On the Road with NEF in Bagui, Mali

On the road northbound toward Gao, we had a flat tire and we had to stop in Konna to get it repaired. I was told Konna was the turning point where the French and Malian government troops turned back the rebels. Many people here were affected by it. There is even a blown out truck on the side of the road South of the town. Right now, though, it’s all business as usual.

I am continually amazed at the resourcefulness of the Malian people. We stopped at a stall where a young man took a piece of rubber from and older tire, and superheated the rubber over the hole in our tire’s sidewall. Boom, as if nothing had happened, we are once again on our way North to Bagui and Lake Koriantze. I remember thinking to myself, it’s right to be amazed when you see resourcefulness like that first hand, but I shouldn’t be surprised. Resource management is a really critical part of life in the Sahel, for everyone from tire repairmen to farmers. That’s one of NEF’s primary missions in Mali, teaching people how to better manage their resources.

Once arriving at the Lake area, I documented a rice farm that I’m told until a few months ago looked like a dry riverbed, with some attempts at an irrigation system. I spoke to one of the farmers who told me the old system was made of dirt and used to break under the pressure every day. The fields were so amazingly green, almost technicolor. I soon met the biggest smile I’d ever seen in my life.

Kaadi Tangara is a slim six-foot-tall man who would be imposing if he wasn’t so unbelievably smiley. I’ve never seen anyone so animated before or since. He was so excited to tell me everything. It turns out this luscious green field is his, and it’s the first season he’s had with his new concrete irrigation system. He had never seen his fields so green and was really excited about the idea of having more rice than he could eat and actually getting to take some to market. With his family looking on, he talked about his challenges and how he’s overcome them with NEF’s help. His favorite part about working with NEF is that he didn’t just get some a new system, he got tools, training, and was able to help build it himself. So while his current system is only half of his fields, he now knows how expand his new system to the rest of his fields.

With his family looking on, also all smiles, he poured out his praise and thanks to NEF for their help and thanked us for not just changing his life, but the lives of his sons and future generations who will work these fields.

It’s no wonder Kaadi was so happy to see us. I hope I see him again.

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