Early the next morning, Thursday, March 5, 2009, we departed for the Town of Gossi, the location of the Islamic Relief Regional Office in the Northern part of the country. As we ventured ever farther from Bamako, the terrain became more and more arid. However, the harsh environ had a distinct beauty, which accentuated by increasingly high mountains and stark rock formations, reminded me of hills and deserts of New Mexico. With the scattered adobe villages we were passing along the way, this part of Mali was no less enchanting than Mexico. The original “Land of Enchantment.”
We reached Gossi around mid-morning. We were received by one of the Islamic Relief workers in the northern part of the country. He led us to a roadside restaurant, a simple structure composed of wooden beams and a thatched roof. We had a breakfast of freshly roasted meat, thick but soft whole wheat bread, and fried eggs. After that brief interlude, we were taken to the office of the mayor and the regional authorities. After the formalities involved in the introduction, we were given an angry and frustrated description of the neglect the region was receiving from not only the central government, but also how many of the NGOs that had been working in the region were leaving. One of the officials, a very noble Taureg man, described how owing to a lack of vegetation, two thirds of the cattle in the area had perished. Little did those officials realize, Islamic Relief had discussed closing their operations in this part of the country. The organization’s offices in Europe that had been financing those projects had been hard hit by the economic downturn and could no longer raise the funds for continued operation.
One of the reasons for our trip was to help raise the money in North America. In addition to examining the various projects, we were recording promotional material to assist in that effort. The prospect of our success had led to the continuation of the various projects, some of which we will shortly describe. After making a commitment to do our best to assist the people of the town, we proceeded to view one of the projects in the area, the Muslim Women’s Garden Plot. This plot, run exclusively by women, is part of an effort to empower females. The women, with the aid of a pump provided by Islamic Relief, were cultivating several acres of land, benefiting directly from the assortment of vegetables being raised there, and then selling the balance in the local marketplace. The money being earned was then used to purchase essentials for their families; items that would otherwise be unaffordable. They were also renting the pump to other gardens and benefiting from that income.
The garden, situated along the bank of a wide lake, was truly wonderful. The women were growing lettuce, cabbage, eggplant, melons, carrots, onions, cotton, and other produce. On a nearby patch of land, which we did not visit, several varieties of fruit trees were being cultivated. The pride in their accomplishments, and the appreciation for the assistance of Islamic Relief were engraved on their faces as deeply as the stunning lines defining the rock formations we had passed earlier in the day. However, as we talked with them a sadder reality became clear to us. They spoke of the ravages of malaria and typhoid; the debilitating effect of both scarlet and yellow fever, and the difficulty involved in transporting their sick to a hospital. Their words interrupted the bucolic scene created by the rich land, the expansive lake, and the bright blue sky, like a sudden thunderstorm descending upon a quiet summer outing. Again, we promised to do what we could to help.
As we were leaving town, we stopped at another garden where the women were watering their struggling plants by hand. Unlike the women of the first garden, the women here, who were clear from a different ethnic group, had no pump. The effect of the lack of a pump to assist their effort was clear. They were able to cultivate less land, and the land under cultivation yielded far less than the first garden we had visited. Even though their project had been started by another organization, all of the members of our party pledged to by them a pump also. Even though I am skipping ahead in the story here, on the last day of our visit, hours before our flight out of the country, we fulfilled that promise and chipped in enough money, $950, to purchase that pump. Al-Hamdulillah!
(to be continued)