There are still no hotel
guests. We are tightening the belt, but I have not yet let anyone go from the
staff. But nevertheless, some are leaving on their own accord; Igor the
‘chambermaid’ wanted three days leave to go to Bamako to pick up his young
bride. That was on the last day of January. He is clearly enjoying his
honeymoon too much and has not been heard of since, neither does he answer his
telephone. We are not making any enquiries. On the contrary, it is a relief
that he is gone. But of more importance is the fact that our lovely Maman has
left for Adventure.
It is rather a sad story: he
asked for permission to go to his home village of Tabato for three days last
week because his elder brother was getting married. This brother has suffered
from mental instability and has not been able to work for a couple of years.
Maman’s father is dead and he has a younger brother, not yet old enough to
shoulder any responsibility. Maman is now married – against his will, you may
recall- with a small daughter (who he has named Sophie!).
Maman was the only one
in his village to go to school. He walked for an hour every day back and forth
to a neighbouring village which had a school. Fuelled by the conviction that
education would bring him a better future he then went on to Djenne and
continued his studies, graduating as an accountant. This all sounds good and
admirable, and it is. The problem is only that the schooling he received was so
bad that is next to useless. Djenne produces a great number of ‘accountants’
each year who will have absolutely no chance of getting employment as
accountants. Not only are they not computer lliterate, they cannot even cope
with simple arithmetic. And even if their level were higher, there would be no
work here, because there are no businesses.
Maman was lucky – he is the
only one who found a job amongst all his class mates. He has been with us for
four years now. But although he receives a comparatively good salary in Djenne
terms, he doesn’t earn enough to feed
all his family in the village. In earlier generations he would have stayed and
tilled the soil. In Tabato money is not necessary if the men and boys of the
family occupy their traditional tasks of cultivation. But there has been no one
to sow and to harvest for Maman’s family in Tabato. The situation is now
desperate. He has asked for two months permission to go to Bamako to try and
earn some more money- he is staying with friends. In Maman’s case, education
was not the answer, in fact it brought misery.
And all over Mali there are
young men like Maman: keen to learn and wanting to move forward and leave their
traditional life-style behind. They will succeed in leaving the village but
find they are ill served by the education system of Mali which has suffered
gradual degradation for many years of nepotism and corruption under the ATT
The interim government has started to remedy the situation by rather draconian
measures: they quite simply threw 64
students out of the Ecole de Sous- Officiers
de Bamako for instance, when they
investigated and found that these students did not have the required grades or
qualifications but had gained entrance only because their fathers were high
ranking officers. Similar measures have been taken in other higher education
institutions. Mali’s problems are indeed overwhelming.
Nevertheless, it is the wonder
of Mali that the people still retain an indomitable joie de vivre and manage somehow to keep smiling and to draw much
more pleasure out of their life than
their circumstances seem to allow.