Monthly Archives: February 2013

Update February 24, 2013

Dear all,

As of today the 15 Families program is still on! Recently, Dana Louis initiated a fundraising event in collaboration with Yoga Union at 2043 SE 50th Ave. This Yoga event raised enough for 6 new families. We cannot thank Yoga Union enough for their positive energies that have touched the lives of people in Mali during these difficult times.  Well, I am proud to say Ronna and Dana Louis sent the money last week and I stayed in touch with Mamadou Diakite, Seydou Coulbaly and Moussa Coulibaly to help coordinate the process. These people are Ko-Falen Mali members and our helpers for the continuation of the 15 Families program.

15 Families program

Though I was not present in Mali to personally talk with these families during the delivery of our aid, I was provided with photos and video clips for each process. I will not be able to say enough words of thanks to Mamadou, Seydou, and Moussa for doing absolutely an excellent job on their part.  Though this program started with our family selling our art to help out a handful of people we know in Mali, the response from friends and Ko-Falen members was remarkable. When people come together in harmony, it opens the door of communication, understanding, partnership and ultimately peace. The root of all that we started in Mali is Ko-Falen and it will be impossible for me to go on without thanking the KoFalen board members and executive board members, our volunteers and our generous donors.

Recipient 1

1Bintou

Bintou Konare

When Madou, Seydou and Moussa went to Oumar Konare’s home, he was not there. He had traveled to a village seeking help for his family. “When will he return home?” asked Madou.  His wife Bintou responded “We don’t know, whenever he finds enough to take care of the children.”  So, they presented her the aid package. She was in disbelief. With the help of another person, they were able to contact her husband who was going to be gone at least four months, but confirmed his return sooner now. Regardless, our aid will hopefully give peace of mind to that family for some time.  His wife Bintou, with her baby strapped on her back said “I still do not believe this is real. I would like to send my appreciation to the 15 Families program and particularly to those who recently took time to think of us. Americans are always welcome here.”

Recipent 2

Babou for Mariam

Babou for Mariam

Next, our aid group went to see Mariam, maker of the neighborhood millet donut call “Furu furu”. Most everyone that has been to KoFalen Center in Bamako knows Mariam’s furu furu. Very early before sunrise every morning, Mariam is the first person up, starting a blade of red-orange flame from scrub wood and grass she finds in her surroundings.  Once she starts her few sticks of wood on fire, she places her pan made out of a car door on the 3 cooking stones to heat up the thick shea butter made from local trees. By heating shea oil up to boiling, Mariam reduces the strong scent of the shea nut that changes the taste of her donuts. She has been doing this for so long that her presence is a symbol of all that is right in the neighborhood. People love her millet donuts and come to buy them for breakfast. Even Americans that come to KoFalen have one time or another lined up in front of her little stove for a taste of her delicious little millet donuts.

But recently when I was there in January, Mariam was not often seen at her donut stand. When I ran into her in one day, I asked her why she had abondoned her furu furu making. She answered as a Malian does openly, “ Not only is my father sick but also, time is way too hard. I am assisting in helping my mother to provide food and be there for my sick father. If I could at this time, I would multiply myself to be there for my family and my neighbors, but I am only one human.”

When the committee of our 15 Family aid group came to her last Thursday, they found her absent. She was gone to her village because her sick father had “moved to his new home” as they refer to the passing of someone.  But later that evening the committee met up with Babou who is Mariam’s husband.  He too had just returned from Mariam’s village. Our representatives presented the aid for Mariam and her family. Babou was a bit surprised as he noted “It seems as if these people miles away understand our problems more than our ownselves here. I will accept her aid with respect on her family’s behalf, and also make sure they know that this honorable package is from the 15 Families program.”

Babou did not forget to thank Ronna, the first American he ever met years before at KoFalen. Babou had worked on building the KoFalen Center as a mason’s assistant from the very first brick to where it stands now. He then ended by saying “I knew that I was doing the right thing helping to build this center. As you can see, it sprouted only good things, connection of communities and friendship.”

Recipient 3

Niekoroba

Niekoroba Coulibaly

Niekoroba Coulibaly was also one of our last 6 recipients. Only the very early visitors to KoFalen Center may recognize her. She came to do our laundry at the Center back then. But Niekoroba’s eye problems prevented her to continue with her profession as the laundry lady. But she never forgot the generosity of those Americans she met back then. During my trip to Mali in January, I ran into her in my evening walks with Jessica and Jon. Seated in front of her small table of spices to sell, she recognized my voice. We were speaking English and she shouted “Wague, are you here now?”

