By Alinta Geling
Douentza was the southernmost town taken over by the Islamists during the Malian crisis of 2012, and for months it was in the hands of the rebels. Cut off from the outside world, many people fled southward or to neighboring countries. Now, two years later, the majority of the population has returned home, and life is getting back to normal. However, traces of the crisis are still visible. Not just in tangible objects such as bombed out houses or cars, but mostly in the hearts and minds of the people who left and those who stayed behind. All have stories to tell. Stories they carry with them every day. This is Dikore Diallo’s story.
Dikore is an elderly woman who has three small grandchildren living with her in Douentza. Born with bad vision, she is now practically blind and must rely on her grandchildren to guide her through the darkness. The family earns a living by buying and selling such small articles as bars of soap, fruits, or homemade prayer rugs. Currently, Dikore has access to a tap and is selling water to people who fill their jerry cans for a small fee. Most of the time she manages to make a living, but not always, because of her limited eyesight. “I can only sell small quantities because that is all I can oversee,” she explains. “If I buy in bulk, people can easily steal from me without me noticing, so if I have only four bars of soap to sell, they have to come so close that I will notice.”
In 2012, when the Islamists were closing in on Douentza, Dikore felt it wasn’t safe to stay, so she fled to Burkina Faso. Unfortunately, due to limited means, she could only take one child with her and left the other two with a friend. She didn’t know anyone in Burkina, but fear of the jihadists drove her to leave town in haste. After a nine-hour bus drive, Dikore and her grandchild arrived in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, where their lives took an astonishing turn when they met a woman who welcomed them into her family.
Although she had found food and shelter, Dikore didn’t feel at ease in Burkina because she had no way to earn a living. So after almost four months in Burkina Faso, she went to the market every day to beg for money to pay for the return trip to Mali. Instead of returning to Douentza, however, she made the fateful decision to go to Diabaly, a town near Ségou. Just before Dikore and her grandchild arrived in Diabaly, the French Air Force had started bombarding major Islamist towns in the north of Mali. As a result, hundreds of Islamists fled to Mauritania, not far from Diabaly, where they launched a counterattack. Fleeing the fierce fighting in Douentza, Dikore found herself in the middle of the Battle of Diabaly, which ruined the city and its population.
Not able to imagine a situation worse than Diabaly, Dikore returned to her home in Douentza. Although it was safer there, Douentza was not much better than Diabaly because so many people had fled the city that there was little activity and no way to earn money. Then Dikore received what she calls “a gift from God,” in the form of a small amount of cash and four sacks of millet as part of the RECAPE project financed by USAID and executed by NEF. “The NEF aid came just when I thought there was no one to help me,” Dikore says. “I’m so grateful my life is getting back to normal and that I have been able to restart my water-selling business.”
It is strange how the most tragic stories are so often filled with hope. Dikore’s story is one of disability, struggle, tragic choices, violence, and severe poverty. But at the same time, it is a story of good people with good intentions, of strong women and open arms. It shows how small acts of kindness and generosity can have a direct impact on someone’s life, and that even when we think we have nowhere to turn, we are not alone.