Mali is a land-locked country in Western Africa, one of the 5 poorest countries in the world. Mali's main asset is it's people. Mali is an island of relative tranquility in the midst of a region rife with unrest and revolutions. "Solidarity" is a key concept to Malian's, and they prefer to work out their differences by consensus rather than conflict. Which should not be taken to mean that they are a timid people - they simply prefer to solve differences peacefully whenever possible. Muslims, Christians and those with traditional tribal beliefs live peacefully side by side. As several people have said - we are Malians first and all those other things come second.
My wife and several co-workers have been making annual trips to Mali for several years. They are working with USAID to help setup a Pesticide Testing Laboratory in Bamako. The lab will help ensure that agricultural products shipped to Europe and elsewhere meet acceptable levels of pesticide residues. The work is challenging in that even sophisticated equipment cannot function properly when the electrical power is unreliable, and supplies that are cheap in the USA are expensive or unavailable in Mali. (Update: as of 2007 this work is ongoing, and they have developed a website describing this work: http://www.wapp.biochem.vt.edu/ )
This Winter (2002/2003) they organized a "spouse's trip" where the 3 Mali "regulars" brought their spouses along and organized a custom tour of Mali through Saga Tours ( http://www.sagatours.com ). Saga designed a tour for the 6 of us based on our interests and what we wanted to see. They supplied two vehicles (Toyota Land Cruisers) with drivers and an English speaking guide.
Our guide was Youssouf Mariko (top- firstname.lastname@example.org ), with Iddrissa and Ataher as our drivers. Youssouf was very knowledgeable and kept things running smoothly, and our drivers were good natured and friendly fellows. (Update: more about Youssouf and Youssouf's Brochure(pdf) ) Below are links to highlights of the tour in the order that we visited them.
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