previous letter, my decision to travel to Soni Cegni was a sudden decision. But I am so glad I went to see the headmaster Fah Diarra and his school administration, as they had much to say. They had wanted to come see me in Bamako when they found out that I may not make it to Soni Cegni earlier on, as they felt it was important to keep up the relationship we have developed. After the Youth Association sang their songs of welcoming, Fah Diarra–now with completely gray hair– turned and shook my hand. Since Fah Diarra the headmaster is getting past his retirement age, he is bringing new talents to the school of Soni Cegni. He introduced to me 3 young teachers that will be teaching in Soni Cegni’s school. One of the young teachers is an English teacher (male), another one is a biology and chemistry teacher (female), the last one is a math teacher (male).  They were all present when I brought Ko-Falen’s school supplies raised by donations. After that, Fah Diarra walked me to his office and chatted with me for a bit about the complexity of life and its many goods and troubles. He said he was not sure whether or not their hardships are created from the effects of war or whether it was there sleeping on them all along. Nonetheless, it has not been a pleasant couple years now. As we proceeded to open the boxes of school supplies, instantly, his mood changed and  one could see his smiling teeth delivering a message of happiness. He called the three young new teachers to witness the kindness of Americans once again. “Though these people from the US live countless miles away, they have by all means proven a sense of humanity to us. Just because one drinks from the same breast is not the only proof of brotherhood. These people–these Americans–are our true brothers, for they understand that we humans share the same blood in humanity. They are kind, thoughtful, and generous and above all, they care about children.”  Upon opening the supplies, the young English teacher burst into laughter; he was so happy to see 36 books for each class from 7th grade, 8th grade and 9th grade. It was at the request of the students through Fah Diarra the head master that I spent $400 out of the $1000 dollars I was given for them, on English books. “The students want to learn more English so they can communicate with their American friends.” The English teacher was still standing on the side, smiling with happiness. In the middle of this happiness came a question: “We purchased only 5 of these books for a school in Kaye, and it cost 100,000 cfa.  How did you buy 108 books for 200,000 cfa total?” I smiled also and replied, “This is thanks to my nephew Seydou and his business sense and bargaining skills.” The rest of the supplies I brought were sponges to erase the boards, paint for resurfacing the chalkboards, buckets to mix paints, chalk and other small things for the classes. The repainting of the blackboards is for the entire 18 classrooms.  Fah Diarra and the entire school of Soni Cegni send their grateful appreciation to the KoFalen advisory and executive boards, and all those that donated to Kofalen.  The young biology teacher quickly added to Fah Diarra’s message, “My biology and science classes are in desperate need of books also.”   “Let us hope for health, long life, and the possibility that we will be able help you all.” said the head master.

Next we walked to the compound of Ntjo Diarra the chief (Dougoutigui) of the town. The compound was crowded with the town elders waiting for us. They guided me to the room of the Dougoutigui Ntjo Diarra. He is blind and elderly, but he raised his arm up to the level of his forehead and I shook his hand and sat next to him on his homemade bamboo bed. He asked about all the members of KoFalen and sent his condolences for the passing of Ronna’s mother. Then he asked me to join the elders in the compound, as they already had words he had transmitted to them. Outside, I introduced myself and explained my purpose of coming on behalf of KoFalen. The elders began by acknowledging the Youth Association and the great job KoFalen is doing to help them. They also praised me as a great example of “he who never forgets where he came from” as they shouted out to the young ones standing, “If one forgets where he comes from, trouble will follow them to where they’re going.” There was a great deal of conversation after that. But the long and neverending compliments about the greatness of American people ended with several large bowls of foods. After eating, Blanki–our Kofalen Mali member, handed the elders the portion of money for their mask and cultural preservation project. They said that the cultural preservation program has been a great inspiration to all of the surrounding villages. The traditional dances, masks, and ceremonies are being handed down to the younger generations.  They said that they are looking forward to seeing the Kofalen Oregon members come to witness some new things. “The bucket alone cannot bring fresh water to thirsty men without the help of the rope. Great thanks to Wague and KoFalen.”

We discussed the successes and needs of their village.  They are so pleased with the continued support of school supplies and the success of the students.  They also see a need to supply their school Clinique with little medical necessities for open cuts (band aids), headaches, and other small first aid kits for the students.  In addition, they have been talking of building a small water tower for potable drinking water. I promised to transmit these messages to Kofalen. Thanks to you all.

Only love from Mali,

Baba Wague Diakite