The post below is a copy of the most recent email we sent out to the email list:That may seem like a strange subject line. It was the stand-alone message on a postcard that someone sent through the project. I don't know the who or the why, but the message struck me and I took a picture of it.
Over the past month or so, I have been really discouraged with the project. We have a lot of cards in the wilderness. It's clear that the ECOWAS sanctions and the suspension of Air France flights led to a serious backlog of outgoing Malian mail.
Whilst I was on a Scoot West Africa trip down to the Bijagos Islands, I received several emails a day about missing cards. Most were incredibly understanding and almost apologetic, despite the fact that they had already waited an inordinate amount of time for their items. On the other hand, many were very hostile. Paypal has threatened action on my account because of people flagging us for fraud. One person threatened a lawsuit and another told me they were going to contact the Washington Post and tell them that our website was ripping people off.
As I was sitting on Bubaque in the Bijagos, I seriously considered pulling the plug on the whole thing. How much is my time and capacity for unneeded stress worth if I am not personally benefiting from this project? I certainly don't want to be accused of fraud every day.
And then I arrived back in Mali. Ali called me straight away. I was still in the immigration line at the Bamako airport. He welcomed me back and told me he was glad to hear I safely arrived. We asked each other about our families and loved ones, covering the customary ground of a conversation in Mali. Towards the end Ali nervously asked about postcards. I have not extensively promoted the project since the ECOWAS sanctions and Mali's diplomatic dispute with France. Orders have been down and we have spent most of our time just trying to sort out delayed or missing cards. Now as we head towards Ramadan, one of the most costly times of year for Malians, Ali and the guys are struggling.
Malians in general are struggling. The patriotic fervor that corresponded with Mali's ejection of the French military has died down. Now there are fewer scapegoats for Malian politicians and all of the difficult decisions remain. The country is running out of money and there is no sign of ECOWAS sanctions ending. The short-lived successes of the Malian military have been erased by new devastating attacks against them, extra-judicial killings perpetrated by them (or their new Russian mercenary partners who seem to be very good at killing civilians and not much else), and massacres in the zones where the departing French military has left a void. Layered on top of this insecurity is a growing poverty, exacerbated by prices that were already high pre-sanctions and will only go up when Ramadan arrives.
On Wednesday, I went to the central post office. Everyone knows me there, from the colonel at customs to the mail clerks at the windows. I explained to them what has been happening, desperate for some answers. I got a lot of reassurances. "Ah yes, Air France stopped flying, then we switched to a new carrier, but the delivery was unreliable, including the pick-ups which were not well-organized etc. etc. And now? "Ah, tout va bien!! everything is ok! Back to normal" Really? "Ah ouiiii!" Their optimism was convincing enough.
The bottom line is we can't abandon the project right now. Not when things are so precarious. We have to make it work, from writing the addresses as carefully as possible to following up on our drop-offs at the main post office. I am going to do whatever I can for this to succeed. Ali is going to do the same. Please don't take this as a pity party. That part is over. We are more motivated than ever.
And after all is said and done, I can't fault anyone for getting angry with us. Too many people have dealt with too much these past two years. Now we add another war to the mix.
"Likewise you have no idea." The author of the angry email may have no idea about our situation. I also have no idea what they have been going through. The internet makes this project possible, but it makes tangible human connection more difficult. I can forgive the person threatening a lawsuit (assuming they don't actually sue us). Hopefully they can forgive us for a massively delayed postcard.
Lots of love from Bamako and Timbuktu and all the best to you and yours,
Phil in Bamako and Ali in Timbuktu