– Me, they married me. The first night, my husband came. The second night, another husband came. And the third night, yet another one. It was like this until the end of the week, when the first one came again. He thanked me for his friends. And then he hit me.
– Why did he hit you?
– To punish me.
– Why punish you?
– For marrying too much. I managed to escape, dressed like a boy.
(Mali, ô Mali, Erik Orsenna – own translation from French original)
I am going to Mali in one week, and Mali, ô Mali has been my trusted companion in an effort to become more acquainted with the reality that Malians are living. I know that no amount of research and planning will be able to prepare me for what I will experience, but, to be quite honest, I don’t want to know exactly what awaits me. Learning as I go will be part of the beauty. Putting aside my Brandt and Petit Futé guides though, I picked up Orsenna’s book, following my mother’s advice that literature teaches far more than anything else. Indeed, this has proven to be the case (better not let her know).
Orsenna’s book recounts the story of Madame Bâ, a Malian woman who has been living in France for a very long time and goes back to Mali after the rebellion to try and do something to help her country. The excerpt above is part of a conversation she has with two victims of sexual violence; the topic is delicate, and often taboo in a conservative society such as Mali.
I am flying to the mysterious Bamako next week to begin my work with Sini Sanuman, a Malian organisation that has long been working on issues of female genital mutilation and that is now beginning a new project in light of the events of the rebellion on 2012. As rebels from the north advanced through the desert in an effort to gain territory, they used rape as a systematic weapon of war in order to terrorise families and entire communities. The repercussions of these practices are still felt today as victims of war rape find it extremely difficult to deal with their physical and mental trauma and reintegrate in their families and communities.
Sini Sanuman is joining the effort of creating reintegration networks for victims in Mali. This is a new project for them and they are a new partner for the Advocacy Project, which is both extremely exciting and daunting at the same time. I am very passionate about the topic and the work that Sini Sanuman are doing, but I can’t help but feel a little nervous.
Will I be of support to my host organisation? Will I learn how to work around such a delicate topic? Will I be accepted in the community? Will I find a place to live, and will be the incessant tropical rain be an obstacle to the work over the summer? Will Ramadan put a halt to our efforts? While I know working in Bamako will be a steep learning curve, while I know there’ll be ups and downs and challenges to be faced, I am both humbled by the efforts of organisations such as Sini Sanuman and extremely grateful for the opportunity to help their work and learn from such inspiring people.
Mali, ô Mali, on y va!
Posted By Giorgia Nicatore
Posted May 29th, 2014