Since I arrived in Mali I’ve come to realize that most things here are completely different from the life I know back home. People here emphasize community and family while back home we tend to emphasize individuality and small families (if we choose). Time is money in America whereas here many men spend much of their lives content just hanging out with their friends sitting, chatting, and drinking tea. In our markets we emphasize competition while here they emphasize cooperation.
In Mali there is only a vague concept of mainstream Malian culture. Most people here identify themselves with their ethnic group (Malinke, Peule, Bambara, etc.) and try to live their lives accordingly. Life isn’t this grand melting pot where cultures blend together. Some people say America is a fruitcake with different chunks of ethnicities. Then mainstream white culture is kind of like the cake that permeates it all. In Mali, life is more like a mosaic where all sorts of different ethnicities live in close proximity with each other but without a predominant culture. People are both aware of their distinct cultures but at the same time able to live in relative peace.
It makes me wonder if my own life is a fruitcake or a mosaic. I think I’m just too idealistic about humans and believe in a world where we can all just live together. While culture is important, it doesn’t necessarily define who we are. There was a man who once said that all men were created equal, but how many of us truly believe that? What would we do as a human race if we all actually believed it to be true? I am not advocating we need to be one big happy human race but that we need to learn to respect one another and our differences.
I have finished my time in Mali and the most important thing to me is the relationships I have built. I didn’t do it for the glory and I definitely didn’t do it for the money. I guess I just wanted to do something real with my life instead of waiting for life to happen to me. The past two years have helped me to assess who I am as well as the man I want to be. My circumstances and relationships will change but the lessons I have learned won’t. One of the hardest lessons I have had to learn is that less is more. I got off the plane and almost immediately I’m overwhelmed with choices. I don’t really know what the future holds but I need to have the confidence that when the time comes I’ll be able to make the right decisions. Life is so much better when things are kept simple (although as humans we are wont to make our lives more complicated than they should be).
I have had to say goodbye to too many people and I appreciate being sent off with style (although perhaps the shot of off-label Chinese liquor wasn’t such a good idea). I had an awesome time at the airport but it’s time to leave Mali for now. May God increase the blessings we receive and make tomorrow better than today.