How Do I Reach These Kids?

I finally get it. After being here I kept on wondering why Mali is so poor, for that matter all of Africa, and HOW it got so poor. To avoid getting into trouble I’ll describe the process by which I got internet for the stage house in Kita.

When I first arrived in Kita I was told we have no internet at our stage house. This was the case because having internet in Kita was just way too expensive. Being skeptical as I am I investigated for myself whether or not this was the case. It turns out although Peace Corps had investigated the possibility of getting internet through Orange it would be too costly (several hundred dollars per month). But I wasn’t satisfied. I went to the internet cafe in town and tried to see if I could arrange something so that Peace Corps volunteers could use the internet whenever we wanted for a flat rate we could pay each month. However, this also proved cost prohibitive as the amount he wanted was too much. I then asked what ISP they used and he told me Sotelma, the national Malian telephone company. So I went to the Sotelma guys and they told me that getting internet would not be possible. But, I wouldn’t take no for an answer. I was persistent and kept coming by to see if anything had changed. I did this for months but to no avail. Each time I came I would see the same guy, Mr. Maiga, who would tell me he would look into it, and each time he would tell me to come back next week. This went on for months until finally I decided to snoop around and befriend some other people. I met most of the guys, drank tea with them, joked with them, and soon found out the guy to talk to would be Mr. Traore. Mr. Maiga is on the customer side while Mr. Traore is a technician. It turns out that Kita only has a few slots available for internet and at the moment the network was saturated. I would later find out that the person who came to investigate the demand for internet service had grossly underestimated the demand and so there was a waiting list of would-be customers. I pleaded with Mr. Traore and for months he gave me the run-around just like Mr. Maiga. Then, at last, I found an opening. Mr. Traore told me he would be terminating the contracts for customers who had not paid their bills and that Peace Corps would get one of the slots. After talking with HQ we decided to pay for the service upfront to ensure that we would be satisfied. Unfortunately this proved unfruitful since they gave me the runaround once again and told me the network was saturated and to come back next week. This went on for another month. It was then that my patience ran out. During our regional training here in Kita I asked Peace Corps staff who were in town to roll with me to Sotelma. So there we were, the four of us, waiting to be satisfied. Of course they told us the same thing yet again, that the network was saturated and they were trying their best. They flat out told the staff members from Bamako they hated seeing me because they knew what I was after but they had no solution. Finally I went to see Mr. Maiga again and at this point everyone was frustrated and he knew how long I had waited. He gave in and told me service would be installed in a week. And so it was.

After all was said and done from start to finish this seemingly impossible process took 9 months. In America it would have taken 9 hours and that’s the difference between life here in Mali and life in America. Socialism in Africa has proven to be a massive failure. The thing is none of the African leaders after colonialism knew how to effectively run a Western style government. The only thing they knew how to do was take care of themselves, and so they did. George Attiyey, in Africa Unchained, talks about the massive amounts of money African leaders took from Western nations in the form of aid and just stored in Swiss bank accounts. In 1960 South Korea and Ghana had the same GDP but if you compare them today they are worlds apart. South Korea’s GDP is significantly higher. So what happened? Who’s to blame? Is it that Korean people are more productive than Africans? I don’t think so. When Africans ask why they’re still so poor all they have to do is ask their leaders. But that’s the problem, no one asks questions. Everyone does what they’re told and most simply accept their fate. Most of the people around here believe that everything happens n’i Allah sonna (Lord willing). Everything happens because God wills it and because of this mentality many Malians are very passive. No one questions why things go right or wrong because they know why, it’s because God willed it. It’s a damn shame because there are so many people here I know could be living better lives if they only ask the right questions. I had a conversation with one of my Malian friends who came to the same conclusion that most people are either uneducated or unorganized, but mostly if they don’t know something they just throw their hands up in the air and give up without asking questions. Fortunately for them, I do…..Right now most of my projects are humming along. I’ve almost completed construction of the restaurant and will buy supplies over the next week. Regarding our Food Security project we should be meeting up with representatives from Manobi, a company based in Dakar shortly to discuss rolling out market information systems here in Mali. I will be helping my women’s cooperative develop packaging for their Shea butter and help them determine how much they should sell as nuts and/or butter. If the restaurant goes well I want to build a dairy cooperative there as well. I’m also looking into starting a women’s savings and loan group with one of my friends, Fili. Other than that I’m trying to figure out how to develop tools to make volunteers’ lives easier and more productive. The idea is to work smarter, not harder.

All my life I’ve had trouble finishing and this is something that my dad’s harped on me forever, but now that I’m here I’m glad that he did. Since I was young I would start tons of different things but the passion would die out quickly and I would soon move on to the next thing. He hated that and would lecture me to finish what I start. He would live it out as well. I just thought he was stubborn and maybe he was/is, but I couldn’t fault him for not finishing things. It’s because of him that I plan on seeing things through. It seems like a lot of Malians have a similar problem, but the opposite. It seems the hardest thing to do here is to start something. Once people get going they pretty much see it through, but it’s taking that first step that requires faith and a lot of guts. If you fail at something here there’s a good chance that you’ll go hungry.

If I’ve learned anything from my time here in Mali it’s that if you really want something, nothing will stop you. So many people have told me “no” here but I refuse to accept it as an answer anymore. I’ve learned not to be so passive and started to “demand satisfaction” and it’s also an attitude that I try to instill in everyone I know. Being a volunteer has made me more independent and determined to make my own path. For a long time before Peace Corps I’ve done what was expected of me, but not anymore. Now I’m going to do whatever the hell I want. I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I can’t wait around anymore for other people to figure things out for me. Life is way too short. I know I’m not the smartest person in the world but there isn’t much I can’t figure out given enough time. Give me enough time here in Mali and I’ll fix the whole country. Anyways, I’m leaving for Barcelona soon, less than a month. I’ll be able to meet some of my friends there but some of whom I thought were my close friends who I really wanted to meet won’t be coming, and for no good reason. That’s the last time I ask them for anything. Ah well, maybe I’ll go couchsurfing and find some new friends. At least I get to see my parents. I wonder if they’ll recognize me? In sh’Allah…..


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