Many years ago a young girl left the safety of Canada for adventure in Africa. This was in a generation when young girls didn’t go anywhere on their own and certainly not to the “dark continent.”
I was that young girl and going to Mali demanded that I adapt to:
- A different climate. I exchanged the snowy cold of Alberta winters for the arid Harmattan winds of the Sahara. I certainly wasn’t prepared for the force of the heat that pressed on me as I stepped off the airplane. Over the days and weeks that followed I learned how the heat saps your energy until you feel that you can barely drag yourself around. A person who shall remain nameless said that the Africans were lazy. This person lived in an air- conditioned house, drove an air-conditioned car, and worked in an air-conditioned office.
- A different culture. I very quickly packed away my mini-skirts and wore a pagne, the rectangle of cloth that women wrapped around themselves to be a skirt. I hired a house-boy – sounds degrading, but the $8 a month I paid him supported a family of seven. (My salary was about $140 a month and that was ample to live on.) I learned the proper greetings that came before any exchange whether it be buying a stamp or fruit at the market. I learned to bargain. The list goes on.
- A different language. I spoke French, but not fluently so I had to work at perfecting that. I also tried to learn a little Bambara, the most common local language. My students put me to shame. They could speak four or five local languages, had learned French (the official language of the country), and were studying English (I was their teacher) and German in school.
But above all, I had to adapt to time travel, for most Malians lived the way they always had. Modern conveniences consisted of basic items such as kerosene lanterns and little else.
I brought home with me a love for Mali, the Sahara, and Malians that burns as brightly now as it did then.
It was the plight of Malians that inspired my novel series. Since I couldn’t wave a magic wand to make life better in Mali, I chose to do that fictitiously. I wrote my books to entertain, but also with the hope that readers would see the world in a broader perspective. I hope that doesn’t make my books sound preachy, because they’re not intended to be, but I don’t think I could have written them in any other way given my experiences in Mali. The wide warm smiles of Malians stay with me always. I hope that warmth and positive outlook is conveyed in my stories.