February 16, 2003: Headlines: COS - Mali: PCVs in the Field - Mali: Cornell University: Rainer Assé in Mali

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Mali: Peace Corps Mali : The Peace Corps in Mali: February 16, 2003: Headlines: COS - Mali: PCVs in the Field - Mali: Cornell University: Rainer Assé in Mali

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Rainer Assé in Mali

Rainer Assé in Mali

Rainer Assé
Graduate student, natural resources
Hometown: Boston
Peace Corps: 1991-94

SOMEWHERE NORTHWEST OF BAMAKO, MALI -- As the Sahelian night envelops the train, a cold wind from beyond the Sahara rushes into our cabin. There are no lights on the Bamako-Dakar Express. But now a burnt orange light streams in through the windows: We are speeding through a bush fire.

My cabin mates huddle under blankets, unconcerned about the tunnel of red and orange flames through which we speed. I look out the glassless window mesmerized by the bits of charred leaves gently floating in through its opening. The sharp sound of crackling leaves and branches fills the cabin.

Soon we are outside the tunnel of flames. I can see smaller bush fires spreading through the Malian savanna. The scent of burning acacia shrubs and burnt grasses drifts towards me. In the distance I see a towering baobab tree illuminated by red flames from behind. Its twisting branches seem to signify knowledge of some old truth beyond my understanding.

I prepare to join my cabin mates in their land of sleep. I huddle beneath a Puelar wedding blanket. Soft Bambara and Malinké voices from a nearby cabin mingle with the rolling rhythms of the train's wheels.

I drift into sleep, into images of charred leaves gently settling over the endless undulating savannas in the land of the Malinké, my new home. Soon I will reach the safe cocoon of my adopted village, Tintila, and I will be home where my friends and adopted family call me Issa. Soon I will be cradled again by the age-old rituals and rhythms of everyday life in the Bafing Valley.

Red angry flames fill my dreams. But soon after, a dream turns to reality. A monstrous bush fire is approaching our village. The men of the village are running past the mosque where only a few hours ago the muezzin sang the final call to prayer for the day. The village griot is running from concession to concession: "People of Tintila awake! Awake! Bush fire!"

Women and children fetch pails of water. The men dash to the blazing flames armed with hoes and axes. We must save our village from the flames. We must quickly encircle our village with a trench to keep the flames at bay. I bend down with my friends. Furiously I dig with the daba that Chambri, the blacksmith, made for me. The flames are closer and higher. An old man from the Dembele family recites an Arabic prayer: "Allah is great! Save Tintila!" We bend and dig. Trees are crackling and toppling. The flames are hot on our faces. We dig.

When this story was posted in December 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Cornell University

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Mali; PCVs in the Field - Mali



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