Life in a coup d’teat
I find it quite ironic how my last post was called happy times, and on the same day I published it we were told that there was some trouble in down town Bamako. There were rumours of the minister of defence being killed, so we were not allowed into downtown Bamako and that we should not leave our area. At first it took a while for us to realise the full extent of what was happening around us, thus we carried on with life as normal and we went to a nearby restaurant to eat dinner. Everything seemed normal and people were carrying on with the lives as nothing was happening. On our way back to the apartment me and Jemma went past the Mauritanian shop that was half way between the office and apartment. He was closing the shop and warned us that things were not safe in Bamako, and advised to go home. So we did.
Throughout the night we could hear the gunshots, and this was the fight sign that there was something seriously wrong. Around 3 in the morning we found out that there was a coup, the military had taken over and the president had been overthrown. It seemed very surreal that was a coup taking place around us. We tried looking on the internet and there wasn’t very much information on what was happening as it was so quick. This was the worst part of the whole experience, hearing constant gunshots around us and not knowing what was happening. In the morning Jemma received a message from the office saying that we should not leave the apartment as there was gunfire in the area. After around two hours we were informed that somebody would come and get us form the apartment and to bring an overnight bag as well as our passport and relevant papers in case of an emergency evacuation.
For the next couple of days we were told that we could not leave the office and that there was a national curfew from 6 in the evening until 6 in the morning. So we decided that we would stock up on food and water and other essentials before the curfew started. Throughout the night all we could hear was gunfire and explosions. On Friday night the gunfire was unusually close. We later found out by Rene that the soldiers were in our area and that a hotel opposite our apartment got raided.
Sunday was my birthday. I had a special birthday breakfast coup style; everything was bought from a 5 minute radius from the office. Also the tailors came round to say happy birthday and bring round some fried yam and papay that had promised that would do earlier in the week. After lunch Rene said that it was okay for us to go to the orphanage. Considering we weren’t allowed to do much it turned out to be more eventful than I expected it to be. Also I guess when I am old and grey and all my birthdays have blended together I will still be able to remember my 23rd birthday when I was stuck in a coup.
On the Monday life seemed to be going back to normal even though you could sense the tension around the capital. Everyone was waiting for Tuesday when the coup leaders would state their intentions when they spoke to the public. IS York finally said that they were going to send us home as soon as the borders were opened. We wanted to go home as there wasn’t much we could do in regards to the projects especially UMAV because it was across the bridge, but we would miss everyone and wanted to finish our projects.
Tuesday was back to work, we started doing our monitoring and evaluation forms which at times was a bit annoying as there wasn’t much to evaluate due to the situation. We were all really disappointed that we could not finish our projects. But we carried on with work and Fred our country director even invited us around to his house for dinner. His wife made us a delicious Malian dinner. On Friday we visited the artisans who were making the parts for the playground. It was amazing to finally see it all coming together, but we knew we wouldn’t be able to see the playground completed. However we were told by the IS Mali staff that they would make sure that the playground would be completed. Furthermore Jemma and Fran’s workshop could not be held but they fortunately made a special needs handbook that would be given out to everyone.
During our time in Bamako, me and a few of the girls would go to the orphanage to help out. Bibi had told us the situation was getting worse in Mali. And we could see this for ourselves as the banks were running out of money due to the sanctions placed on Mali by ECOWAS, the borders were closed. Mali was no longer the same as it once was, even the streets that were usually so full of life were quite. There were no women selling fruit on the corner, hardly any taxis or cars and a few motorbikes. We wanted to help Bibi out at the orphanage, we knew how much of her life she had dedicated to the children, and it was horrible seeing them in such a situation. Even when we were cooped up in the office we would often think about what was happening in the orphanage. We collected money from friends and family for milk, bottled water and mosquito nets. It took a lot of effort getting money out of the bank and even western union to a lesser extent, as the banks and the union were only open to about mid-day each day. On one particular day we went to a western union that was about a 15 minute walk from the office, we managed to get the money out but the women at the counter said that we should hurry and leave as the army were on their way and that we were foreigners so it wouldn’t be safe for us. After buying out all the baby milk from nearly every alimentation in our area we delivered the milk, water and mosquito nets to Bibi. Rene kindly offered to give us a lift with the stuff. When we entered the orphanage Bibi was so shocked that she started crying. She said that we were sent from God, as she had prayed for help and we turned up. Bibi explained to us that day that she had only had enough milk left for two days, but now thanks to the help from our friends and family she had enough milk for 2 months. I felt that I could leave Mali now feeling as though I had helped the Orphange in small way. Although Bibi always emphasised that it was the physical help that we offered that meant a lot more to her as she said children needed more than food to grow, they needed love. I feel like the orphanage, as cheesy as it sounds will always be a part of me now for the rest of my life, and I hope that I will stay in touch with them.
After our trip to the orphanage we returned home to pack and get ready for our flight later that night. At 9 o’clock in the evening Papa came to collect us with our luggage in the kat kat. Whilst we were driving to the airport we were all thinking how it felt like yesterday that we came to Mali and how much we would miss it. When we got to the airport the IS staff were waiting for us to say their goodbyes. It was a bittersweet moment leaving them and everyone else we met whilst we were there. We were happy to be leaving due to the situation in the country, but we didn’t want to leave them there. However it was good thing that we had left because on the Monday of returning the borders were closed and there were further sanctions against Mali from ECOWAS. Also things were getting worse in the north, as the rebels had taken over Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao.
Everybody at home keeps asking me if I would ever go back to Mali and the answer is I would love to go back. Mali is such a beautiful country with a deep culture and history I would love to explore other parts of Mali such as the ancient city of Timbuktu, go to Mopti, visit Dogon, and maybe even make it to the desert festival. However what makes Mali an even more beautiful country is the people and the real sense of community. Everyone is so friendly and lovely; they go out of their way to make sure that you are alright. Walking down the street and saying hi to everyone, people even asking about my parents who they have never met. If I did this here in England I would probably get sectioned. I’m really grateful for this experience and would recommend it to anyone who wants to volunteer abroad and is between 18-25.
In addition to this we have been recently informed that the sensory playground has been installed at UMAV, so hopefully one day I’ll get to see it. Until then the pictures have been posted on our facebook page for anybody who like to see it.