Monthly Archives: January 2013

Posts by Wagué

I have recently returned from Mali, where I spent a month disbursing funds for Ko-Falen’s educational projects and interviewing Malian recipients of these programs.

Because Mali is in a crisis situation at this time, in addition to the Ko-Falen Projects, I also began a food aid project called 15 Families, by selling artwork in my home in Portland, Oregon to buy sacks of rice and millet for at-risk families in my neighborhood in Bamako and in the village of Soni Tieni.

The following reports are updates that I sent back to the Ko-Falen board and to supporters of the 15 Families aid program.

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MESSAGE FROM MALI BY WAGUÉ – JANUARY 26, 2013

Hello friends,

I would like to let all of you know that the 15 Family program has been extended. Dana Louis (Ko-Falen executive board member) was inspired to continue the project to make sure more people in difficulties here can be helped. Of course we can’t help all Mali, but there are a handful of people we all may know that were not on our original list of people. I am extremely happy to announce that now 22 families have been served. By January 19th, I had already delivered aid to 18 different Families.  Thanks to the most recent effort of Dana with her generous donors, we were able to serve a few more families.

Tiemogo Kamissogo

Tiemogo Kamissogo

Tiemogo Kamissogo from Soni Cegni known as Djeliba was the very first recipient of this new group. Djeliba’s position in the village is most outstanding; not only because he is an elder, but he is from the line of one of the most important families in the village. His family is the master in the art of speeches, as they are griots/oral historians. Although his real name is Tiemogo Kamissogo, everyone calls him Djeliba in respect of his knowledge of the historical background in the village of Soni Cegni and its surroundings. Djeliba is known to all who have come to Soni Cegni through KoFalen. During the last 20 years, Djeliba made sure all of Kofalen’s messages were well scaffolded before passing them on to the village people, and vice versa. The memory of the way Djeliba has always welcomed us to Soni Cegni and spoke on our behalf is etched in my mind. His memory to some Kofalen people may be from his famous saying “Only this has enough to pay you back for your kindness . Only this!!”– he says these words pointing his index finger skyward.

When I visited Djeliba in his family compound, he was seated with his younger brother Diemory Kamissogo discussing what to do for his eye problems and poor vision. At first he did not recognize me because of his poor eyesight, but his quick memory jumped in as he heard my voice. He indeed was a bit surprised as I had not visited his home all the years I’ve been coming to Soni Cegni. However, Djeliba had no lack of words to praise me. “Heeee Wague!!” he beamed.  Turning to face his brother he continued, “In the name of the Mighty Creator, the son of people has arrived! All of the 4 original ancestors were only given a fist name and they earned their own last name. They are Diallo, Diakite, Sidibe and Sangare.”   He turned to face me again, “You are the son of the entire Africa. He-who-will-never-forget-where-he-came-from. You are the small tree that produces a large shade. You are the one who is expanding the name of Mali across the Atlantic Ocean.  Make yourself welcome at your own house.”   Though  Djeliba is now a bit older and less energetic, his spirit is fully present. Both he and his brother were in shock when I explained to them that I had come to share of the 15 Family program, and handed him the money. Though his eyes were the primary issue at the time, Djeliba’s real concern was lack of food in his family. He noted to me that this horrible time Mali is going through is a so-called “lighting the already dry grass.”  “It is hard to survive old age unless you have a faithful helper,” he added.

Djeliba has been a friend of KoFalen from the beginning, and I am so glad we were able to help him. Once again as Djeliba said goodbye,  he also sent gratitude to all Kofalen members but particularly to his “wives”–my daughters– Penda and Amina. In the end, he said “Only this will pay you back, only this!!”

We have a saying here in Mali, “Even if you have nothing to feed to your new guest, being a good and pleasant host is plenty enough.” Djeliba has been such a person.

Only love from Mali,

Baba Wagué Diakité

MESSAGE FROM MALI BY WAGUÉ – JANUARY 25, 2013

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.

Two young teachers on left

Two young teachers on left

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.

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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.”

