We are living in times of great changes.
Changes that happen on all levels, both in the inner and the outer world.
A visiting friend mentioned being very surprised to see the duality in Malian everyday life. While people are still working the fields by hand, carrying heavy loads and living in crumbling houses without electricity or running water, most of them have cell phones and the streets are filled with motorbikes.
In a country like Mali, where the majority of the population finds itself in a situation of surviving rather than consciously living, most people do not think in terms of ‘finding myself or connecting to my soul’s desires’; they think in terms of food and possessions and that those belongings will make them happy or that they will at least simplify their daily life and/or give them some kind of status in the society.
Fulfilling the daily needs in terms of food, water and shelter, watching western soap series on the few TV’s around, and trying to obtain the things that may lighten their load fill the days.
Even when times are hard, the little money being available is – by men – often spend on belongings. Bad quality Chinese motorbikes are racing the streets and accidents happen quite often.
Obviously that hasn’t escaped the attention of the council and – as part of developing the city – lights are popping up at many a crossing and roundabout in Ségou. Impressive looking new lights.
Even more impressive – taking in mind that most Malians have not traveled abroad or even to the capital – is that many seem to know the meaning of them.
A few days ago I was doing a little tour with Amadou on Ibrahim’s motorbike.
‘Ah, it’s green now’, he said when we were approaching a roundabout.
I looked ahead and was surprised to see that lights had been installed in the few days I had been out of town. Wonderful, I thought, it always having been quite a dangerous place. People were patiently awaiting their turn, when we crossed the roundabout.
But that was only my first roundabout with lights experience in Ségou.
On our way back Amadou looked left and right, ignored the red light, accelerated and turned onto the roundabout. We were almost run over by people taking advantage of a green light. And there was no room to pull over to the left for our exit, resulting in a different exit. The last turned out to be a bonus since someone coming towards the roundabout had overlooked the red light, coming to a slipping standstill in the middle of the road.
Amadou was laughing out loud when I asked him to please no more ignore red lights.
‘Monique, there was no police to be seen, so there’s nothing to worry about!’
Almost being run over obviously didn’t count. And I don’t think that my explanation – of lights only being of use when everybody pays attention to them – made much impression.
Keeping in mind that the color of lights seems to be of no importance when there are no policemen around, I’ll pay extra attention to traffic, even when the lights are green…