Last weekend my family and I left Bamako and returned to our home in eastern Pennsylvania. The process of packing up one house, traveling thousands of miles through four airports with two young children and hundreds of pounds of luggage, then setting up another house in the space of a few days has been, well, wearying. Already our time in Mali begins to seem hazy and distant, like a dream one remembers only with great difficulty.
In the weeks after Mali’s coup d’état in late March, a lot of Americans and other foreigners left Mali. Against official advice, and some official pressure, we chose to stay on. Were we right to do so? The situation in Bamako has remained generally stable, despite episodes like the April 30 “counter-coup” and the May 21 storming of the presidential palace. At no time during our ten months in Bamako were my family and I in any direct physical danger. You could say that we made the right call. But we also realize that things could have worked out very differently.
The main problem for everyone in the city, not just expats, has been uncertainty: What if food runs out? What if security deteriorates? What if troops go on the rampage? What if robberies and exactions become widespread? Fortunately, we never had to face these contingencies. So far, unless you had links to the regime of ousted President Amadou Toumani Touré, or you directly challenged the interests of the junta, they’ve left you alone.
And we’re glad we stayed as long as we did. It was important to us to leave on our own timetable rather than someone else’s, and we achieved much over the past 90 days.
Throughout the events of the last few months, I went on teaching my anthropology and development course at Bamako’s Université des Lettres et des Sciences Humaines, with only a few cancelled classes. While I wasn’t able to conclude the course before our departure, I did recruit a replacement instructor to give the final lectures and administer the exam in my absence. My research on urban marriage also continued apace: in fact, I suspect I got more done in the three months of fieldwork following the coup than in the seven months preceding it. Since late March my research team conducted over a hundred interviews (nothing like the risk of sudden evacuation to make you efficient with your time!).
After trying for months, our daughter at last learned to swim across the American Club pool. (We practically had the place to ourselves since the coup.) Two weeks ago she completed second grade. My son also finished the year at his day care/preschool, having picked up a fair amount of French and made some friends in the process.
For a long time I’ve been wanting to thank the people who helped us during our time in Bamako. They are true heroes of the revolution. Almost none of them will ever read this blog, but I feel I should recognize them here all the same.
- Bakary D., for making sure I could always find what I needed in the market.
- Nana K. and Mohamed T., for putting us up in their home for two weeks before we found our own place.
- Gaoussou M., Leanne C. and Megan L. at the U.S. Embassy, for guidance and support.
- Yaya B. and Djeneba D., for organizing focus group discussions and transcribing the recordings.
- Noumouké K., Nana T. and Bintou K., for arranging, conducting and transcribing interviews.
- Arthur W. of Bamako International Academy, for providing a wonderful education experience for my daughter.
- Alou D., for getting us where we needed to go.
- Bamoussa B., Ousmane S. and Kamory K., for teaching me more aikido techniques than I ever believed I could master in ten months. Domo arigato sensei.
- Issou D., for being a fantastic training partner, and a fine tailor too.
- Houryata D., for introducing me to some memorable individuals who helped me think about marriage in new ways.
- Tiemoko T., for assuring that my teaching efforts at the university were not entirely in vain.
- Soumaila C., for logistical and legal assistance.
- Lassine S., for friendship and thought-provoking discussions.
- To the whole Konaté clan (of Dougabougou, Badialan, Kalaban Coura and ATTbougou) for support and kinship.
I know we’ll be back in Bamako. I just don’t know when. That will depend on how the political situation shapes up, and as I wrote last week, I just can’t predict what’s in store. In the meantime I will continue to make occasional posts to this blog, limiting myself to the backlog of material accumulated during my Bamako fieldwork. Look for that long-awaited post on the dojos of Bamako in the weeks to come….
Farewell, Bamako. Allah ka nyogon ye nogoya. We hope to see you again soon.