Culture preservation

Culture preservation

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 Wagué Diakité

MESSAGE FROM MALI BY WAGUÉ – JANUARY 24, 2013

Today is the 13th day of the French attacks against the insurgents in the north of Mali and it is estimated to cost 30 million Euro.  Not only is this raising the eyebrows of the poor Malian, but they also question how it will be paid back. Many are now thinking regardless the outcome of this war, the north of Mali will be controlled by others rather than Malians themselves.

The CDAO or ECOWAS are still waiting for a ransom 387 million Euros in order to show up in Mali.  This makes me wonder if human rights issues and concern for democracy are all secondary to the interests of some African and Western countries. But for now cities like Diabaly near the border with Mauritania, Kona beyond Sevare/Mopti, and Douentza are fully freed.  Gao is somewhat in our hands but not confirmed. The fight is climbing up toward Timbuktu and Kidal at this point. Here the current wisdom is that the same being that creates the elephant also creates the small ant, for he knows the survival of both is important.

As for good news, today January 24th 2013 was a big day for me.  Earlier in January, I put on hold my travel to the village of Sony Cegni because things were way too dangerous to roam around the country–especially having visitors from Portland with me at the time. But as things have quieted,  I decided to deliver our school supplies to Soni Cegni in person, thanks to the help from a gentleman named Bablen Diabate, native of Soni Cegni. He is also a Policeman, who decided that Kofalen’s aid to students in Soni Cegni affected even his own family in the village and took permission from work to escort me there. He said my physical presence is very significant to the village elders. So I called some few members of Kofalen’s Bamako Branch (Mamadou Diakite, Blanki Diarra, Dognoune Diarra and now Bablen the police officer who wants be a new member of Kofalen Bamako). They were all great help for me today. The security was extremely high moving outside the city, but Bablen made sure things ran normally.

Salut scout

Salut scout

When we arrived in Soni Cegni, there were no drummers, hunters, or masked dancers there to welcome us. But the youth association was at its best to welcome us with songs about the importance of education. They also sang a song about hope and Kofalen, because the hope we have given them is now sending the village children to high schools and colleges across Mali. They compared us to the old Dubalen tree in their village that has sheltered people from their great grandfathers’ time to their generation with its shade. When I interviewed them on what they wanted to be in life, many girls wanted to be either doctors or teachers. But almost half, including boys, answered with mixed feelings,  because they are really happy with what they are doing in their own village, educating rural Mali about ending female excision, helping preserve the forest with their stove program, child malnutrition and health, and organic gardening. So this last group found it important to continue the youth association in their village, and they would like to grow up and become instructors for the next generation. They said all of these programs are working so well because of their songs and plays that pierce people’s hearts and minds, giving them respect for their messages.

Shaka Diarra

Shaka Diarra

After receiving the money from me, they are traveling to a village that they have been holding off because of a lack of bus fare. The other thing our youth association does is to help farmers in their fields toencourage them, and water gardens for the villagers. I did not have the chance to visit their new garden for organic food.  Understandably, they were very disappointed but that is the way it is. The sweetest moment with the youth association was when a young man asked me to turn my camera toward him for a message to Kofalen and when I did so, he said “I first met the Americans here when I was in third grade; now I am in my last year in college and I owe them my life for that. They impressed me because they were the first westerners I ever held hands with and that was the whole world to me. In 6th grade, I realized how far America was for them to come help us. While the problem between universities and the government is being sorted out, I have also come back to help the youth association–just like the Americans.” The youth association thanks Kofalen and its donors for sending $ 500 for them.  When one plants the seed of goodness, the fruit is nothing short of sweetness itself.

More will come soon about the responses of the headmaster of the school Fah Diarra and the dougoutigi chief of the town.

Only love From Mali,

Baba Wagué Diakite

MALI IS STILL HERE BY WAGUÉ – JANUARY 23, 2013

Don’t be sad for Malian people and the circumstance in Mali at this time. Mali is here and will remain here. Don’t cry yet–for you are the hope and the hope is the root and the root is the strongest part of anything. So don’t cry, for you are to be the one that cries last. Turn around to witness the task that is well done. Recognize we have been blessed by your positive human spirit and never ending friendship that you have given us. We are grateful for the empathy of other countries. If you feel angry, drop the anger and sadness and recognize all the great things you have done through Ko-Falen over the last 15 years. One village — 2 classrooms of 30 students — is now 7 villages — 18 classrooms with 1700 students. Some are going to high school; others are going to college. At the Ko-Falen Center, our tutoring program gives hope to the kids of artisans and gardeners that otherwise would not have had the chance of an education. We help sustain a group of young scouts that are taking leadership roles of their own.

