Mali – like nothing you’d expected

Mali. The ancient civilisation who caused the whole of North Africa to plunge into deflation when gifting the king of Egypt with a tiny bit of their gold reserve. Mali, with the mystical collection of thousand year old literature never copied or digitally preserved. Mali. A collection of forests, waterfalls, savannah and deserts. Mali. With too many languages to register. Tribes still hidden from modernisation. With some of the most influential artists in all of Africa. With potential and power. Pride and history. What is left of it now?

Of course, just a rhetoric question. Entering Mali came with no complications. Driving around at 4 am looking for a hostel was absolutely safe. Travelling further north, city as well as country side proved to be as easy as ever. People taking care of us, buses running, ATMs working and yes, Premier League in HD. As the only tourists around one could expect us to be hassled and people to be desperate. But since the bad rep, the whole tourist business has come to a halt. Former guides have returned to work the fields, hostels and hotels been closed down as if they never where open, and the few that still is are ghostly empty. The country lives on, in some strange day-by-day-sadness with no looking back to the days when economy was booming, just a few years ago. The only people visiting the lands today are UN-associated workers escorted by fancy four wheel drives or just avoiding the roads completely by flying between the cities. Missing out on the beauty of the country they stick to the cities where they’re officially “safe”, hiding in big villas with pools and lounging around drinking beer watching rugby. Spending a year down here maybe turn you into a comfort seeker, though I’m surprised in a way that they don’t seem to explore the country at all between work and work. I guess an everyday life is an everyday life wherever you are. I confess I’m bad at exploring Sweden too while living there. However, so far still no other travellers. People looking at us calling us either brave or crazy for coming here voluntarily. The media’s description of Mali is at best “a zone of conflict” implying that the whole country is plunged into war. Talking to my friend in Bamako I learned that almost half the country is in no way affected by the rebellion and the media reports about a bombing in the capital did wrong when they associated it with the jihadist spreading. Not to deny the real effect of people fleeing, villages being abandoned, and tourist have been kidnapped, it must also be said that this is not the representation of the whole Mali. Just as people still are living normally in Gothenburg all though you risk being killed while buying pizza, people here have a few drinks and enjoy a good night listening to local music.

It’s a strange culture we’ve ended up in, trying to take part of as much as possible but being forced to wave like queens in all the villages we pass by. Colours strikes you when the red dirt plateaus contrast with the lush greenness after the rainy season. Waterfalls cascading, vast canyons rips into the horizon, sand dunes and rivers flowing in the heat. The beauty is balm for the soul but accompanied by a constant sadness. This deserves a bigger audience. This deserves eyes to gaze upon it, ears to enjoy the tranquillity and hearts to be set ablaze by the vastness. The conflict has hit this country hard, not physically but emotional and psychological. The people of Mali are the victims of hysterical western media reports. Here is an opportunity for authorities to take one long look at themselves. Pulling volunteer workers and peace corps out of Mali indicates a higher level of risk for all travellers in this country. But the sheer risk of being shot while in school in the USA doesn’t have the department of foreign affairs to ravage about the risk of travellers in North America. Though a lot more kids have been the victims of such actions over there, than any tourist have been victims of terrorism over here. Once more, another consequence of western imperialism still in action.

Well, as things are always in commotion – now, it’s happy hour at the Sleeping Camel Hostel and the Formula one race just ended with a twist in Hamiltons favour. There’s no escaping. Over and out.

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