I’m the one in the Unitehopeproject group that everyone now refers to as “Mali”, a country in West Africa I had hardly heard of before given the task to place one of the initial Unitehope angels there. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about the country and have become deeply attached to the people, mentality and culture. Before travelling there, I got in touch with the Swedish SIDA embassy and wonderfully generous and clever Camilla Bengtsson in Bamako. She let me stay in her home during my stay and even followed me to the remote ancient city of Kita, only 200 km from Bamako but a six hours chauffeured drive!
Here is my diary from my brief but beautiful experience in Mali, a place I intend to return to with my children one day.
Catarina Midby, Stockholm Fashion Journalists
16 September 21.00
This is it. I’m on my way to Bamako, Mali. I’m one of the very few European people on the plane. Nana, a seven year old Malinese girl, is sitting next to me. She is travelling alone and seems a little worried but is extremely talkative. I’m tired but excited about finally being on the way. A guy in front of me hands over his passport and immigration papers and asks me to fill them out for him. He can’t read or write and he has no date of birth in his passport. A beautifully dressed Malinese woman comes over to talk to me. She is a member of Parlament in Mali and works with women’s and girls’ issues. I’m beginning to understand just how different Mali will be, only five hours away but another world.
17 September 06.00
Wake up early in my mosquito net covered bed. Thank God for Camilla, whose place I’m staying at. She is responsible for SIDA’s work in Mali, and has helped organising everything for Hope. Also she’s coming with me, together with her chauffeur Moussa, to Kita where Hope is going to be placed. It’s all going to happen today, and already it feels like a good day. I’m a little worried about the sculpture, did anything brake on the flight? It’s well packed so I decide not to unpack it until we reach Kita.
17 September 13.30
The roads to Kita are unbelievably bumpy and unprepared. It takes forever to drive 200 km, but it’s good because there is plenty of time to talk and I get to know Camilla a little better. We talk about ourselves, the children, Unitehopeproject, love, work and about Mali. Kita is an ancient city located by a beautiful little mountain. We find accommodation at the adorable Catholic priests’ head quarters. Everybody in Kita knows about the angel. We meet up with the mayor of Kita and his advisors. They all wear long caftans and little fez hats and the mayor wears his ribbon. Shortly after, the ceremony begins. There are singers, dancers and speeches. I love the griotte singers who sing their blessings for all of us, for Hope and peace. One of the singers has the most powerful voice. It all reminds me of Salif Keita, the internationally known Malinese musician. He is from the same royal family as the mayor of Kita. Malinese traditions forbid that anyone from the Keita family become a singer or dancer but now that Salif Keita is famous they’re all proud of him. Hope is given and received. Mission completed. At night we sit outdoors talking. The mayor, five of his 23 advisors and his three wives come over to visit. We all sit in a circle and talk, one at the time and everyone else listening.
18 September 08.30
The Muslim prayers awake me. The sunrise is beautiful. We meet up with the priests for breakfast and rush off to the Catholic cathedral to morning mass to listen to our new priest friends. They play the drums and sing, then the ceremony starts. Men sit at one side in the church, and women sit on the other. We sit on the men’s side, we have yet not talked to a woman in Kita. The men do all the talking. We head back to Bamako. We stop by the location chosen for Hope. I wonder if I ever will return to Kita.
19 September 22.00
Back at the airport, on my own again. I only spent three days in Mali, but it feels much longer. I’ve made new friends. I’m fascinated by Mali. The generosity, the friendliness and the humour. The beautiful people, nature. But there is a negative side too. Women and girls live too hard a life in Mali, according to modern standards. Circumcision, too many children, hard work and primitive homes, no education. Malinese women are strong and brave. I wish them better.