My mother once said, “Never close your eyes because of one bad incident, as you may miss seeing all the good things around you.” Make sure you also appreciate yourselves for the 15 Families Program that ended up helping 20 families for food and medical expenses. You have no idea how blessed and grateful everyone here feels about that. I am already a believer of human inspiration and yet this is the most positive one.

There was a night that I did not really sleep, thinking about how respectfully people responded when Ronna and I called for help for my fellow Malians. I had desert tea with friends and my brother Madou. We chatted all afternoon into the night. I am sure all the caffeine did not help me.

Here is what I felt that night. The head of my bed faces a window open to the neighborhood’s little creek. Already at 6 pm the frogs begin croaking; by 10 pm crickets and other insects join in creating the sound of harmony. Then a donkey brays to announce 12 am to the dogs, so they can begin barking. By 1 am, an occasional rooster pitches in with their “Kokoriko” until 2:40 am. The donkey brays again and soon after, the night is filled with harmonious chanting. The donkey brays again around 4:30 am — the same time I can hear the mosque calling and the noise fades into a different type of noise. Faithful rousing to perform ablutions before prayer. Crying sounds of babies, and their mothers comforting them; then occasional passers by holding conversations, their sandals crunching small grains of red sand. Dawn comes. By 6 am I hear the pumping sounds at the well, and cars passing by. By 7 am you can see women walking to the market with their little girls holding onto their pagna skirts, youngsters trying to keep up. School girls walking in groups, with littler sisters crying to their older sibling to wait for them! And the boys come along, looking up at the height of my mango trees, hoping one mango will fall. But the mangoes have not yet ripened so I say, “Hey, don’t even think about it!” The Boys will turn their faces toward me, respectfully greeting, “Ini sogoma, Tonton Wague.” I respond, “Good morning,” back to them as they continue their walk around the corner, kicking up the dust of the dirt streets. Then I realize at this time that Mali is still here and well. I renew my world citizenship and say “No matter where you are in the world, hearing these sounds of nature and babies and watching children just as they have always been, gives me a great deal of hope.”

So the greatness of Mali and Malian people are still here and hopefully you will witness this when you come one day. If you are the hope for someone, you are the spiritual guidance. In Mali the djelibaw/griots/oral historians often sing, “When you are the hope to others, do not start crying, no matter how difficult things seem: simply because you are the root that holds everything together. This makes you the strongest part of the event. So your time to cry is after all of the others.”

I structured this writing from the words I hear from my elders, and if I might have used them wrongly, may their souls forgive me, because I am just Malian.

May love be our tying vines,
Baba Wagué Diakité

GREETINGS FROM MALI BY WAGUÉ – JANUARY 19, 2013

Thank you so much for sending me all the great remarks from our friends and families. These notes are uplifting and I am sure will help the morale of those I will share them with soon.  Today Sunday was a quiet day in the city of Bamako, but the talk about extremist muslims is everywhere–market places, in super markets, government offices and even in airline travel agencies.  Everyone talks about the bad guys and how to conquer them. But most everyone is also saying that without the presence of the French, the state of Mali would have fallen in the hand of insurgents two Fridays ago. For this reason, people have been decorating their cars, motorcycles, bikes and even push carts with Mali flags one side and French flags on the other side. Underneath all that other worry is the catch that France is spending 110 million Euro a day on this war.

Flag Seller

Flag Seller

Today I heard that Tessali, one of the northern towns where oil was found (One of the reasons for all these problems) has been liberated by French troops. Others however care less about the oil and only care about freeing the country. Also there are small rumors about American aid arriving soon. These are things being heard and said in the street in Bamako daily for the last 4 or 5 days.