I responded “Yes, but just for a short time.”  “Are Ronna and my grandchildren Penda and Amina here?” She added.  “May be next year” I said.  Despite her bad eyesight, she got up to talk to us and spoke of KoFalen and all the good memories. That day, Jessica and Jon supported her by buying lots of her spices even though they really didn’t need them all.

When receiving her portion of our aid, Niekoroba simply said that for years now, Americans visiting KoFalen have always unburdened her from her problems. She said she is not all that surprised for this aid from them again. Then added “This is the America I know–kind and generous–and greet them all men, women, and children.”

Recipient 4

Madou Coulibaly

Madou Coulibaly

Madou Coulibaly was a welder, but after losing 3 fingers on his right hand, he turned into a kerosene oil salesman for lanterns and lamps. But with the war, all products that are from the source of oil are hard to access.  Madou Coulibaly simply turned back to his very own self, which is being the humorous grandfather of the community. He is often seen lying on his wooden armchair in front of his house shouting at young ones passing. He says to the girls “Hey, where are you going dressed such a nice way?  I am the most handsome man. Come stay with me.”  They reply “You are right. I will be right back.”

And to the boys he would say “Look at you–thinking you look so good like this. I am the handsome one.  Let me go put on my outfit.”

Years ago when Thia, a niece of Ronna came to Mali, it was a shock to her to see an old man as Madou teasing her saying she was his wife. But as she began to slowly understand the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren in Mali, she too began teasing him back each time she passes by. Old Madou still teases me about that incident by saying “My in-law, where is Thia? You are her uncle and you are hiding her.”  But in the real sense, Old Madou is only a friendly person who helps our children to feel happy and see love from their own community.  But at this time when he has no work, our aid package to him is a tremendous help. He sent his many appreciations to you all through a video. As “Mali” means “Hippopotamus”, he notes that the country was already like a wounded hippo; the Malians are bearing extra beatings from this war. “It has only worsened our already bad situation. Your thoughts and help reached us. May you be rewarded, may we continue to be the beings we are for each other and for years to come.”

Recipient 5

Magan Coulibaly

Magan Coulibaly

Magan is somewhat young amongst all these people, but has the soul of an ancestor. He is afflicted with an illness that would not leave him alone.  Some years are better than others for him, but he strongly hung in there, even though people did not expect it.  This is how he became like the son of his surroundings. Mangan can do little, but with the grace of the community, he and his wife live on. On the video, Magan said “Thanks to the 15 Families program; you will always be in our thoughts as friends. Poverty is its own a disease–much less for the additional burden of a senseless war. Thank you for your generous and thoughtful aid.”

Recipient 6

Gandie Diarra is also a mason.  The hardship of the time has crippled his possibility of work. As he is waiting for things to do right now, our aid representatives in Mali thought he deserved a hand. I have heard his message on video; he is a calm low toned man–very humble. “This is an unbelievable gift to me and my family. I thank the 15 families program and all the other good people that are thinking of us.”

Though some of these people have been chosen by our Bamako-Mali KoFalen group, I fully trusted them as they are on the same path as our original mission.

Thank you,

Baba Wague Diakite

Executive Director

KoFalen Cultural Center

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Message about Mali – February 4, 2013

Dear people,

I am back in Portland, and have brought news along with me.  Reports have been a bit hopeful to the mind of Malian people, with the liberation of a couple major cities in the North—Gao and Timbuktu. The report from Ko-Falen Mali today (2/4/2013) is that there has been heavy bombardment in Kidal against the MNLA by the troops from Mali, Nigeria and France. That city too is likely to be fully in the hand of Malian soldiers soon. But this soothing news to my mind is not the end of everything.  In fact, I think this war is going to go on for quite some time.  At least from what I gather from everyday discussions from people around me.  The fact is that some of the insurgents that fled from those cities to neighboring villages and countries remain unidentifiable among people that look very much alike.  Not only does this make things unstable, but it brings much suspicion and prevents people speaking from their heart about their feelings.  The other question is whether these people may be able to reunite again and start things over.  An elder told me this version of how things are in Mali at this moment:

