‘They do not tell you everything that is going on. It is not only bad’, a friend tells me. He had left his hometown Timbuktu about two weeks earlier. After having visited us in Segou in February, he had spent time with his wife in Bamako, where she is attending university, and made it back to Timbuktu only hours before the rebels – who were later ousted by the group of Ansar Dine – captured the city.
Most of the news we hear in the West is true. Mausoleums have been destroyed, manuscripts are at least at risk (if not destroyed), the sharia has been introduced and offenders are being punished accordingly. A young men and women being lashed a 100 times each for having a child out of wedlock shocked the international community and videos of the spectacle – it being executed in public – circulate on the internet.
‘After having been treated in the hospital, they were married according to the Islamic law. They were given animals, a sum of 100,000 F CFA and a moped as a wedding gift by the leaders of Ansar Dine’, our friend continued.
‘All hotels, bars en restaurants serving alcoholic beverages were destroyed. Not even one of them was spared.’ His face shows pain and sadness for what has happened to his beloved Timbuktu.
‘The hotels that did not sell alcohol are still there and the men of Ansar Dine are staying there. Not for free!’ he states. ‘They pay the locals a fair price for all products and services.’
So, at least some people will financially benefit from the situation.
Hospital services are said to be offered for free. Food is available, but expensive. For anyone willing to join the ranks of Ansar Dine, a daily salary of 4,000 F CFA is available.
Many of the people from the North feel abandoned by the Malian government following the events earlier this year. No social welfare is available; hundreds of thousands are living in refugee shelters in neighboring countries. Others are staying in the South, being entirely dependent on the goodwill of friends and family.
‘Monique, every day there are busses leaving for Timbuktu and they are full’, my friend tells me looking at my face. ‘At least there they will be at home and they don’t have to pay for staying in their own house. Also they have their dignity’, he explains, ‘people do not want to depend on family or friends. They may even prefer to have their sons apply for a job with Ansar Dine…’
I had no clue there still was regular public transport to the North. It must be strange, having to pass the border to Mali while being in Mali.
And it must be very hard to return to occupied territory, but in some cases it may just be the lesser of two evils.
One day our friend too may return to his home grounds.
May it be in peaceful circumstances!