Downtown Bamako

Downtown Bamako

Bamako, the city of millions, seems to now have no signs of a western presence–only Lebanese that run the supermarkets. But numbers of Chinese are present even in the remote countryside as they are singlemindedly working on roads, overpasses and in other private sectors. The absence of western tourists has definitely scarred the bottom of the pot of the economy that has already been scraped by a broken and corrupt political system. Now the insurgents–some as black as southerners– make things even worse, as one finds it difficult to differentiate.  You may agree with me “It takes great expertise to separate two dark things that shine differently.” The next big problem in the news here is how to secure the 1500 kilometer long border between Mali and Mauritania. I can’t wait to see how that will be done. But I am optimistic, as many of you know Malian people, “They may be poor, but they  have hope; it is that hope that makes them closer to each other in society and makes them all the happiest people living.”

From the ancient Mali there is a saying, “Sending your good thoughts is equally soothing as your physical presence, because a good spirit never misses its target.”

Only love from Mali,

Wague

GREETINGS FROM MALI BY WAGUÉ – JANUARY 12, 2013

Yesterday was sort of a chilly day. We barely had a sunny moment; the sky was covered with clouds. So I babysat my new niece Djeneba who is 8 months.  It was definitely a setback moment for me with changing diapers and bathing her. Again this morning on January 9th I watched over her while her mother did some chores and rested a bit. She is a very active little girl who loves hopping and dancing; my entire arms are soar. But before noon my youngest sister Haby came to take over. So I now have a bit of time to write.

Regarding my program of preserving folk tales and oral histories, I met with Moctar Kone and Bakoroba Diabate today. I have to say that it was a fruitful meeting. We all agreed that there is an urgent need to rescue and preserve these important tools of our cultural heritage before they disappear for good. Bakoro noted “as a historian, I’ve never seen the world as it is today, our cultures and our tools of education are all disappearing before our eyes.” Then he agreed to be the one who would start doing research here in Mali to help me with the concrete foundation recruiting the tales for children education. We should be meeting again soon.

I also met with the head of Girl Scout of Soni Cegni (now Youth Assoc). He said that one of the girls had died this year. They were hurt, but motivated by her contribution in their club. Because of that, they engaged into several great projects this year including the renewal of their education about girl circumcision. They particularly wanted to thank Ronna; it’s because of her that the program began. Now they are focusing on growing food organically. Their hope is to work on their own garden chemical free for a year before teaching others the technique.

I also met with Blanki and Dognoume last night regarding our Soni Cegni school programs and the preservation of their cultural heritages. We agreed on any date between Jan 20th though 23rd. Blanki will be heading to Soni Cegni soon to discuss with the elders and announce the date agreed upon. We also agreed that this year will not be a big event due to reasons known to us all. But the respectful process of courtesy toward the elders will be done as usual. I am planning to be their during school hrs to meet some teachers and students as I deliver their supplies.  My whole time there will be roughly 4 to 6 hrs.

Hawa Ballo

Hawa Ballo

Today I delivered a bag of rice to Hawa Ballo the blacksmith potter woman, and the remainder in money. She has lost her only son, who is her hope, in the North. She called on her two granddaughters who are now under her care to her side. She was shocked with American’s kindness and humanity toward her, but very pleased with our help to her. She held her jaw in her hand in deep thought and recited many words of blessing.

Modibo Traore

Our old friend Modibo Traore (who has been our cultural seeing eyes by using his ancient hunter Ngoni instrument to speak on our behalf to the elders of Soni Cegni), also received help from us. Modibo always takes the lead of our American visitors, and presents them with meaningful words in song to prove to the elders of Soni Cegni of our respectful purpose of visiting the village. Not enough dollars can reward Modibo for his ambassadorship. Just a couple of days ago, his father died from a long illness. Modibo himself is a father of 4.  This financial help will serve him beyond expectation. I talked to Modibo today; he sent his appreciations to Ko-falen and all that are thinking of Malians at this time.

Abdou Karim the well digger is meeting with me tonight and will receive his grain and money. So I will tell you about him soon.  In Mali we say you are the true beneficiary of what you do for others. Therefore, I do not want to spoil your kindness with the word “ thanks”.  According to the oral historian of Soni Cegni, as he points a finger skyward… “only this will pay you back.” Love,

Baba Wagué Diakité