A hardworking farmer worked in his millet field daily from early dawn up until the middle of the afternoon.  He returned home exhausted to take a warm bath and to spend the remainder of the afternoon resting.  But when his field of millet became pregnant with grain, he came home one afternoon, and looked at his young son.  “Father, what is it?”  The farmer replied, “My son, I feel something strange is happening in nature.  I feel that my millet stalks are being threatened.  I hear the sound of locust far away, and I fear that my hard work will go to waste.”  The young son replied, “Father, I can watch over the millet in the afternoon while you rest.”  The first day, armed with his slingshot, the seven-year-old went to the fields and right away noticed a large grasshopper flying pdddddddddddddddddddd and landing on a large millet stalk.  The little boy grabbed onto the millet stalk and shook it violently, causing the grasshopper to fly out of the field.  The boy took chase, running after the grasshopper. As it landed, the boy pounced, trying to capture it. Pdddddddddddd the grasshopper flew off once more.  Again, it landed, and again the boy pounced, only to watch the grasshopper fly off once more.  Eventually, the boy tired, and took note of where he was, far from his father’s field.  He turned to see the grasshopper fly once more, disappearing into the landscape.  As he trudged back to the millet field, he was relieved that he had driven the grasshopper from his father’s field.  But the question remained in his mind:  Was the grasshopper gone for good, or would he simply gather with others of his kind to return?  And are there others already hiding in the field like the one he has seen?  Now it is these questions in the little boy’s mind that drives him to watch over his father’s field day in and day out.

This present day in Mali is like this tale.  We are not sure if the end of this war is truly the end.

Baba Wagué Diakité

Message about Mali – February 1, 2013

Dear all,

Francois Hollande has now gained political ground in Europe over this war in Mali, as in a mere 20 days of fighting, things are slowly merging back to a so called “normal”. The French leader’s popularity in Mali itself has gone through the roof. Francois Hollande is expected to meet with the interim president of Mali, Djonkounda Traore, this coming Saturday in Bamako. Then he will pay a visit to the French troops in Timbuktu as well. So one can imagine how crazy streets in Bko and other cities will be on Saturday. This is also in conjunction with the soccer match of Mali against South Africa. I hope they take it easy over there……

Well folks, as I am writing this latest news to you at 5:30 am Portland time, I was interrupted with a phone call from Kofalen-Mali members Seydou and Dognoume, both warning not to go too fast with celebrations, as the mood of many people in the streets of Mali is taking a sudden turn. This is because after the Malian troops led the fight into Kidal, a stronghold of the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Awad islamic group), the French ordered the Malian troops to hold their fire and took control of the airport.  Now there is some sort of meeting or negotiation going on over a couple of French hostages that have not yet been found. But the real problem was not even a single Malian soldier was allowed to be near their meeting place. To the ordinary Malians that was already suspicious–this strong dictation by the French; they see this as a warning sign especially when MNLA is still holding onto their guns, intending to keep Kidal region as their own country of Azawad. I am not sure if you knew this but this whole fuss by the West is partly due to the discovery of oil in this particular Kidal region; as Malian people put it, “Kidal is the head of the goat, without it, the goat is no longer.”

Wagué and Dognoume

Wagué and Dognoume

It is now believed the MNLA will try to negotiate a settlement with France in an attempt to avoid having Kidal taken back by the Malian Army. And is the MNLA also brokering deals with the Islamic groups to keep them at bay, but functioning?  This exclusive negotiation with France is wholeheartedly unacceptable to the Malian citizenship, which is being kept in the dark for the most part.  But the West will most likely use its influence over the Mali government to dictate their terms.

Dognoume Diarra, writer for Ciwara and Le Flambeau newspapers in Bko and nephew Seydou Coulibaly, computer businessman (both Kofalen-Mali board members) are sure to keep us up to date with current news.  In fact, Dognoume wrote a great article about Kofalen Oregon/Mali. Now Stephen Wooten a Professor at the University of Oregon was the first to see it on internet and let me know. I am really proud of Dognoume Diarra–and Kofalen in helping guarantee his schooling in Soni Cegni as a boy–and now he is a journalist, writing articles for newspapers. There are many young people like Dognoume who started their education under our care in Soni Cegni and are now finishing their college education.

Seydou and friend Sali

Seydou and friend Sali

For French readers, you may link to D Diarra’s article on KoFalen here:

maliactu.net/long-ko-falen-cultural-center-centre-dechange-culturel-vole-au-secours-de-lecole-fondamentale-de-soninkegny?utm_medium=Maliactu&utm_source=Maliactu.net

Thank you all,
Baba Wague Diakite

MESSAGE FROM MALI BY WAGUÉ – JANUARY 28, 2013

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

Assitan Coulibaly

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.

Bakary Coulibaly

Bakary Coulibaly

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.

Tiemogo Wattara-Sadie Kone

Tiemogo Wattara-Sadie Kone

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.

Haby Diakite

Haby Diakite

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.”

Wagué